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Limestone carved into peoples’ hearts at annual symposium

Andy Graham 331-4346 |
June 29, 2008

What did Wendy Kusmaul-Keeling want for a first anniversary present from husband Kevin Keeling?

“Give me mud!” she said, laughing. And that was just one valued byproduct of the couple’s first experience at the Indiana Limestone Sculpture Symposium, conducted each June adjacent to the Bybee Stone facility in Ellettsville.

Kusmaul-Keeling is an artist with a background as a potter, hence her fondness for wet clay. Not that she indulges in it 24/7. She acknowledges owning evening gowns.

“She cleans up well,” Keeling said with a grin.

Wendy Kasmaul-Keeling uses an air chisel on her work at the Indiana Stone Carving Symposium at Bybee Stone Co. in Ellettsville. The figure at bottom left is her posable mascot “Woody.” MONTY HOWELL | HERALD-TIMES

The couple had some cleanup to do, but were pretty much all smiles as their first week at the symposium concluded June 14, during a gorgeous afternoon. They were preparing for the trip back to Florida’s Cudjoe Key, one of the Lower Keys just east of Key West, where both work.

The three-week symposium annually draws people from across the country.This year’s firstweek featured 17 participants from 12 states, from as far afield as Rhode Island and New Mexico, and with instructors from Minnesota and Georgia joining the locally based crew headed by symposium director Amy Brier.

A few of the carvers are local, too. Tri-North Middle School art teacher Jane Reeves attended the symposium on a Lilly Foundation grant and spent much of it crafting a large limestone turtle for her 13-month-old son. “It didn’t turn out exactly as envisioned, but that was all right,” Reeves said of the turtle. “My background is in photography and video art, but I wanted to try something I’d never done. I had a hard time visualizing the finished product, starting to work a stone in the form of a cube.

“I learned a lot, and not just from the instructors. People were coming over, knowing I was new to carving stone, to give me some very helpful advice, sharing tools. We shared breakfast and lunch daily, and often had dinner at somebody’s house. It’s a great group of people. Very smart. Very patient. The symposium was awesome, and what I liked as much as anything was the camaraderie.”

Keeling, also carving stone for the first time, and Kusmaul-Keeling shared those sentiments about their fellow carvers — and said the symposium had enhanced their own relationship, too, leading into their anniversary on the 16th and Keeling’s birthday on the 17th.

“This is as creative a period as I’ve ever had,” said Keeling, a graphic designer and illustrator. “My personal work has started taking on a lot of texture, and this week has turned into something special. If we ever want to have an anniversary trip, this would always be great.”

Kusmaul-Keeling said the symposium could help supply the couple an artistic common denominator. “Carving stone is something we can do together, potentially even working on the same stone at some point, though we have very different styles,” she said.

Keeling designed his stone as a relief carving, though it had more depth than he originally thought. Kusmaul-Keeling was working on a female form. “My graphic design background works for me and against me, I suppose,” Keeling said. “I can place the image inmy head, but am still thinking in two dimensions, on a flat plane. I’m learning to think about all six sides of it now. So the impact of the symposium on me has been really good. It’s challengedme, emotionally and artistically, but in a positive way.”

A physical challenge led to Keeling and Kusmaul-Keeling meeting. Pain led to gain. Neither are from North Carolina, but both were recuperating from spinal injuries there. “It was love at first sight for me,” Keeling said. “I wouldn’t leave her alone.”

Kusmaul-Keeling, tending bar part-time while literally getting back on her feet, broke her own rule never to date customers. “In fact, I called him,” she said.

They moved to the Keys, where Kusmaul-Keeling had worked before her injury. She’s originally from Bloomington, Ill., so she knows the Midwest. Kusmaul-Keeling lived in Europe and moved often growing up in a military family, but went to high school in Tennessee, and said Monroe County reminded him of his home area there. The couple spoke fondly of visits to local pubs such as Upland Brewing and the Irish Lion, and of having dinner at instructor Dale Enoch’s house.

“Dale Enoch carves on a huge scale, just very impressively, and he recommended the symposium to us, saying it was something we just had to do,” Kusmaul-Keeling said. “When we were out at his place, he said, ‘Was I right?’

“He was right.”