April 2021 marked the 13th Anniversary of the Magic of Marble Festival in Sylacauga. It was a rousing success with twenty-five sculptors in attendance.
Stone carving can be a noisy and dusty business. Most all of the participants wear ear protection and masks. Dr. Ted Spears, the Chairman of the Festival, assured me that marble dust was not harmful. He reminded me that calcium carbonate (marble) is in thousands of food products we ingest daily.
Dr. Ted Spears, Executive Director of the Magic of Marble, has made the festival work since its inception. He praised both the Public Works Department and the many volunteers who make the festival work. I was glad to meet up with Robert Campbell, my tour guide, in 2019.
Meet the Sculptors
The Festival attracted several first-time attendees this year.
Newcomers to the Magic of Marble
Patty and Lewellyn (Lew) sold their house in Vancouver, WA, and have been traveling in their RV for two years. The Festival was Lew’s first time carving in marble. He sculpted an Anvil.
Tim Lehman, a first-time sculptor at the Festival, carved a candle flame
Michael Zabala was another newcomer to the Festival. He is a mechanical engineer at Auburn and an art teacher. His first time carving in stone was a torso piece.
Craigger Browne is the sculptor in residence in Sylacauga. You will usually find him in ‘the cage’ outside his studio but during the Festival he was hard at work under the tent. This year he created two pieces, ‘Madonna’ and ‘the Bear’.
Pamela Paine is a retired French professor at Auburn. She spent her life in the classroom. When Pam retired from teaching, she signed up for a sculpture and took it twice. Once she got started carving stone, she knew this was going to be good for her.
In her sixth year attending the Festival, this year’s piece was inspired by Barbara Hepworth, a British sculptor from the early 1900s. Pam described Hepworth’s work as the use of simple forms, pierced. She likes abstraction. She said the Festival is a “wonderful congenial, collaborative atmosphere.” Her first piece from the Festival took a year to finish.
Glenn Dasher is a retired sculptor professor from The University of Alabama at Huntsville, where he also served as the Dean of College of Liberal Arts. Glenn is one of the sculptors who has been involved in the Festival since its inception. He traveled to Pietrasanta to organize the collaboration with the Italian sculptors.
Glenn has a lifetime of involvement in sculpture and is encouraged to see all the first-time sculptors in attendance. He told me that this year’s marble “was the best batch of stone we’ve ever had.” He also said that the Festival is his favorite two weeks of the year. He mentioned that Dr. Ted’s work on the Festival “has managed to keep the Festival pure. Many would like to see something different to bring in more money.” He appreciates the pride that the people in the town take in the Festival and having it right in their backyard.
Glenn is the artist who created the pyramid erected at Scottsboro’s High School from the remains of the B.B. Comer Bridge.
He has created monuments to dishonor for most of his career. His piece this year is a monument to Jan 6th capitol riot; it is feet on a flag. He told me he still has pieces he began at the prior festivals that aren’t complete. “I need to go home and work on that.”
Larry Bottomley, who I met in 2019, created a school of fish. He explained that carving was ‘therapy for him.’ “Why fish,” I asked, “Because I can sell them.” He said with a smile.
This talented group of individuals with diverse backgrounds is a collaborative group. The experienced sculptors show the newcomers the tricks of the art. They all learn from each other.
The Museum was the inspiration of Isabel A. Comer, wife of Billy Comer, Jr., president of Avondale Mill’s. The building began its life as the local library. It opened as the Comer Museum and Art Gallery in 1982. Donna Rentfrow, the Executive Director of the Museum, showed me the Museum. They have recently acquired an enormous personal collection from Frank Banks of military uniforms, military, presidential, and movie memorabilia, and many other items.
The Comer Museum showcases the history of Sylacauga, and marble is a large part of that story. Sculptors Giuseppe Moretti and Geneva Mercer, who helped put the pure white Alabama marble on the map, are the focus on the main floor display.
The Museum has an extensive exhibit on local archeology digs.
The main floor gallery houses the personal collection of Frank Banks. Military uniforms from the Civil War through the present day are displayed. There are several pieces of Lincolniana, including a dress worn by Mary Todd Lincoln.
The Comer Museum will begin its monthly receptions for new art installations in May.
On the second floor, I found the Jim Nabors Gallery. Nabors was born in Sylacauga. The gallery contains his numerous gold records, costumes, items popular during his Gomer Pyle television series and the Jim Nabors Show.
The only place where a meteorite struck someone is in Oak Grove near Sylacauga. A replica of 8.5 pound Hodges meteorite is on display. The University of Alabama archives have the actual meteorite.
The Avondale Textile Mill played a significant role in the history and economics of Sylacauga and the founding of the Museum. On display is a denim quilt that former employees of the mill crafted.
Not only is The B.B. Comer Library a working public library, but it is also is home to the most extensive collection of Alabama Marble sculptures in the state. You can truly see the “magic” of the marble here.
Finding new restaurants each time I visit Sylacauga is always a treat. This time I tried four.
The Hickory Café
Located at the Coosa Medical Center, you wouldn’t think a hospital would be the most popular lunch spot in town. But this place will change your mind about hospital food. It is one of the most popular places to eat in Sylacauga. They also do a big catering business. I just made it in time for a quick bite of lunch. The meatloaf was tasty, and who can say no to fried okra. Lunch and dinner are served seven days a week. You can not beat the price for a terrific meal.
I chose this particular restaurant for breakfast not only for its great Facebook reviews but because my mother’s name is Ree. Ree’s is a place where locals don’t have to place their orders because they are regular customers. The biscuits are flaky, and the noontime buffet changes daily. Check their Facebook page for the menu. Marie “Mama Ree” Cardwell opened the restaurant in 1982; they will celebrate their 40th year next year. Anytime I’m in the area, this will be my go-to breakfast or lunch. Sad, I didn’t know about Mamas sooner.
Sunday night is not always easy to find a good meal, but L’Acosta provided me with a sumptuous platter of fajitas.
Odie’s Deli, open seven days a week, served up a delicious low-carb bowl with prime rib, vegetables, and tasty white sauce. It made for a filling, delicious lunch.
Magic of Marble 2022
The Marble Festival will run April 6-16, 2022. 2022 should be a big year for the Festival. Mark your calendars now and plan a visit. Not only will you be impressed by the work but also by the welcoming atmosphere and people of Sylacauga. You might even decide to try your hand at carving. You can read my post on the 2019 Magic of Marble Festival, here.