While art remains a solitary discipline for many creators, sculptor Martin Beach chiseled and sanded before a small audience recently on the west side of Columbus.
A couple of hawks and a bald eagle peered from nearby walnut trees as Beach worked outside his parents’ garage on Country Club Road next to the Harrison Lake Golf Course.
“Sometimes, it gets too noisy and dusty for them,” he said. “And it’s almost like they leave saying, ‘I’m done with this.’”
Beach, 26, hopes his finished granite-and-limestone artwork, “Modern Totem,” will capture the attention of a much larger audience by late May. That’s when the permanent, 9-foot piece, meant to look like a totem of today, will be installed in a space connecting the Bartholomew County Public Library Plaza with the Columbus Area Visitors Center.
The project is a team effort from the Columbus Area Arts Council and the Columbus Museum of Art and Design.
The two agencies raised $18,450 from the past two unCommon Cause fundraisers, part of which will go toward the commissioned piece. It is Beach’s first such project in the three years since he’s been sculpting, and will have required more than 300 hours of work when complete.
“A totem is symbolic of community and family and identity,” Beach said. “It will be very fitting for a gathering space like the library plaza. But my ultimate goal is for the stones to have a living essence.”
Beach said part of the inspiration from the artwork comes from noted sculptor Isamu Noguchi’s column-shaped pieces.
“I’m kind of doing my own twist on that,” Beach said. “The space for the work really requires something vertical.”
He promises that his two key pieces of the totem, which still looked bulky and blocky during a recent visit, will be much skinnier by the time he stacks them and links them with an unseen metal rod.
On a recent night when Beach stepped outside for a walk, light from a full moon brought the unfinished pieces to life a bit early as feldspar crystals twinkled in the twilight. Beach classifies moments such as those as art unto themselves.
“That was really something to see,” he said.
Watching Beach make the solitary trip in with a truck and sizable trailer to get the stones from a quarry at the Superior National Forest in Babbitt, Minn., was also something to see — something that makes him laugh, now. However, he had no idea that driving through ice and snow during a harsh Minnesota winter would be a sacrifice required for his art.
“I thought, ‘Oh, great — now I also have these two death cubes on the trailer behind me.
The experience has been enlightening in other ways, too.
“I learned that you wear a lot of hats as a large-scale stone worker,” he said. “That goes from ice-road trucker to forklift operator.”
Leaders at the Columbus Area Arts Council knew Beach’s work from local exhibits at Jacksson Contemporary Art and at the Columbus Learning Center. They pegged him as a rising, young talent, with his gift slowly taking shape just like many of his works.
Arthur Smith, who has been updating the agency’s blog at artsincolumbus.com on Beach’s progress, has grown fascinated with the artist’s passion for stone — something the sculptor has extolled on almost every visit Smith has made to Beach’s home.
“We liked the idea of supporting an emerging artist,” Smith said. “We feel like he’s definitely going places.”
Even after landing this commission and also just winning a $1,000 prize in Bloomington for the Career Award in the National Society of Arts and Letters Visual Arts Competition, Beach said he sometimes approaches his latest piece with one mantra echoing in his brain: “Don’t screw up.”
Bloomington sculptor Dale Enochs hired Beach for several months in 2011 to work with him on one of his pieces, and liked more than Beach’s creativity.
“Martin is an incredibly humorous guy,” Enochs said. “I think it’s very important for an artist not to take himself too seriously. He’s also loaded with energy, a positive outlook and a good aesthetic.”
Plus, Enochs sees Beach’s work as “incredibly elegant.”
Buoyed by compliments, Beach has also experienced setbacks. The colder-than-normal weather delayed much of the early work. But recently, he has toiled in minus-15-degree wind chill.
Plus, when setting up a recent stonework exhibit at Bloomington’s Waldron Arts Center, he broke a significant piece just as he was completing the arrangement of his art. He accidentally bumped the work from its pedastal. It shattered into at least 50 pieces.
Beach himself was temporarily shattered.
“You just drive home in defeat,” he said, shaking his head.
As he walked around the two pieces of his totem-to-be, his hoodie, cargo pants and even his cellphone were covered in the fine powder of limestone shavings.
But come spring when the dust settles around his work for the final time before its installation, it’s a good bet Martin Beach will know the renewed feeling of artistic victory.
About the sculptor
Name: Martin Beach
Born: Ventura, Calif. Grew up in Santa Cruz, Calif
In Columbus: Since 2010 with parents Brian and Sharon Beach
Began sculpting: During his junior year at Evergreen State College in Olympia Wash., when he switched from a computer science major to to a visual arts education. A professor introduced him to stone a year later through a classroom project.
Degree: In visual arts education from Evergreen State College
Recent success: Won a $1,000 prize recently for Bloomington’s Chapter Career Award in the National Society of Arts and Letters Visual Arts Competition
Coldest weather he braved to work on Modern Totem outdoors: Minus 15 degrees