Sat, Aug 17, 2013 10:54 AM
In this state: A life in stone, always taking on new
When it comes to work, Richard Erdman may have found the perfect
Most days he commutes just a few steps, from the elegant,
three-story red-brick 1829 house where he lives to his sculpture
studio on a spacious 88-acre parcel on the rural western side of
Williston, far from the hubbub of mall land.
Five or six times a year, he commutes a bit farther: to Carrara,
Italy, where his flowing, abstract visions are transformed into
stone under his exacting guidance, carved by some of the best
craftspersons in the world. Working steeped in the ambiance of a
province where Roman quarries date back some 2,000 years, he's
surrounded by white limestone hills and has time for "mangia" and
vino amidst the lush landscape of the Tuscany region.
Not a bad way to make a living: It's La Dolce Vita meets Green
Mountain gringo, a delicious pairing born of an exuberant love of
marble, a passion sunk deep into his mental bedrock as a boy.
Drawing inspiration from geology, history, an art degree and his
Vermont upbringing in the marbled hills around Dorset, Erdman has
now spent almost four decades of his life mining a remarkable,
resourceful and prolific vein of creative energy.
At 61, Erdman guesses he has created more than a 1,000 sculptures,
large and small. He is well aware he's living the dream: Doing what
you love, in landscapes you love, whether it's the Green Mountains
or the hills of northern Italy, not far from Florence and the
Does he pinch himself now and then? Yes.
"I'm just a humble sculptor. I'm honored to do this," Erdman says,
showing a visitor around the post and beam former machine shop that
has been converted into his studio.
With its two big garage doors rolled up on a sunny day, he works
looking out on his house, fields and the barn where his wife
Madeleine Austin raises horses and provides a home for the
University of Vermont equestrian team. Looking in, the
tall-ceilinged studio is cluttered with photos, sketches, models,
tools, and the tables where he ingeniously creates small-scale
wire-mesh and plaster models - "it's not a technique you learn. I
kind of invented this" - that eventually emerge as sculptures from
massive stone blocks he hand-picks in Carrara.
It's La Dolce Vita meets Green Mountain gringo, a
delicious pairing born of an exuberant love of
Scattered throughout on pedestals are some of his completed
sculptures, abstract forms that take wing and flow into myriad
shapes, all waiting to flow out to galleries and buyers around the
world. An attached office houses two employees who help handle his
expansive world-wide business.
It's a modern paradigm that Vermonters sometimes have to go
outside the state's boundaries to forge a living, even as they
choose to live here to forge a wholesome life. Erdman is a paragon
of the paradigm. He's a Burr & Burton and UVM grad whose
parents ran a ski lodge called Erdman's Eyrie near Bromley and
Stratton ski areas, where he honed skills that made him a two-time
NCAA All-American. Erdman says his Vermont upbringing with his two
siblings not only cemented his bonds with the Green Mountains, but
created the sculptor he has become.
"I'm a risk-taker business-wise, and as an artist," he explains.
"We grew up watching our parents create their own lifestyle, not
for money, they didn't get rich doing this," he says, and his
parents gave the kids a lot of freedom as long as they met their
family responsibilities. "That allowed us to become individuals and
to pursue what we were good at," he reflects.
Skiing the mountains, diving off marble quarries in Dorset,
spelunking in caves in his boyhood formed the adventurous person
that Erdman remains today - and enabled the creative adventure that
informs and drives his art. That spirit is what inspired him to
head to Carrara after UVM and plunge as a novice into the world of
marble, establishing a connection that has only grown stronger
through the decades. Though he jokes that he "was the only one
stupid enough" in his family to try to make a living by going into
art, it turns out to have been a smart decision.
Though hardly a household name in Vermont, he's sent his
sculptures of marble, travertine (a speckled, colorful form of
limestone) and bronze to 50 countries around the world and had
works shown in more than 140 solo and group exhibitions. They're
sold at prices starting in the tens of thousands of dollars to
prestigious corporate sites and museums. In 1985 - through a ski
shop connection - he got a commission to create the largest
travertine sculpture in the world, a mind-bending 25-foot long,
16-foot high work carved out of one 450-ton piece of stone that
stands as the signature piece at the PepsiCo Sculpture Gardens in
New York. From Korea to Switzerland, New Delhi to Singapore,
Florida to California, Erdman's signature sinuous forms now capture
the eye, often paired with a watery setting, equal parts mystery
The words in catalogs stumble in describing what he does
with stone. Unlike the gray solidity and realistic forms that
characterize Vermont's famed granite, Erdman's ideas are all about
defying gravity, convention and possibility. His sculptures are
shape-shifting, fluid, effervescent and aspiring, often Mobius
strips of one continuous form that makes you wonder, "how did he
possibly carve that into stone?"
By working in abstract forms, conjuring shapes that seem an
impossibility, Erdman says he seeks to capture both "adrenaline and
inspiration," leaving viewers to draw their own conclusions about
each piece - and him to test the limits of sculpture and his
"If you're not pushing yourself, then to me you're not fully
alive," he explains. "To me the whole focus is on the sculpture.
It's not about me; I'm just making the thing."
With wavy brown hair going gray, a lean physique and rugged
aquiline features, Erdman has an exuberant mile-a-minute
stream-of-thought way of talking and a kinetic style that makes the
word "outgoing" seem understated.
Talk with Erdman for long, though, and behind the polished surface
of success, familiar streaks of Vermont show through. He's an
artist humorously wary of trusting his good luck, and loathe to
tout his good luck. Erdman lives by a very Vermont motto of
count-your-blessings and keep your nose to the grindstone, or in
his case, stone grinder.
"You never rest on your laurels," he says. There's part of him
deep down that still fears he'll look up and discover a mirage -
which provides, he admits, a good piece of his drive.
"I tend to shy away from the easy route. I shy away from the bunny
slopes, because who wants to do the easy thing," he says. Whether
it's art or recreation or just living, "I find that we're most
alive when our senses are fully engaged."
His artistic life is balanced by an important grounding in
friendships and all the outdoor pursuits that offer respite from
his immensely scattered responsibilities as designer, sculptor,
salesman, marketer and publicist. He skis, bikes, paddles, sails
and is a renowned practical joker, never far from an irrepressible
adolescent energy. His art and way of life are flip sides of the
same coin, he explains.
"Life isn't just working eight-to-five in the studio. It's the
rest of the day. Those things are important to creativity itself,"
In This State is a syndicated weekly column about Vermont's
innovators, people, ideas and places. Andrew Nemethy is a veteran
journalist and editor who lives in Calais.
Photo Courtesy Richard Erdman
Erdman "Grande Eleos"
This sculpture at a private residence in Florida captures the
fluid nature of Richard Erdman's stone carvings. The Williston
sculptor has succeeded by pushing the limits of what can be carved
by stone, gaining a world-wide following.
Photos by Andrew Nemethy
Erdman in Studio
Richard Erdman works in his design studio in Williston,
where he creates the designs for his unusual twisting stone pieces.
The sculptures, from small to mammoth, are carved in Carrara, Italy
under his watchful guidance and have ended up in museums, galleries
and corporate and private sites around the world.
Richard Erdmann creates his unusual stone and bronze
sculptures by first modeling them in plaster. Here, he works on a
new piece at his modeling table in his Williston studio.