Breathtaking Works Carved In Stone

Breathtaking works carved in stone
The Narragansett Times
By Amanda Roberge
April 17, 2003

Karin Sprague creates ancient art with just a chisel and mallet

SCITUATE - It seems only natural that Karin Sprague lives in a world of stone.

A long rock wall lines not only her property, but most of the quiet winding road that leads through the wooded landscape of rural Scituate. Her modest Cape Cod-style home - made entirely of stone and hosting a rustic backyard studio perfect for Sprague's work - was made some years ago by a retiree named Julian Talbot, who lived in the home until his death at age 82.

"There are plenty of people in the area who, once they've discovered us, will stop by with friends who are visiting because they want to show them the place," she said.

More than an artist, more than a craftswoman, the professional stone carver lives, works and breathes her passion. And though stone is generally perceived as being cold and unfeeling, the woman behind this gentle trade is quite the opposite.

Gentle and kind, giving and spiritual, Sprague acts as a counselor, a healer and a friend to those who come to her with dreams of honoring their deceased loved ones. Her warmth and softness are in sharp contrast to the cold, smooth slate and stone with which she works.

Asked how long she has been practicing this ancient art, the answer is simple and yet infinitely complex. "Three lifetimes at least," she says with an apologetic sincerity. Frankly, it's easy to believe that one could not possibly master the skill in the way Sprague has in one lifetime alone.

Using only a chisel and a mallet, Sprague creates breathtaking works of beauty that pay fitting tribute to the lives of the people whose remains they keep company for all eternity.

Sprague is one of only a dozen artisans in the United States who practices the ancient art of 18th Century gravestone carving, and her finished pieces are one in a million. She has welcomed into her studio a select handful of other carvers, several of whom have acted as her apprentice at one time and had what it takes to stick around.

Together, they spend the days in the warmth of her woodstove drinking green tea and listening to music as they fulfill project orders. Sprague has over a full year's worth of work waiting to be done, as each piece can take months to create.

At the root of her soul, she is a lover of letters and the beauty that lies in the strokes and movements used to create them.

Through her work, which is respected internationally thanks primarily to word of mouth, Sprague breathes new life into grieving family members - and ultimately into her own being..

Somehow, Sprague's craft has brought her to a place of peace and healing that it would be hard for most mortals to even begin to imagine.

"People come here and they say, 'My God, I've never seen anything like this,'" she said, adding that many of her clients work with her while alive so that they can see the beauty that will mark them for all eternity.

Vermont print artist Sabre Field commissioned her to make a gravestone that would allow friends and loved ones to feel Sabre was still with them. The result is an arc-shaped smooth stone using a beautiful inlaid wild-flower design that Field herself created, which will someday allow visitors to the gravestone to create rubbings to take home.

Sprague contends that the business end of her passion "doesn't come naturally," but she has continually attached herself to successful artists for guidance. She makes her reputation on her work and her goodness, and so far her career is blooming.

Through it all, Sprague remains true to her humble nature and her desire to give her clients individual attention and first-rate artwork.

"You'll never see a sign at the end of my driveway," she said.

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© 2003 The Narragansett Times