Rock becomes art in exhibit

For the first time in its 19-year history, the Slate Valley Museum has mounted a national juried art
Queensbury artist Chrissey Dittus created this acrylic-on-canvas painting after observing a quarry truck on Route 22.
Queensbury artist Chrissey Dittus created this acrylic-on-canvas painting after observing a quarry truck on Route 22.

When the folks at the Slate Valley Museum in Granville put a call out to artists across the country, they had no idea what would happen.

“Slate is not a common medium for sculptors and certainly not for painters,” says Serena Kovalosky, the museum’s exhibition consultant. “I wanted to see what they were going to do with it.”

The Slate Valley, which stretches 24 miles from Granville to Fair Haven, Vermont, is the only place in the world where slate is found in a variety of colors.

For the first time in its 19-year history, the Slate Valley Museum has mounted a national juried art exhibit, calling for art that uses slate as a material or the subject.

The museum received 100 entries and selected 27 of them — sculpture, paintings, mosaic, mixed media and photography — by 19 artists from seven states.

Linda Biggers of Broadalbin, Chrissey Dittus of Queensbury and Gyula Varosy of Cambridge are among the New York state artists.

Curated by Kovalosky, the exhibit has been warmly received by area residents, many of whom work in the slate industry or have deep immigrant roots in the mining of slate.

More than 400 people crowded into the museum for the opening of “Slate as Muse” on June 6.

‘Slate as Muse’

WHERE: Slate Valley Museum, 17 Water St., Granville

WHEN: Through Nov. 7. Open 1-5 p.m. Tues.-Fri., 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sat. Closed on July 4.

HOW MUCH: $5 for adults, free for children age 12 and under

RELATED EVENTS: Guided quarry tour at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, July 12. Roundtable discussions, workshops and First Friday events also planned.

MORE INFO: 642-1417,, Facebook

“The slate industry is still in existence. There are over 30 quarries in the valley,” says Sarah Kijowski, the museum’s interim director. “The quarrying community understands this show.”

On the way to the art show, visitors can see old photos of miners and their families, a huge Tatro Brothers quarry truck and a utility sink made of smooth green slate.

“Slate is Muse” inhabits a nearby room with a floor made of local slate and a gray slate bench, which was crafted especially for the show.

For smartphone users, each artwork has a QR code; other visitors can pick up a printed guide.

“Quarry Guard,” by Varosy, a figurative sculpture reminiscent of African art and Picasso, is appropriately stationed at the entrance to the show. Made of wood and hand-carved slate, it has a tongue-like protrusion made of polished red slate.

Inside, the first artwork we see is by Carol Driscoll, a Vermont sculptor, who created “Becoming Round,” a sphere of scrap red slate with ragged edges.

Varosy and Driscoll both used slate from Granville.

Next to Driscoll’s piece, visitors see “Slate Truck,” Dittus’ acrylic-on-canvas painting of a dump truck with piles of slate in the foreground. Dittus, who had never considered this subject before, came upon the scene while driving on Route 22 in Granville.

Adriano Manocchia of Cambridge, one of the nation’s top painters of sporting art, including fly-fishing, equestrian and golf, offers a small, moody oil on panel depicting a shelf of slate rising out of a river, a scene that was inspired by a salmon fishing trip in Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula.

Watercolor artist Tony Conner painted plein air in West Pawlet, Vermont, focused on a pile of slag that caught the light.

“He would sit in a quarry and paint right there,” says Kovalosky.

Only one artist actually put brush to rock.

Herb Weigand of Pennsylvania used two slate roof shingles he found in his garage as an abstract background for a painting of a turtle scene from Haitian folklore.

Biggers, the Broadalbin artist, usually makes mosaics with eggshells.

For this show, she irregularly shaped slate pieces left over from a roof repair on her house that appear to float on a sea of colored glass chips.

From elsewhere

Local visitors who know their slate were puzzled by unfamiliar slate in two mixed-media works.

In “Surface Tension 3”, the slate is a mottled gray. The artist, Jeanne Heifetz of New York City, buys the material from an Ohio supplier, and it was probably mined in India.

James C. Bassett of Florida, who stacked small rectangular pieces of slate, alabaster, ebony and mahogany in a wooden frame, reveals that his slate came from a home renovation store.

Susan Breen of Connecticut and Alyssha Eve Csuk of Pennsylvania are the photographers in the exhibit.

Breen’s “Heart,” a sepia-tone shot of her daughter drawing with chalk on a slate sidewalk, springs from childhood memories of scribbling on sidewalks in her hometown of Buffalo.

Csuk’s photos are abstract, images she discovers on tours of quarries in her home state.

At least eight of the works were made with chisels and mallets.

Nicholas Benson is a renowned stone carver in Rhode Island’s John Stevens Shop, the same artists who did the inscriptions for the World War II and Martin Luther King memorials in Washington, D.C.

Benson carved “Slate M” in a 6-foot-long, 100-pound piece of slate from abandoned vein in Maine. At first glance, the inscription seems illegible, and one experiences a feeling of reverence, as if a prayer or poem was locked in stone on its surface.

Vermont sculptor Kerry O. Furlani carved a mythological female figure into semi-weathered gray slate from Vermont for “The Lost Hymn of Demeter,” one of four pieces in “The Wedlock Series,” which evolved while her marriage was falling apart.

“People see it and say ‘how does she do that?” Kovalosky says. “It looks like butter.”

First prize

Erin B. Coe, chief curator at the Hyde Collection in Glens Falls, was asked to pick a first-prize work, and she selected “Black Hole Sun” by Michael Kukla of New York City.

Jet black and highly polished, Kukla’s slab of Vermont slate is pierced with six holes, like windows to another world. A trip to Egypt, where he saw ancient black slate sculpture, influenced this work.

Looking around the room, Kijowski points out that in Granville, where many old houses are topped with colored slate, the exhibit will be a teaching tool, another way to show slate’s properties and possibilities.

“Art is just one more way to use slate. It’s been creative all along,” she says.

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