Another kind of rock festival at Bergen

Great slabs of Alberta sandstone and B.C. marble are being turned into giant sculptures by five international stone carvers on a rural property near Sundre.

The artists gather around a giant Celtic Cross carved by Irish sculptor Paul Haggins

Great slabs of Alberta sandstone and B.C. marble are being turned into giant sculptures by five international stone carvers on a rural property near Sundre.

The second annual Bergen Rocks stone sculpture symposium is running for a month in the tiny hamlet of Bergen, in the Rocky Mountain foothills. Local sculptor Morton Burke has invited fellow artists from Kenya, Vietnam, Ireland, India and Cuba to create five monumental sculptures from 45,000 kg of stone on his picturesque property, 6.4 km south of Sundre.

Area residents are invited to drop in to the site until Aug. 15. For a $2 admission fee, they can witness the birth of enormous stone artworks — such as Cuban sculptor Carlos Valazques Darias’s depiction of two couples in an embrace, called Prelude.

The lyrical work by Darias, who’s known for creating traditional Cuban folk art as well as stunning classical works, is “quite beautiful, with fluid lines,” said Burke.

The work-in-progress by Kenyan artist Gerard Oro Motondi is called Desire to Be and juxtaposes a smaller figure with a larger one. Burke explained that Oro, a college art instructor whose works are in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa, aims to represent the idea of a younger person looking up to an older mentor.

Irish sculptor Paul Haggins, the only artist from last year’s symposium to return to Central Alberta, is creating another giant Celtic cross, only one that’s more stylized than the traditional one he carved in 2008, said Burke. The kilt-clad Haggins, a 25-year carving veteran, is inspired by the Irish monuments created by his ancestors.

Other participants are India’s Chander Parkash, who received a 2006 award for stone sculpture in Israel and a 2007 international award for wood carving in Switzerland, and Vietnam’s Pham Minh Chien, who works for an arts association in Ho Chi Minh City and has been exhibiting for a decade.

Burke, who is mostly known for creating stone buffaloes, such as the one on public display in Okotoks, said he got to know all five international artists through attending other carving symposiums in various countries. He invited them to Alberta, partly to personally benefit from the artistic camaraderie and sharing of ideas and techniques, but also to spur area tourism and create an opportunity for Alberta communities to buy public art for a relatively low price.

When the sculptors leave for home next month, their giant works will remain behind to sell for a fraction of what commissioned stone carvings would command. For instance, Burke said an artist who would charge $150,000 to $250,000 for a commissioned work would sell one of his Bergen pieces for $25,000 to $35,000.

“It’s a feather in the cap of an artist,” said Burke, to have a work exhibited as public art in Canada, and a boon for a local community to acquire a large piece of original art for a good price.

While none of last year’s sculptures have sold yet, Burke believes the symposium will take a few years to become well enough known in the province.

The event is organized, hosted and funded by Burke, with support from Prairies 2 Peaks Tourism, and is endorsed by the Sculptors’ Association of Alberta. The site is on Range Road 5.4, a few metres south from Pioneer Lodge Road. To get there from Sundre, take the Secondary Hwy 760 (across from the tourism information centre) 6.4 km south to Pioneer Lodge Road and turn west.

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