Vermont's stone quarries lured Italian-American sculptor B. Amore to the state 20 years ago. So did the prospect of ample storage space. "The city was a tough place for someone who works with the materials that I do," explains the Hubbardton resident, who still lives part-time in Manhattan.
Amore, 64, bridges those rural and urban realms with her art. A masterwork installation she assembled at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum in New York earlier this decade was created in her Benson workspace. And as the founder of the Carving Studio in Rutland County, Amore applied in Vermont the sculptural and organizational skills she had hewn not only in New York but in Boston, California and Italy as well.
Oddly, a radioactive disaster sent Amore to the Proctor marble works that would become the Carving Studio's first home. She had intended to take a dozen students on a sculpting trip to Europe in the summer of 1986, but the meltdown of the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Russia forced a change in itinerary. Improvising with the help of contacts in Vermont, Amore arranged for her apprentices to spend that summer jackhammering and chiseling slabs of stone at the Vermont Marble Co. The quarry owners also gave the group "compressed air and a building to work in," she recalls.
When the Carving Studio began offering classes the following year at the same site, Amore felt that one of her vision quests had reached its destination. She had earlier worked in carving studios in Carrara, Tuscany's famed white-marble city, and was inspired to start something similar in the United States. "Building a community of sculptors - that was always my dream," Amore explains.
This past year the Carving Studio & Sculpture Center, known for its workshops in three-dimensional media and annual SculptFest exhibition, celebrated its 20th anniversary. Sculptors from around the world travel to the former Gawet Marble facility in West Rutland, where the studio has been based since 1990. It's considered a particularly pleasant place for learning or perfecting artistry in stone and for displaying finished or in-process pieces.
Director Carol Driscoll attributes the Carving Studio's success to Amore's "visionary" qualities. "She has the ability to bring people together from all different backgrounds and skill levels and have each of them get what they want and need out of their experience here," Driscoll says.
Amore will exhibit about 25 of her works this summer in the studio's gallery. Among them will be some of the historical collages, composed of photos, letters and documents, that now account for much of her creative output. She will also show a few of her signature stone pieces, some of them characterized by so subtle an artistic intervention that an untrained eye may regard the stones as untouched by human hand. This technique of altering natural material in ways that appear natural is associated with the Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi, whom Amore cites as an important influence.
When working with stone, Amore says she's responding to "a kind of energy that's already there. I'm bringing my own consciousness to bear and hopefully reaching out to other people's consciousnesses."
In other stone works, Amore's touch is unmistakable. She wraps them partly in fabric or adds images and text to their surfaces. Recent examples may be included in this summer's exhibit, Amore says.
That show will cap a big career year for the diminutive, high-octane artist, who works in words as well. Recently, the New York-based Center for Migration Studies published An Italian American Odyssey: Lifeline, in which Amore chronicles her 2000-01 multimedia extravaganza on Ellis Island. Like the installation, which was entitled "Lifeline: filo della vita," the book expresses and examines Amore's personal and ethnic identity. Aptly, it's written in English and Italian.
Arrayed across six rooms of the Immigration Museum, Amore's show traced seven generations of her family in Italy and America. At the core of the installation were 15 horizontal panels covered with photos, letters and official documents archived by her ancestors. A red thread running across each of these panels represented a lifeline, or filo della vita, tying generation to generation and the Old World to the New. Just such threads had also been unspooled a century earlier as Italian emigrants set sail for New York holding one end of a ball of yarn while their dock-side relatives clung tearfully to the other.
Physical and historical extensions have been characteristic of Amore's art for many years. Working at first solely in stone, she soon began adding other materials to her sculpture because, she explains, "I wanted more extension than stone alone could give me."
Amore's practice of mixing elements can be traced in part to two other formative influences: the American modernist David Smith (1906-65) and her fellow Italian-American sculptor Mark di Suvero. Although she had long admired Smith's steel constructions, Amore says she never thought she would work in that medium until she met di Suvero, whose sculptures often incorporate a variety of materials.
These days, Amore's art tends to consist of lighter-weight items such as paper and tin. But "the work is still laborious," she says. For example, it takes her many hours to arrange, on salvaged strips of embossed tin ceiling, row upon row of passport-size photos of passersby she snaps on the streets of Manhattan. Figuring it's best to avoid eye contact with her subjects, Amore shoots from the hip with a tiny digital camera. Since she's barely 5 feet tall, few members of the madding crowds ever notice they're being photographed.
Her barn-like studio, warmed by a pair of woodstoves on a recent sleety afternoon, looks out on bare, yellowish hills ribbed with rivulets. The setting closely resembles the California landscape, Amore points out. And that's precisely why she built her studio in this unpeopled corner of Benson 19 years ago. Amore had lived near the coast north of San Francisco for a pair of two-year periods, in the mid-1960s and late '70s. She was married the first time she lived there, single the second. Amore has three children from her first marriage, and is now partnered with Woody Dorsey, author of a newsletter that forecasts financial markets.
One of Amore's half-dozen public art pieces stands in the East Boston Italian-American neighborhood where she grew up. It's made up of 29 stones loosely arranged in a circle and inscribed with swirling text about and by community residents. The installation conveys "a sense of their own history being reflected back to them," the artist says.
She has a lot of emotion invested in this public piece - "It's where my mother taught me to see," Amore says. Trained as a fashion designer at the Massachusetts College of Art, Nina Piscopo D'Amore had "a wonderful eye," but never encouraged her daughter's artistic career.
Amore internalized that dissuasion. Even though she was "always doing artwork as a child," she conditioned herself to regard art making as a "selfish" activity. She chose to major in sociology in college. Later, while pursuing a graduate degree in social work, she came to realize her "radical mistake" in following that path. She's heeded art's calling ever since.
B. Amore isn't done evolving as an artist - or as a woman. On her 50th birthday, for example, she decided to truncate her first name. She became plain B. - no longer Bernadette - as "an exterior change to honor the interior changes I'd gone through."
Her art, too, serves mainly as a means to enhance self-understanding. These days, she's working on "puzzle pieces" made up of broken bits of stones fitted together and covered with images and text. One characteristic puzzle piece, entitled "Question," asks viewers to consider how the world intersects with their personal lives and their work. It's something Amore has been asking herself for decades.
B. Amore talks about her book this Wednesday, April 11, at 7 p.m. Community room, Fletcher Free Library, Burlington.