Sculptor carves a niche for himself with students

March 28, 1995|By Amanda Ghingher | Amanda Ghingher,Contributing Writer

An article in Tuesday's Howard County section of The Sun misidentified a Pointers Run Elementary student. Her name is Eve Finstein.

The Sun regrets the errors.

Wearing goggles borrowed from the science lab and wielding a hammer and chisel over a chunk of stone, 10-year-old Eve Finsteinio of Pointers Run Elementary directs an unusual taunt at her classmates: "I get to work during recess and you don't."

Until Friday, Eve and 14 of her peers at the West County school get to be sculptors. They have given up recess and eating lunch with their friends in the cafeteria to work on their stone sculptures.


Why are they doing this? "It's cool," explains Laura Woodall, 10. "We get a whole hour to do this. It's awesome."

Sculptor Michael Winger is responsible for these children's enthusiasm. The professional is spending 20 days at Pointers Run as part of the state's Artists in Education program.

The children work by his side as he hand-chisels a sculpture of his own. "This might be the only opportunity they have to see someone carving stone by hand. Carving by hand is sort of a dying art. Nowadays they use power tools," Mr. Winger says.

The sculptures will be unveiled Saturday at the school's annual carnival. The children and Mr. Winger are working to finish their sculptures on time.

Rocco Cavuoti, 11, describes his work expertly: "Right now, I'm just chipping off this rock here and trying to make a dinosaur face. How much rock comes off depends on where you hit it and where you put the chisel."

Eve couldn't decide what she was making, but she is excited by the challenge. "Before I started, I thought it would be really hard, but when I started I realized it wasn't that hard," she says. "I'm really lucky to have this job, because they only picked 15 out of 83 fifth-graders."

Art teacher Lisa Robbins selected five students from each of the fifth-grade classes, seeking a mix of boys and girls who could handle the responsibility of working with limited supervision.

Ms. Robbins was the catalyst for the project at Pointers Run, which serves the Clarksville and River Hill areas. The Maryland State Arts Council's Artists in Education program orchestrates the placement and funding of local artists in Maryland schools, where they can teach children what they do.

Her first effort to bring a sculptor to the school failed because the state council didn't have money to give the school. "But I thought, this is a really great thing for the kids, so I wrote another grant [request] and I got Michael," Ms. Robbins says.

Ms. Robbins chose Mr. Winger from the State Arts Council files.

The Pointers Run Parent-Teacher Association gave one-third of the money to participate in the program. The rest was provided by the state council, which gets money from the state and the National Endowment for the Arts.

"This is a great chance to have professional artists go into schools and give the kids a taste of what it's like to be an artist in a hands-on experience," says Pamela Dunne, assistant coordinator for the Artists in Education program.

Adds Ms. Robbins: "March is youth art month, so his being here now is a nice celebration for us. The kids have been extremely enthusiastic about this process. Michael is great with the kids, and we work well together. I would love to do something like this again; I see our courtyard begging to become a sculpture garden. I hope that might become a reality."

The artist and his young apprentices are well on their way. Saturday, Mr. Winger's sculpture will be permanently installed in the courtyard along with four of the student sculptures. The other students want to take their work with them.

The students are unabashedly excited about Mr. Winger's work.

Ms. Robbins unleashes a fourth-grade class into the courtyard, where they vie with one another to touch the birds and fish that live within Mr. Winger's soapstone sculpture. The children are enraptured by the bevy of beasts that seem to leap from his 400-pound chunk of stone.

Ms. Robbins points out that the animals Mr. Winger chose to adorn his sculpture are appropriate for the community. Pointers Run used to be a farm where hunting dogs and pheasants were commonplace. The artist has included a dog, pheasant, birds indigenous to the region -- and a turtle because one of the boxed variety once lived in the courtyard where he is working.

Mr. Winger's sculpture shows a Native American influence that is most likely due to his childhood in South Dakota and his Potawatami Native American heritage.

"I come from a tradition of belief that you can't totally impose your own vision on stone," he says. "I try to find within the stone forms that already exist there, sort of like children looking at clouds in the sky and seeing faces. You have to work with the stone, adapt your shape and change your form."

Mr. Winger has been sculpting for 20 years but has only been able to sculpt full time for the past two years. His work with Pointers Run marks his sixth residency through the state program, although the fifth-graders are the youngest group with which he has worked.

"Working with elementary kids has been a great inspiration to me. This sculpture is more playful than usual because of the influence of the children," Mr. Winger notes as youngsters wave to him.

"There seems to be more interest with the elementary kids. It is very exciting to have that much interest," he says. "I'm probably more inspired by the kids than they are by me."

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