Tuesday, December 21

Hootie & the Blowfish Memorial: the stonecarver

- the first in a series of 3
I met a master stonecarver over cokes in a restaurant that kept changing ownership in a dusty rural South Carolina town. We sat at a booth for 2.5 hours ordering only cokes, much to the proprietor's dismay, as we talked animatedly. I picked his brains. I couldn't help it. Who on earth gets to meet a master stonecarver? I was full of questions.

Ron Clamp, a third generation master stonecarver who resides in rural SC was selected to engrave the recently dedicated monument for Hootie and the Blowfish, now permanently located at the corner of Harden Street and Santee Avenue, a stretch of which has been renamed "Hootie Boulevard." The Five Points Association devised the monument in honor of the band's 25th anniversary. The band formed at the University of South Carolina back in 1985.

Clamp is a world renowned engraver and usually only does work which he designs as well as engraves; however, in this case, the monument was designed before Clamp came on board the project. Clamp was brought in to make the dream a reality, to "make it happen." The monument is made out of south African black granite in the shape of a guitar pick and is extensively engraved with biographical information about the band members and their music. Clamp's job was to make a 9' guitar pick out of 5' x 10' granite slabs. He had to fabricate pieces of two slabs together to form the 9' pick, a job generally done by the stonecutters, but due to the intricacies, Clamp did this himself.

Clamp needed to make the biographical information weave around the guitar pick in a rambling fashion, so the next step was to enter the information in a CAD system, make it into stencils and put the stencils on the rock. He then sandblasted the lettering in the South African black granite and put a lithochrome sealer on it with a slight silver tint to make the lettering stand out and blend in with the overhead metal work done by a sculptural metal artist out of Columbia.

The stainless steel sculpture reaches 17' overhead and has musical stanza shapes like a ribbon at the top, forming an archway over the granite engraving on the sidewalk in front of Yesterday's Restaurant in Five Points.
All the granite work was done at StoneCrafter's Farm, Clamp's homestead where he conducts business under the name Memorial Design. Clamp relocated to the rural SC area after establishing a name for himself in the industry and out of a desire to slow down, get out of the limelight and get back to the artistic side of the work. Now that he can be selective about the jobs he accepts, Clamp says "If they have an idea what they want, I like them to give me the ideas and let me develop them. They give me the history, it's my job to get it on the rock." Clamp has done work all over the US and is currently working on a project in Charleston.
Clamp also has a school on his homestead. "People won't train people outside the industry," Clamp said, "Stonecarving's a skill that's handed down generationally. My school changes that. I want to train people because I enjoy it, I really do, I like to carve the stone." The school came about one day when two people from Texas said they'd fly here -- out in the middle of a field in Pelion -- if Clamp would teach them his skill. Clamp realized this was a good thing so he built a shop just for teaching purposes. Next year he will have trained people from over 500 companies, some of which are based in Europe.
Sallie Clamp, Ron's wife, just opened a retail store, Memorial Design - Lexington, in Lexington, SC, 120 N. Church Street. The store offers personalized monuments and markers, as well as a variety of sculptural art for sale. The store will also consist of an art gallery featuring local artists, a design studio and a stone carving studio.

More information can be found at RonClamp.com.

Read about their work on the SC Remembers 9/11 Memorial here and here.
Interview with Memorial Designs' Ron Clamp and Tommy Sliker.
Read about my lunchtime visit to their shop here.

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