WINTER HARBOR, Maine — German sculptor Roland Mayer’s work was on display on one of the world’s biggest stages last year — the Beijing Olympics.
On Monday afternoon, Mayer and his work were on view at a decidedly lower-key venue — a lot behind the Schoodic Education and Research Center.
And he couldn’t have been more pleased.
“It’s a good place to work, to see the sea every day from the terrace,” Mayer said after coming down from his lunch break on the SERC building’s porch. “It’s a nice view. I grew up [in a rural town in southern Germany] so I was always in nature and in the natural landscape, and that was key, and it comes out in my work.”
Mayer’s work, and the work of five other sculptors participating in this year’s biennial Schoodic International Sculpture Symposium, is still in the rough form of the natural granites and basalts from which the artists are shaping their visions. It’s hard to see Mayer’s “Dialogue,” as it will eventually be named and then mounted near the entrance to Lamoine State Park, in the block of Jonesboro pink granite he was chipping and carving Monday.
But for dozens of visitors who will visit SERC in the next month, the process is what attracts them to the symposium. The ability of sculptors to carve, in a matter of weeks, the million-year-old rocks and stone of the Maine coast is an undeniable allure.
SISS, as it’s known, is a six-week event that brings sculptors from all over the world to Winter Harbor to create sculptures out of local stone to be placed at sites in Hancock and Washington counties. The sculptors work out in the open as they create their pieces, which will be installed after the Sept. 12 closing date.
Each town receiving a sculpture helps raise funds for the work and its installation. The stone is an in-kind donation from local quarries and businesses, which this year include Freshwater Granite in Frankfort and Rhode Island-based American Stone.
Franklin sculptor Mark Herrington, an Orono native who is the lone representative from the United States in the symposium, will see his piece installed at the Franklin Memorial Park, owned by the Franklin Historical Society.
Jhon Gogaberishvili from the Republic of Georgia is creating what is expected to be the biggest piece this year; an approximately 15-foot-high sculpture called “The Islands of Maine.” That piece will go to the University of Maine at Machias campus.
Ahmed Karaly of Eygpt is creating a sculpture, which will be owned by the town and school department of Gouldsboro, for a new school in Prospect Harbor. Turkish sculptor Songul Telek’s work will be placed in Bar Harbor’s Barker Park, next to the town’s post office. Attila Rath Geber, a Hungarian sculptor who lives in France, is creating a sculpture for Scotts Landing, located on the causeway between Little Deer Isle and Deer Isle.
The seven pieces that came out of the 2007 symposium, along with six pieces this year, will create a 13-stop sculpture tour along the coast likely to draw tourists and sculpture fans alike. But fans aren’t waiting for the sculptures to be installed this fall.
On Monday, people filtered in and out of the research center’s backyard. Some had happened upon the symposium while touring Acadia, while others were regulars who return daily to check on the sculptors’ progress.
“I came here two years ago, and it’s just a great venue,” said Stefan Matysiak, a native of Germany who lives in Boston and works as a scientist. Matysiak was staying with a friend in South Gouldsboro and biking Acadia, making sure to stop at SERC every day to check on the sculptors’ progress.
“There are rocks everywhere, and it’s just a perfect setting,” he added. “The people are working so hard; there’s all the dust, the noise. It’s very interesting to watch.”
Observers snapped photographs, sidled over to sculptors who had stopped working to consider their next steps and occasionally wandered out of the way of the plumes of dust kicked up from the sculptors’ saws, chisels, grinders and hammers.
“I’ve never thought of myself as a performance artist,” said Herrington, who was working on a glacial erratic basalt stone from Franklin. “It’s kind of an eye-opener that people are so enthralled by this, because I just always thought of it as loud and messy. I always thought if people saw what I did and how I did it they’d think I was nuts. But they were just so enthralled.”
And of course, the sculptors, wearing safety goggles and ear protection, watch each other, even as they appear to be in their own worlds.
“If someone brings out a new tool, everyone looks around and it’s like, ‘Oh, what are they doing?’” Herrington said with a smile. “Even though it seems like we’re all doing our own thing, there is an awareness there.”
Symposium coordinator Jesse Salisbury, a Steuben sculptor who took part in the symposium last year, said townspeople enjoy getting to know the sculptors through home visits and watching the work at SERC.
“People really like being able to interact with the artists, see how hard it actually is to do, see it created,” he said. “It’s sort of like, these things get plopped down in the community, but there’s a history. These things get made here, and there’s a pride in the local stone.”
The sculptors were taken to the sites where their works will be installed in order for the artists to start forming a connection to those places.
Mayer was glad he had a chance to see the chosen spot in Lamoine for “Dialogue.” The three-piece work, which will feature a series of long tubular shapes meant to be pipes, will eventually go in a field with a water view, just like the sculptor’s lunchtime breaks on the SERC terrace.
“I [have worked] many times with mankind and nature, what we do in nature, and the pipes was the idea,” Mayer said. “Our whole world is full of pipes, for water, for oil, even in our body we have pipes. It was an idea between the stone and the pipes and the construction to make this. Everything is water; nothing can exist without water, so water is very important to us.”
Sculptors are at work from about 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day for the next few weeks, although not every sculptor may be working at the same time. On Aug. 23, “Cleat,” a Don Merserve sculpture from the 2007 symposium, will be dedicated in Winter Harbor at 6 p.m., with a reception at 4:30 p.m. at Littlefield Gallery in Winter Harbor. A Richard Kane documentary film, “The Symposium,” will be presented by SISS and Schoodic Arts for All at 7 p.m. Aug. 23 at Hammond Hall in Winter Harbor.