Artist enjoys life between a rock and a hard face

Stephen Yettaw carves a gargoyle at the Bears and Berries Festival, Fort George Museum, in Elk Point, Alta.  |  Stephen Yettaw photo

Permanence of stone | Sculptor finds satisfaction in knowing his creations could survive for hundreds of years

Most farm kids enlisted for rock picking throw them into the bush, but not stone sculptor Stephen Yettaw.

He often sees things in the rocks and turns them into finely chiseled sculptures.

“You just need a little imagination.”

The 43-year-old’s fascination with sculpting dates back to finding rocks on his family’s market gardens near St. Paul, Alta., and continues with uncovering stones during his job on the pipeline.

Yettaw is drawn to the stone’s permanence.

“A thousand years from now, an archeologist might dig up my work and create theories of why it was created and how it was used or a religious icon,” he said.

“You never really die as long as your name is repeated.… You don’t realize on a farm that there’s more things to do than you expect.”

Horses, dragons, gods, demigods and medieval images are evident in his considerable body of work featured on his website,

Erin Di Loreto, arts administrator for the Sculptors Association of Alberta, said Yettaw is unique be-cause of the challenges he faces as a sculptor.

“It’s a hard medium to work in,” she said. “They are all one offs. It would be almost impossible to replicate.”

Di Loreto said Yettaw’s work is well received at the association’s annual show at Edmonton’s Muttart Conservatory, but people are often surprised by art prices generally.

“Art is expensive. You don’t realize the time and effort put into the work. People see the price tag and are taken aback, which is unfortunate,” she said.

“The majority of the time the artist is really underselling themselves.”

Yettaw said many don’t distinguish between cast cement and sculpted rock pieces, which accounts for the variance in price.

He prices his pieces based on their value to him, how long they took him to make and what stones were used.

He said some contain gemstones and occlusions and all came to Alberta from thousands of miles away millions of years ago during the glacial age.

Yettaw said the sculptures can take months or years to complete because his full-time job keeps him from working on them every day.

He started his stone work more than a decade ago and is largely self-taught but has travelled to Italy to study hammer and chisel techniques.

Yettaw has large pieces in Brazil and England and has been invited to Europe, but the bachelor finds it difficult to take time off work.

Marketing remains the most difficult part, he said, noting he gets help from his niece, Crystal Komanchuk, with publicity and the web-site.

“It’s a full-time job to market and sell stuff,” said Yettaw.

He has tried trade shows but didn’t think it paid off. He sells some pieces at his family’s Flying Rabbit Fruit Farm and does pieces on commission. He would eventually like to establish a medieval sculpture park at the farm where people could gather and artists could work on developing stone work skills.

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