Duluth artist sets Northland in stone


Sean MacManus recreates Lake Superior and the environments around it.

DULUTH — The wind catches small puffs of dust as Sean MacManus chips away at a piece of slate. He stands in the alley behind his home in goggles, gloves and a respirator mask — garage door open.

MacManus secures his chisel behind his fingers, and hammers down before brushing the buildup onto the alley’s snowy gravel. “Anything that makes dust and dirt happens in the garage,” MacManus said.

Dust and small pieces of slate fly as Sean MacManus uses a hammer and chisel to sculpt a line on a piece of rock April 4.Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

The Duluth carver operates MacManus Stoneworks from his Kenwood neighborhood home, where he recreates Lake Superior and the environments around it, as well as original designs and traditional Gaelic patterns in limestone, basalt and soapstone.

The Arrowhead Regional Arts Council previously awarded two grants to MacManus to attend the Carving Studio and Sculpture Center in Rutland, Vermont. Around the Northland, his work can be seen in Carmody Irish Pub’s fireplace, on sale at Mocha Moose in Larsmont, and gracing various homes.

Stone artist Sean MacManus stands next to a 43-by-27-inch piece of slate bearing the sculpted image of Lake Superior while talking with a visitor in his garage/workshop April 4.MacManus hand-carves Northland landscapes in limestone and slate.Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

Posters from his previous art fairs — along with his completed woodwork and some unfinished stone pieces — decorate his outdoor workspace.

You can hear him hammering from the sidewalk, and watching the flakes drift away from its earthly foundation feels primal, mindful.

“Carving for me has been a therapy,” he said. “I use meditation to work things out. … I’ve been perfecting my act of meditation with a hammer.”

A point chisel sits on a piece of slate Sean MacManus had textured with the tool. Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune
Sean MacManus glued two stones together to create this sundial gnomon.Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

MacManus started as a laborer for a stone mason, restoring 19th century buildings in Marquette, Michigan. From there, he was invited by the local union to study stone work with bricklayers. «The instructor sat me down with a piece of limestone, showed me how to work a chisel and let me go. The next day, we were carving together,» MacManus recalled.

Years after, he moved to Duluth with his wife in 2001.

He has several pieces in the works: a 3D image of the Sawtooth Mountains; a 27-by-43-foot piece of Duluth-Superior before they dug the canal; and he’s — literally — chipping away at several slabs of the big lake. “Stones absorb a lot of energy and time,” he said.

MacManus often starts his process with a sketch of the Duluth harbor area. He’ll sometimes reference maps to accurately depict waterways. He is still taken with the art of the landscape — and with trying to mimic it. “The rivers and the creeks form designs and patterns in the stone, as they all lead to Lake Superior,” he said.

For some carvings, such as a current portrait of a wolf, he’ll sketch on carbon paper, cut it out, fit it onto the stone, and trace it as a guide.

MacManus gets materials from stone yards, schools or the outdoors, and he has a host of chisels that produce different effects, like a tooth chisel for texture and a gouge chisel for a water effect.

Sean MacManusSteve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune


Source: Duluth News Tribune

Author: Melinda Lavine

Picture: Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

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