|Joe Auciello. English photo.|
By Marada Cook
For most people, being stuck between a rock and a hard spot can make life pretty rough. Ask Joe Auciello, MOFGA volunteer and professional stone sculptor, and he’ll tell you that rough spots are where the fun begins.
“My father was in the Air Force, so although I was born in Colorado, we lived all over, moving every couple of years. One of the places we lived in was Italy, when I was 8 or 9 years old. There were incredible sculptures everywhere. I didn’t decide right then and there to be a sculptor, but it was certainly a strong influence.
“I’ve been working with stone since I was about 18 or 19,” Joe says. “I was just out of high school, and I began building stonewalls.” Stonewalls led to handmade birdbaths, which led to well known sculptures across Maine. He and his wife, Shlomit (whose name is the feminine of Shalom, or peace), run their successful sculpting business from their home in Warren. “Shlomit manages the business and does a lot of the design elements. I do more of the sculpting.”
In 1988, having followed his stonework from Massachusetts to Maine, Joe was invited by Norman Casas, fellow stoneworker and longtime friend, to demonstrate his skills at the Common Ground Fair. “That was 14 years ago,” says Joe, “and I’ve been coming ever since.”
Four years ago, 18 of Maine’s finest stoneworkers came together to form the Maine Stoneworkers’ Guild. Each year 12 to 15 of the members volunteer to demonstrate their art at the Common Ground Fair. They teach kids to carve granite into sculpture, and invite fairgoers to ‘leave their mark’ on a piece of rock. “Sometimes we split large boulders down into smaller, more manageable pieces,” says Joe. “The excitement builds as we drill into the rock, and more and more people gather around, and then finally the rock splits – it draws quite a crowd!”
Last year Joe volunteered to represent the Stoneworkers’ Guild on the Common Ground Fair Steering Committee, attending all the meetings and helping to shape the future of the Fair. “Mostly I just show up and give my opinions,” says Joe. “I’m an advocate for inclusiveness and tolerance within the Fair guidelines.”
“Joe is the focal point of the Stoneworkers’ Guild at the Common Ground Fair,” says Rick Kipp, long-time MOFGA volunteer and now on MOFGA’s staff. “He organized the building of the stone planters around the fairgrounds and helped to build the huge sundial at the center of the Common Ground.”
“The sundial was the brainchild of Patrick Manley,” says Joe, “and a bunch of us stoneworkers participated in carving the numbers around it. I carved number two or seven.”
The Stoneworkers’ Guild already has another volunteer project on their horizon for the Common Ground Country Fair. “We’re going to build a massive stone gateway at the North Gate,” says Joe, “Although we haven’t chosen a design yet, we plan to highlight all the diverse skills within the Guild. Parts of it will be worked on during the Fair, but it may take as long as five years to complete.” As artists whose medium takes millennia to form, five years doesn’t seem too far away.