MARBLE, Colorado — In a meeting that was part inspiration and part reality check, more than 30 sculptors, quarrymen and community leaders gathered at the Redstone Inn Wednesday night.
Their goal? To start determining the costs, schedule and infrastructure needed to carve the marble block that will replace the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery.
The original marble was extracted in 1931 from the Yule Marble Quarry, above the little town of Marble, to commemorate the thousands of unknown soldiers lost in battle fighting for their country. That original stone now has a crack in it, and needs to be replaced.
When the original marble was pulled out of Marble, it was sent to the East to be sculpted. But local sculptor Davidmark Trujillo has spearheaded the idea to have Colorado sculptors replicate the stone’s cuttings and carvings right here.
“The stone is coming from Colorado, and so should the sculptors,” said Trujillo.
Working to that end, Trujillo organized the Redstone Inn meeting.
There are no guarantees that Trujillo’s dream will become reality. Yule Marble Quarry owner Rex Loesby didn’t know if Trujillo and his fellow sculptors would be able to meet the strict qualifications required of artists whose work appears at federal monuments like Arlington.
Nonetheless, Loesby started the evening off by showing two video clips from Denver television news shows broadcast late last year.
The clips, which told the story of the Yule Marble Quarry’s quest to find the replacement marble, were met with rousing applause from the group.
Those who attended included Marble Mayor Wayne Brown, Garfield County Commissioner John Martin, Glenwood Springs businessman David Osborne, Redstone Art Center owner Bev Goss and Kiwanis members Steven Spears and George Morris.
Glenwood Springs resident John Haines, who donated $30,000 to purchase the replacement marble, also attended.
Following the videos, Loesby outlined two goals for the coming weeks.
“We need to know if we have the capability to attempt this project,” he said, “and we have to know how much it’s going to cost.”
Those initial questions placed the focus on established, local sculptors in attendance — Greg Tonozzi, Gerald Balciar, Steve Kentz, Janusz Obst, Madeline Wiener and Kathi Caricof — and Yule Marble Quarry stonecutters Gary Bascom, Mario Villalobos and Kirk Blue.
Loesby passed out packets of information, including photos and diagrams of the existing tomb showing the cracks running through it. The cap of the tomb, that is, the top, and the die, the main part of the tomb, are to be replaced. The tomb’s base and sub-base will remain in place.
Loesby said quarry workers have set a “very tentative date” of July 4 to bring the replacement marble down from the quarry. At this point, that block of marble has not been located.
“It’s in there,” said quarry superintendent Gary Bascom of the perfect block, which must measure 7 feet 4 inches by 13 feet 4 inches by 6 feet 6 inches. “We’ll find it.”
Loesby outlined the logistics of carving the block in Colorado, including a carving location.
Garfield County Commissioner John Martin suggested as a possible site the county’s Road and Bridge Department facilities in Glenwood Springs, Rifle, or a new facility to be built at Cattle Creek.
When discussions turned to estimated man hours needed for the project, Loesby turned to Glenwood Springs sculptor Janusz Obst, who headed a massive project in his native Poland. Obst oversaw the rebuilding of a 16th Century Warsaw castle filled with intricate carving and stonework that had been destroyed during World War II.
Obst estimated it would probably take three sculptors working eight-hour days for a total of six months to complete the tomb.
Obst knows about man-hours. Over 13 years, Obst worked with 60 builders and artists to recreate the Warsaw castle, which originally took 200 years to build.
In contrast, the tomb is a physically smaller project, he said, but enormous in terms of what it symbolizes.
“This is very, very important project,” Obst said. “We need to be very serious and very disciplined in how we go about this.”
Obst’s wife, Margaret, agreed.
“There are two aspects to the tomb. One is architectural, and the other is decorative,” she said, referring to the precise cuts that need to be made in the stone and the relief work that must be duplicated.
“It’s very important to realize we must make an exact replica of the existing stone,” she said. “And we can do that using the newest possible technology.”
At the close of the meeting, the sculptors discussed among themselves who would serve as the leader of the effort. Knowing his experience in managing a major carving project, they chose Obst by unanimous acclaim, according to Kimberley Perrin, office administrator for the Yule Marble Quarry.
Perrin noted that the Marble Historical Society will meet soon to discuss how to receive contributions for the project.
She said Obst is expected to confer with other key sculptors who couldn’t attend the meeting Wednesday before setting another meeting for the project.
Many questions remain, but the turnout for the meeting indicated to Trujillo that the interest level is high for the tomb project.
“This renews my faith in America,” said Trujillo. “I really appreciate everyone taking the time to come and be a part of this.”
By Carrie Click, Post Independent