Author: Casey Tremblay, Citizen Journalist
You may know David Kelbert as the man who drives the big green crane truck around town, sometimes loaded up with large hunks of stone; or perhaps as the sometimes very dusty man who comes in to Zanzibar to get a coffee or breakfast. Either way, he’s a good guy to know, with a broad smile on his face and always a humorous anecdote to share.
David hails from Kelowna originally, but has been a resident both in Victoria and out here on the Peninsula for the past twelve years. He was taught hard work and commitment from an early age when his dad hired the youngster for $3 an hour to shovel gravel;and though he could barely lift the actual shovel he filled the wheelbarrow and chipped away at that huge pile of gravel. “My dad told me, ‘just one shovelful at a time.’” He credits his father for his perseverance to do what he does today – stone carving.
David has been stone carving full time for six years now. The first thing he ever carved? A cow out of a bar of Dove soap; he took it into the tub and it dissolved! From a young age he would be painting, making things from clay and carving things out of wood, but he dropped art when he hit high school – not that it wasn’t exciting, but he was doing so much at home anyway. ”If I was holding a pencil, I was drawing – I was always doing something creative.”
So why choose stone? David read a quote somewhere once which said, “To carve stone is to defeat death.” He says that when you look at a block of stone it is so overwhelming, it’s so much hard labour “Sometimes it takes 6 months,10 cigars and a lot of pots of tea until I see what I have to see – other pieces of stone live in the weeds for two or three years.”
So what is David working on now? “I am really into making vases right now, I have had these tools made specifically for me, so I can bore down into the stone without having to turn it.” This is so he can make vases which are not concentric. He makes many things which are asymmetrical. He says, “You can look at it and see right away that the piece was made by hand.” The vases sell as fast as he can make them. David talks of the goals he has as an artist to challenge people but he believes that the art people want 99% of the time is decorative. He has sketchbooks full of ideas. Sometimes he will carve an abstract piece and then a couple of years later he will be flipping through an old sketchbook and see part of it there.
Stone carving is phenomenally expensive. A cubic foot of stone weighs 177 pounds and it ranges in price from $0.70 a pound for a cheaper alabaster to $3 a pound for beautiful Italian marble. Every couple of years David and his friend Dan drive up to the north island in their crane trucks for a few days of camping and pick up to 8 tons of stone for free. “One of the main obstacles we face as stone carvers is that our media is so expensive. So this is a currency I can spend – I can experiment; if it fails, it’s okay. I haven’t lost anything.”
David tells artists to just follow their passion. If you spend all your time worrying about the marketing side of things and the economics of it all you’ll lose it. He has had to work side jobs in the past – forestry contracts, commercial contracts and renting out his crane truck by the hour. “You have to, so you can keep doing what you love. You have to see it, try it, do it – you only have one go around.”
Finally David says, “My hope, my goal, would be to create one piece in my life that is so good, that when I look at it I know that I have nothing left in me that would ever create anything better – that it is the one.“
For more on David Kelbert you can go to www.davidekelbert.com