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By design: Eben Armer

Martha’s Vineyard mason is taking stone sculpture to the next level

Leaving No Stone Unturned, Early Summer 2017 Cape Cod HOME |

Photo by Elizabeth Cecil

As  he  currently prepares for a surfing expedition in storm-bearing Morocco, Martha’s Vineyard mason and sculptor Eben Armer stresses the benefits of venturing off into the world to explore its rich, varying sceneries and cultures, never knowing when something “might spur a new idea or fresh approach.” For Armer, surfing provides a heightened sense of awareness and a connection to nature that permeates his work. This work involves bringing life and emotion to the mysteriously perplexing medium of stone. Naming the Vineyard as a constant source of inspiration, Armer aims to elevate natural stone pieces to reflect emotions or moments dripping with life, breathing beauty and energy into the formerly emotionless medium.

Armer began his career working with stone “by a stroke of luck,” as he puts it, falling in love with the art form as a youth and carrying that love into both his career and fascination in adulthood. In 1996, Armer, then 17, got a summer job working for noted Vineyard mason Lew French—an experience he says changed his life and set forth a career in stonework. After working with French and others in the trade on the island, Armer started his own masonry company, Contact Stone, in 2003, offering a diverse portfolio of functional stonework from fireplaces and walls to outdoor showers and benches. “Being my own boss was crucial in making my ideas materialize,” he notes. In 2012, Armer ventured outside of his professional work and began his first personal sculptural work, “Home,” a monolithic piece of stone with the center removed and a “lace wall” inside the void. “I quickly became infatuated with the sculpting process of sketching, planning and engineering each piece,” he says, “cultivating a deep desire and commitment to exposing my artistic ideas.”

Armer’s work stands out amidst the stone-riddled Martha’s Vineyard, with his naturally organic pieces inflated by a level of artistry that can only be achieved through passion and patience—allowing him to leave an indelible mark on the historical and natural repertoire of the island. “I want to not just build but create beautiful landmarks that endure the test of time,” he says. Having gathered possible concepts for years, Armer says he does not fall short on inspiration as he attempts to divulge the essence of his surroundings, unifying natural material and human expression with each swing of the hammer.

Leaving No Stone Unturned, Early Summer 2017 Cape Cod HOME |

Photo by Elizabeth Cecil

Today, Armer finds a balance between building functional stonework in his professional masonry career and sculpting aesthetic-centered stonework in his personal artistic life. He describes his professional masonry work and personal stone sculptures as being similar in technique but vastly different in approach—explaining that his personal artistic process consists of a “relationship” between himself and the stone, one in which communication and compromise on vision exist to bring his ideas to life. By diligently “listening” to the rock along the way, Armer says he sees the stone as having “its own life force,” by which it demands to be highlighted and portrayed in a certain way that may differ from his original vision. “At times,” he says, “the stone can be very cold or warm, very stubborn or forgiving. The grain can sometimes affect what my tools can achieve.” By taking cues from the stone itself, Armer does not shy from compromising on original intention to allow the stone to speak for itself as a “piece of living earth,” respecting the natural form of the rock while elevating the emotional inference.

A significant aspect of Armer’s creative process involves exploring the rural areas in and around Martha’s Vineyard for stone pieces to incorporate into his art. He admits that he loves searching for material. “It’s gratifying to find a unique, beautiful piece and see its potential for a project,” he says. The exploratory process allows him to forge a deeper connection with the surrounding wilderness and meet many “interesting people with unusual stories” that inform and shape his sculptural work. “I really enjoy these experiences,” Armer says. “Seeing the stone in its natural setting and seeing how the light shapes it or how the weather has changed it elevates my work in a fundamental way.” Once he finds the stone, he meticulously studies the unique qualities and shape of the rock, learning its character before adding shape to it himself. In some cases, Armer has attributed the stone itself to being “the catalyst for the sculpture,” allowing the natural material to inspire the artwork just as much as his personal vision.

Armer’s stone sculptures can be found at the Kara Taylor Gallery on Martha’s Vineyard, decorating the meadow surrounding the beautifully curated gallery. Kara Taylor, the owner of the gallery and a childhood friend of Armer’s, describes his work as uniquely industrial and feminine. “His work rests in the realm of minimalistic,” she says, “with enough to make the stones intriguing.” Taylor says she welcomed the opportunity to add Armer’s work to her otherwise exclusive collection, offering a stunning space to display the sculptures: in nature. “Placing his work in nature highlights not only the organic essence of the work but the emotionally transient as well,” she says.

After years of practice and persistence, Armer feels he has finally found his voice as a builder and an artist, giving him the courage to break certain rules of masonry. Bound by nothing but the “capabilities of the material,” Armer says he can truly explore how the stone can achieve its full potential. “I strive to show off the material and its organic, timeless quality, as opposed to working against it,” he says. Many artists boast about a connection with their craft and intimate knowledge of their respective medium, but few can claim the intimacy Armer shares with his artwork. “Working with stone has given me a great deal of perspective—a rhythmic space in which my thoughts become clear,” he says. “With each blow of the hammer, the subject reveals itself. Creating sculptures has opened my mind and helped to slow me down so that I can appreciate experiences and ideas and express them through this work.”

Meagan Nolan is a Cape Cod native currently living and working as a freelance writer in Portland, Oregon.

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