Alabama artist turns native soapstone into art

The outer layers of Christ the Redeemer sculpture in Rio de Janeiro are made of soapstone. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The outer layers of Christ the Redeemer sculpture in Rio de Janeiro are made of soapstone. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

TALLADEGA, Ala. (AP) – It’s not easy. But each soapstone bowl, platter or vase Russell Everett turns out is all its own, in its inherent geologic traits, and in the way the artist works with it.

This is the driving force behind Everett’s efforts, taking something that’s created naturally over millions of years and turning it into a usable and distinctively beautiful piece of art.

“I started making these about 16 years ago,” Everett said, adding that it was a actually a disaster that turned his talents to soapstone.

“I am actually a painter,” he said.

“But my painting studio burned to the ground one Christmas Eve night, and I was looking for another way to create art.”

Once he got his hands on soapstone, Everett has kept at it, but he continues to paint and is an art professor for Troy University as well.

Everett is pretty well known in the Talladega area, he’s usually an instructor for Arts Camp and he’s had exhibits of his work at Heritage Hall Museum.

This month brings an exhibit and sale of his soapstone work to the front gallery at the museum.

Everett explains his way of working with the stone, “Which is extremely hard to harvest,” he said.

There are supplies of soapstone in Chambers County and in Tallapoosa County, also in the Dadeville and Alexander City areas, and that’s where Everett usually goes to find his materials.

“Harvesting the stone is usually much harder than actually making the vessel,” he said.

The tools for harvesting the stone and for shaping the vessels include hammers and chisels, grinders and electric drills, and an array of sanders used for various effects.

“It’s basically backbreaking carving,” he said.

His attitude in creating the three-dimensional art is one of enhancing the material and using it to exhibit the “abstract paintings” found within the stone, Everett said.

If not creating slabs for other uses such as countertops or wall backsplashes, why not simply turn them in to usable bows, platters and vases, he said.

“Also, ovals are one of the most friendly and non-obtrusive shapes,” Everett said. “They make you think of giving or offering.”

With his paintings, Everett says he tells stories.

But with his soapstone creations, Everett is offering archaic gifts that should be appreciated for their intrinsic beauty and aesthetics.

The colors of the soapstone he works with are varied, some tend more toward a grey-black and others have veins of blue or green breaking up the overriding color.

“The brown pieces contain sienna and iron, the soft bluish and greens contain manganese,” he said. “I have even found some stone that’s almost like turquoise and this stone contains copper and nickel.”

Soapstone is metamorphic rock, formed by heat and pressure, and had its beginnings when the Smokey Mountains emerged.

Native Americans also used the stone for usable pieces, making bowls and cookware.

Everett will have two Native American unfinished vessels on display in his exhibit along with his own pieces.

When he’s finished shaping a piece, Everett sprays it with clear enamel that enhances the color and grain of the stone.

Some bowls turn out with a rough rim and others have smoother or squared rims.

The shape of the chunk of soapstone leads Everett to its eventual carved shape.

People have turned Everett’s bowls into sinks and planters, even into bird feeders and birdbaths.

“They’re great for holding fruit or vegetables, for serving stew or shrimp, just about anything you can imagine,” he said.

A university in Florida used four very large vessels Everett carved to enhance a fountain pool and another buyer bought 10 vessels to create a fountain.

For care, Everett recommends being careful not to drop a soapstone piece, they are likely to break.

“Always move the vessels with both hands underneath it,” he said.

If there’s a scratch or scrape, it can be sanded with very light weight sandpaper, cleaned with a damp cloth and then sprayed with clear acrylic enamel, using one or two coats.

If a brighter luster is desired, Everett said cleaning the vessel with a damp cloth, then letting it dry, and adding one to three coats of enamel will do the trick.

He recommends testing the way it will turn out using the bottom of the piece.

Everett received his bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Auburn University and a master’s degree in fine arts from the University of Cincinnati.

He has taught art at Auburn University at Montgomery, the University of Cincinnati, DeKalb Community College in Georgia and at Georgia Community College in Milledgeville, Ga.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

AP-WF-07-13-11 2017GMT



The outer layers of Christ the Redeemer sculpture in Rio de Janeiro are made of soapstone. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The outer layers of Christ the Redeemer sculpture in Rio de Janeiro are made of soapstone. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.