The owl of Minerva flies at dusk
My discovery of soapstone began in 1983. A major challenge is in "finding" the owl within the rough chunk of stone. Occasionally, an impurity or fissure requires a change from the original concept, but this often adds to the interest of the finished piece. The shape of the stone thus determines the shape of the owl.
Without the use of power tools, carving becomes a gradual scraping away of the stone. I use files, rasps, knives, and dental tools, and then polish the piece with various grades of steel wool and rubbing compounds. Finally, a coat of carnauba wax is applied to provide some protection and to enhance the colors.
Soapstone is a hydrous magnesium silicate, a form of dolomite, geologically named steatite, and commonly known as talc. Metamorphic in nature, it is usually found at altitudes of 5,000 to 7,000 feet, and is mined in both open-pit and underground mines. The mineral has a smoothness which makes it pleasant to touch, and its name comes from the fact that it is as slippery as soap when wet. It is used in the cosmetic, paint, paper, and ceramic industries, and is the basic ingredient in talcum powder. Soapstone is very soft, (#1-3 on the Mohs scale with diamonds at #10), and excellent for carving, but if care is not taken, it can easily be scratched or chipped. At the same time, it loves to be felt, and oils from the hands only enhance its beauty.
Found all over the world, soapstone is best known through the unique carvings of Inuits (Eskimos), Chinese, and some African tribes. I have carved soapstone from the Appalachian states, Washington, India, Africa, and Australia. But most of the soapstone I use comes from Montana. It is called dendritic soapstone and the dark blue-grey, mossy patterns are called dendrites. Dendrites were caused by manganese seeping into the soapstone sometime during its formation. Unlike the veining in marble, the dendrites do not run all the way through the piece. The sculptor has little control of their placement as they disappear and reappear during the carving process.
Dendritic soapstone is rare (especially large pieces) and it is, thus far, only found in southwestern Montanaby coincidence, near a town named Cameron. Within a quarter-mile area, along with the white, dendritic soapstone, there are patches of mauve (pink), blue, and gold dendritic soapstone. These colors are even more rare and in some places the basically white stone mixed with them to produce still other colors. The stone is asbestos-free and is highly coveted by sculptors, despite its relatively higher price.
Care should be taken to display the pieces in a protected location. Oils from handling cause no harm. An occasional dusting is all the cleaning required. Washing, and especially soaking in water, is discouraged.
NOTE: If you have any large pieces, 20 pounds or more, of Montana dendritic soapstone, I will pay top price.