beth and james cullen

For all my years as an artist I had waited with great expectation for the day I finally managed to elude all other responsibilities to arrive in the land that had for millions of years preserved such exquisite marble within its fortress mountains from where Michelangelo would ultimately carve his inimitable “David.”

As a man closing on seventy years of age I had waited most of my life for this chance to tackle the great challenge of carving the very marble that has tormented even the most eminent and capable sculptors over the centuries and yet who succeeded to master it and become legends in our history books. The thought of carving marble in Carrara then was an inspiring yet terrifying prospect for someone who hadn’t touched a chisel since being a student but I was to discover that I had absolutely nothing to fear and every thing to rejoice in as it turned out to be the most enjoyable and productive experience far beyond any I had hoped and anticipated.

Having inspired my entire family to become artists, Beth my eldest daughter who is an established professional sculptor urged me to accompany her on this sculpture course and in so much turned the tables on our tradition by leading me into the unknown just as I had done so many times with her and how grateful I now am to her for her inspiration. She had arranged for us to go by plane from London Heathrow to Pisa where we hired a car with satellite navigation. This gave us the freedom to come and go as we pleased and we arrived at the address in Carrara where we were to stay without a hitch. On arrival at Villa Acero Roberto and his wonderful family made us very welcome and throughout our stay they couldn’t do enough for us even to the extent of putting on a special night to celebrate us Brits with Roberto providing a brilliant BBQ of Spanish food and local wines. The property is very private and secure. The rooms are cool and clean with the linen and towels being changed daily. The dining room is spacious and breakfast is served to suit your schedule. 

The Studio is full of inspiring completed works whilst the yards outside are equally heaped full of the most enticing blocks of marble of varying quality and colours. The studio owners and management team are friendly and helpful. Their expertise is essential when choosing marble to work with and this complements the gracious way the tutors support your own aspirations in order to get the best out of your time. To this end the lead professional sculptor Steve Shaheen has a gift of knowing just what to say and just when to say it as he helps you get to grips with your work. He also has that rare skill of knowing just what tools you will need and even takes you to the trade tool stores to acquire them.

At the studio, there existed a natural respect for each other and I valued and enjoyed the fact that everyone just got on with their work and most of the time we were oblivious to each other as we dealt with our own challenge locked within that inscrutable marble. We also had fun in the evening sharing giant pizzas and local wines and beers that was a great stress-buster after a hard days work. In all a happy perhaps unrepeatable journey of self discovery shared with others of a like, each facing the struggle of self expectation and with the added bonus of not only ending up with works in marble that are ultimately shipped home to remind one of the victories but also with new friends from across the world who share the same vision and passion for the greatest and most compelling art form of all. Would I do it all again? Absolutely!

James Cullen

From the day I realised I was a sculptor and reading about the romantic ideal of being a stone carver in the mountains of Italy, I never really wanted to go; I didn’t want to break the myth.

40th birthday prezzzie to Carrera for 2 whole weeks from my doting hubby…Stone Carving!!!! Wow, I had to go now, the gift of uninterrupted time to think purely about form and how to work that stone, delicious!I rented a car I found great for a bit of independence.  Arrived at B&B (simple clean friendly) and was whisked over to Steve Shaheen (team Leader) and gang at a local pizza haunt, superb, we ate and drank and found out about each other, made some plan for the morning pick up and together worked out the best course of action.

Tool shops, fantastic in all my days as a bronze caster, I have never seen such dedicated tool shops for the task in hand, a great place to stock up on the tools you always wanted a bit cheaper than UK, and things you have never seen…. Brilliant, Steve is a wiz on tools great advice and you don’t need a great deal to get going…

Steve, well he is the backbone of the course, he has skills and talents beyond the chisel, he has a sensitive way to teach, he could take a novice or a skilled sculptor and let you make the course your own, either way he makes this place sing.  He is a wonderful guy to spend your time with, and a fantastic sculptor.

The two weeks were a sumptuous blur, a decadent battle between you and the marble.

The myth and dreams were not dashed but further ignited. The plan for next year is now taking place.  You should go… because it’s sublime.

Beth Cullen