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What is Farrago?
Farrago, Latin for mixed, is a hydro-thermally formed igneous stone. Strata of waterlain and airborne tuff (volcanic spew) were first deposited in a geologically small lake-like depression in the Nevada area. Molten silicate hot springs rose through the bottom of this "lake," mixing with the strata and hardening the matrix of the stone.
I have recently moved my studio to be closer to the quarry, and the owners informed me that they had mistakenly considered the stone a rhyolite for quite a few years, but had done an assay and found it to be something entirely different. They refer to it commercially as "Rainbow Rock", and I've taken the liberty of calling it Farrago.
Where does it come from?
The American Southwest, to the northeast of the Las Vegas area. There are large mountains of the unmixed strata throughout the area, with the bands of color exceeding 10ft width at times.
Why did you start carving this stone?
A natural love of the beauty of color. I had begun to teach myself carving a few years earlier and I had been looking for a material I really responded to. My earliest stone piece was a small leaf of green jade that had a red vein I used for the center stem.
How long have you been working with Farrago?
I found this stone in 1984. I've worked in other materials, but I feel this has the greatest potential for expression in any carving medium I've found.
Do you color the stone/are the sculptures pieced together?
These are all the natural colors and forms inherent in the stone. My works are all single piece, direct carvings. I'm a bit obsessive about that.
Why haven't I seen this type of sculpture before?
I think there are a number of reasons. Most sculptors select stone that is workably consistent and does not interfere with their vision. Their work is a personal statement, not a real interaction. The late sculptures of Isamu Noguchi created the first real dialogue between the artist and the medium. Each stone is a distinct personality, and the concept of give and take for someone with the ego to carve stone is not an easy one to accept. The variations in farrago's hardness from color to color make it difficult to get a smooth continuous surface across a large area. It's been commercially available since 1980 through masonry suppliers as raw landscape stone, which is how I first found it in Long Island in '84. It hasn't proved popular and it's rare to find it in a yard now.
How hard is the stone?
The hardness varies from color to color, mostly in the marble/limestone range. The red veins are commonly a medium brick with a finer texture. Occasionally there are bits of glass in the lighter colors, and once in a while whole areas are filled with glass crystals the size of heavy rock salt.
What tools do you use?
Large sections can be cut off with a diamond/steel tipped disc blade. I rough the piece out with carbide tipped pneumatic chisels, then form grind with diamond embedded steel grinder discs or abrasive stones. Carbide rasps bring it down to size and then diamond pads and rifflers to finish.
How is it polished?
After the sculpture is sanded to the desired smoothness, typically #400 grit for an ultra-smooth surface, a wax is applied. I developed a mix of extremely hard microcrystalline waxes with a melting point of 180f specifically for this stone. Additions of UV inhibitors and stabilizers prevent the wax from discoloring for years when left outside in the direct sun. It's similar to Renaissance wax, but has a higher melting point and more inhibiters. Like anything else it does need maintenance, but for the most part accrued dirt can be wiped off with water.
Commercial waxes don't work as well, as they tend to melt into the surface in the direct sun. A resin or urethane finish would eventually yellow and be difficult or impossible to remove from the matrix of the stone without re-carving the sculpture.
Can they be placed outdoors?
Most pieces handle the seasons very well with a waxed surface. Occasionally a sculpture has some inherent gap between colors or quarry fault that can trap water and freeze in the winter, resulting in separation. I'm aware of the pieces with this problem and inform the buyer beforehand.
Do the colors fade?
Not to my knowledge. I've tried to fade areas in the past, using acids, bleaches, oven cleaners, and combinations of the above with heat. Other than burning the stone with a welding torch, which destroys it, nothing has had an effect.
Do you do all of the work?
Yes I do. Each piece has something new, and I'm constantly developing techniques to further my range of expressions.
Do you know what the finished piece will look like from the rough stone?
For the most part, yes. Either I have an idea of what I want to create and find the appropriate rock, or I spend some time investigating the patterns to decide on the image. The dialogue I have with the stone often becomes heated as the piece is nearing completion and the give and take is being resolved.