LeAnne Martin
Christians in the Arts

Monday, April 14, 2008

Stephanie Tumney, Part 1: Working with Stone

Stephanie Tumney is a stone sculptor. At an early age, her creativity and love for art were evident. In kindergarten, her favorite sculptor was Michelangelo, and she is still influenced by his work today, along with others such as Bernini, Picasso and Henri Moore.

Stephanie graduated from the Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington, DC. She has shown in galleries, museums and private homes in California, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Virginia, Washington DC, and Cairo Egypt. She works primarily as a sculptor, although she enjoys drawing, painting and photography as well. Her work in stone is often figurative, in poses that depict raw emotion, as well as spiritual and psychological transformation.

Sculpting is a spiritual exercise for Stephanie. Her work is derived from Scripture, often the Psalms. She tries to meditate and pray while she sculpts, depending on God throughout the process, and rejoicing at His work when it is finished.

Stephanie grew up on the East Coast, in Massachusetts, and currently resides in Campbell, California, with her husband Mark, who is a Presbyterian Pastor.

LeAnne: What is your background in sculpting? What draws you to it?

My first sculpture was a terrier that I made out of layering and sanding cardboard, when I was 7 years old. Since then I have been sculpting out of whatever materials were available: paper, acrylic, fabric, wire, clay, plaster, bronze, wood and wax. I was introduced to stone carving while I was at the Corcoran College of Art and Design, and immediately fell in love. I have also gone to Greece to learn from a master marble sculptor there. Currently I am exploring the possibilities of bronze at San Jose State.

I have been creating things ever since I can remember. It is the way God made me--how I express my emotions and my spirituality, and how I relate to the world around me. Creating is also how I psychologically work through the struggles and joys of my life. If I am not working on something artistic, painting, sculpture or drama, I am frustrated and unfulfilled, and generally difficult to be around. My family discovered this while I was still very young and fostered and directed my creativity for their own sanity as much as for mine.

I love sculpting in particular for many reasons. It is extremely challenging, and I enjoy the mind puzzles that result. Stone sculpting is also very physical and very dirty, which makes it a lot of fun for me. Stone is an organic element; it is unfabricated, real, and unpredictable. It seems to take on a direction and a life of its own. In a society where so much is expendable, cheap, machine-manufactured, controlled and predictable, I enjoy the opposite qualities of stone.

LM: How is your work received by nonChristians?

Although I have made work for several churches, the bulk of my artistic career has been through shows in secular galleries. My work has been well received by not-yet-Christians so far. I think that this is in part because I have artistic integrity, and my work is not overtly, in-your-face Christian or preachy. I try to be a witness by using visual and literal language that not-yet-Christians would understand and identify with, and introduce Jesus to them in their own context. For instance, I have a piece based on the first three verses of Psalm 128. It consists of three figures, one in a grief stricken fetal position, another rising up, shouldering an invisible burden, another wrestling triumphantly with an abstracted cord or snake. In the secular world, the title is Revolve, and the theme of grief, struggle and overcoming resonates with Christians and not-yet-Christians alike. This particular piece has spurred many interesting conversations with not-yet-Christians. However, the true depth of meaning can only be fully understood from a Christian perspective.

Another example of how I have been received outside of a Christian environment is the show I had in Cairo, Egypt. The culture there is predominately Muslim, and Muslims share some of the same Old Testament stories with us. Some of the pieces that I showed there picked up on that commonality, in Adam, Eve and the serpent. Because what we have in common was showcased first, I think the artwork that was solely Christian was viewed more openly. The show was very well received and hugely publicized.

LM: What has been an important highlight of your career so far?

From the perspective of the world, the most important highlight of my career would be that show in Cairo because of the publicity and important political dignitaries who attended. However, my truly greatest highlight would be when I was living in North Carolina. God sent me an amazing connection to limestone there, and a period of time without distractions. Because of this, I was able to spend my entire day praying and sculpting, for a year or so. It was an artistic breakthrough, and I have never been happier.

More from Stephanie Tumney on Thursday.


The Aesthetic Elevator said...

Pictures along with the interview would be great!

LeAnne Benfield Martin said...

I always provide a link to the artist's website but this morning I forgot. Thanks for the reminder! And thanks for reading.


Rick Bonetti said...

Stephanie recently showed her art at Saratoga Presbyterian Church Fireside Gallery and go lots of favorable comments for communicating what words cannot.


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