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Sculptor connects with stone and steel

April 5, 2014 - Greg Hitchcock
WELLS – Internationally acclaimed sculptor John Van Alstine is a man whose place is in the Adirondacks.

He said he gets part of his inspiration when creating sculpture from his surroundings as rock formations interact with the ground’s roots and stone.

Van Alstine grew up in Johnstown, N.Y., but upon graduating from Johnstown High School in 1970 he said he decided to leave the area out of boredom never expecting to come back.

But many years later after attending Saint Lawrence University, Kent State University (BFA), Cornell University (MFA), and teaching at The University of Wyoming at Laramie and the University of Maryland at College Park, he came back to stay.

Van Alstine has created some of the world’s best contemporary sculptures, including sculpture for the Hirshhorn Museum in New York City, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and the Olympics in Beijing, China. Van Alstine stopped teaching in 1986 to devote his time sculpting slate and cast away steel.

“I use stone as an assembly, not by carving stone away, but as an additive to create something new,” he said.

He describes one of his creations labeled Pique as a perfect balance like a ballet pirouette, a dancer standing on one toe.

“I use heavy earthbound pieces of stone and choreograph it,” Van Alstine said.

According to Van Alstine, sculpture acts as a lens so visitors can see different interpretations.

He said he loves to look at sculpting as a process and not an end to itself.

In fact, Van Alstine is working on a series of Sysyphean Circles, sculpture representing the ancient myth of Sisyphus, a man condemned to roll a rock uphill for eternity.

“Albert Camus said we need to reconsider the myth as a journey in itself,” Van Alstine explained.

Camus was a 20th century French Existentialist.


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Blog Photos

Sculptor John Van Alstine shows part of his collection in his artist’s studio in Wells, N.Y. on Friday April 4. His studio is located in a restored 1805 tannery and lumber mill in the southern Adirondacks. Photo/Greg Hitchcock.