Daily Hampshire Gazette – A hobby that rocks: Self-taught Whately stone carver sculpts whatever inspires him

Around 15 years ago, Frank Popkiewicz was in Aroostook County, Maine, when he found a stone, in a shape that he thought resembled a bear, face down in the Earth.

Since finding that stone, Popkiewicz’s interest in stones and rocks has only increased over the years. That stone still sits in Popkiewicz’s storybook-like backyard along with massive wind chimes, a vast green garden, and, of course, stone carvings.

“Two and a half years ago, I was looking at this one stone in my backyard. I saw how it could be a face,” Popkiewicz said. So he carved a face into it. “I had no power equipment, I had no knowledge of carving or anything. I just started chipping away with a chisel, sanding it down and I created a face.”

A few years ago, Popkiewicz took his hobby to the next level. “I went out to Goshen Stone Company and I really got to know the guy that runs the quarry. He basically would pick out all of the different stones I could use,” Popkiewicz said. “Over the last two and a half years I’ve probably gone out five or six times with friends in trucks. We’ll cart back six or seven stones, probably 1,000 pounds of stone each time.”

The self-taught sculptor used nothing but “intuition” to create his first sculptures.

“I’ve always loved stone since I was a kid. It’s just kinda like a common sense thing,” he said. “I have some skills. There’s been nobody who has told me anything about how to do any of this. And I’m very happy with that.”

Popkiewicz has created over 20 stone carvings since he started teaching himself how to carve stone sculptures almost three years ago. Most of the sculptures he displays are in his backyard while others he has gifted to friends and family.

His sculptures include a portrait of Abraham Lincoln, the Statue of Liberty, a bald eagle, a butterfly, two elephants, Aladdin’s lamp, a crescent moon, a dog, a cat, a tom turkey, an angel, a seahorse, two wolves, an owl, a dolphin, Popeye the Sailorman and more.

Popkiewicz’s process of stone carving begins with traveling to the Goshen Stone Company to pick up pieces of stone to use for his sculptures. Back home, he hops online to find inspiration photos to look at while creating his sculpture.

Popkiewicz describes stone carving as a “dangerous hobby.” Using grinding tools, saws, a grinding wheel and goggles for protection have helped to create his stone carvings.

“Everything is steel and diamond-coated. The saw is a diamond blade. All of the bits have little particles of diamonds. You wear them out fast but they do the work,” he said.

Popkiewicz also takes photos every day of the sculptures he is working on to see the progress he is making, and leaves notes for himself about which parts of his sculptures need to be smoothed or roughened out.

The energetic 76-year-old Whately resident admitted that the stone carving can be a strenuous task, but it keeps him busy and “makes up for lost time.”

“I like to picture myself as a very, very determined worker. When I get out there, I’ll spend, you know, up to three, four or five hours at a time on one project,” Popkiewicz said. “Even if I’m really tiring out, I stay with it and it just drives me on.”

Popkiewicz does not plan on selling his stone sculptures, but if someone were to come to him with an interesting subject for a sculpture, he would consider creating it.

“I’m fortunate that I worked for 40 years, and was able to save up enough money. So I don’t need the money. It’s a nice place to be,” he said. “It’s not a need of mine, it’s not a prerequisite to my work. I love doing the work.”

For those interested in pursuing their artistic passions, Popkiewicz’s advice is to “have fearlessness tempered with experience. You must step away from the project now and then to observe your progress, always with the totality of the project in mind.”

For more information about Popkiewicz and his sculptures, email frankpopkiewicz@icloud.com.

UMass Amherst journalism student Paige Hanson is arts and features intern for the Gazette and Recorder.

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