Hellen Heaven, a terrifyingly fit thirty-something woman, whose accent betrays her origin (Britain? Australia? New Zealand? South Africa?), is one of very few artists in the world who create monumental marble sculptures. Currently, Heaven is in the process of carving a larger-than-lifesize piece, "The Snow Queen," from a 7,000 lb. block of marble. Her studio: a shady courtyard in Manitou.
Why Colorado, and why Manitou? I'm in Colorado because of the marble, which came from the quarries in Marble. It's a beautiful crystalline marble, which captures and reflects light. It really seems to live. The only comparable marble is Carrara marble, which Michelangelo used, but now those sources are nearly exhausted. I'm in Manitou because Rodney (Wood, the director of the Business of Arts Center) offered me this spot, and I like to work here -- it rather reminds me of Florence.
How did you get the block of marble to Manitou from Marble? Well, I made up a little trailer from the bed of a pickup truck, and built a kind of crane to lift it onto the trailer. I thought that once I got it in the trailer, I could just hook it up to my van, and it'd be OK. But after I'd gone a few miles, I stopped and saw that it had shifted quite a bit. A cowboy in his truck stopped and helped me wedge it in place -- he was going to follow me and make sure everything was OK, but when he found out I was going 200 miles, he just tipped his hat and said 'See ya.' So I just drove the whole way at 15 mph, and we made it.
How did you decide to work with marble? Kind of an accident, really. I went to art school in London, and one tried all sorts of things. But once I worked with marble, I never wanted to do anything else, so here I am. You can call me stupid or daring -- I went straight to the big pieces.
Is it difficult work? It's very physical. I use power tools, compressed air chisels, electric grinders, and so forth. The grinder weighs 20 pounds, so it takes some getting used to. I can only work a few hours a day, because it's so intense -- you lose focus. So then I do something else and come back to it the next day. You have to maintain focus, you have to have control, you have to be relaxed. It's like yoga, or meditation.
Did you decide what the piece was going to be, or was it commissioned? I kind of created the subject matter. This marble is very challenging -- beautifully crystalline and translucent -- but it has a very strong grain, and you have to work with the grain. Its essence is within me -- I'm following a thread to bring it into being -- it's like walking the high wire. Out of something that seems dead, like the chrysalis turns into a butterfly; now she's alive.
What are your hopes for the finished piece? I started her last August, and I hope to be finished by next June. The final stages are very difficult; you birth it, you protect it, and then you're glad it's done. She's about nature, about the snow spirit, about wind, snow and sun becoming form. I'd like it to be possible for people to understand just what it takes -- why does this human being want to do this? I'm just endeavouring to make something beautiful -- often the hardest thing is to make something simple. I hope it has a universal, sort of simple beauty.
And what do you do when you take a break? I do technical rock climbing. It's very similar, really; all about balance, and concentration, and relaxation.