MJ Anderson, Italy, and Oregon

Oregon native, M.J. ANDERSON graduated from Portland State University in 1977, concentrating on sculpture & fibers. Her early art career focused on textiles, working out of a textile studio making rugs for Portland’s Saturday Market, constructing fiber sculpture and teaching weaving at Oregon School of Art and Craft.

In 1982, upon meeting sculptor Manuel Neri at UC Davis and planning to attend graduate school there, he directed her instead to learn to carve marble in Carrara, Italy, the world center of marble sculpture.

Sculpting stone now for almost 40 years, M.J. Anderson selects marble, travertine and onyx from quarries and stone yards of Carrara, Italy for her iconic figurative and abstract sculptures.

In addition to her personal work for gallery exhibition, M.J. works with designers and architects on public art commissions as well as liturgical commissions, including a pair of marble figures flanking the entrance to the Justice Center on Capitol Mall in Salem, Oregon and a 5 ton sculpture for the Church of the Resurrection in Solon, Ohio.

M.J. Anderson has won numerous awards, including a Pollack Krasner Grant, Individual Artist Fellowship awarded by the Oregon Arts Commission and The Ford Family Foundation Opportunity Grant.  She has participated in symposium in Japan and Australia, has taught design and sculpture at Marylhurst University, Sitka Center for Art & Ecology and the Northwest Stone Sculptors Association.

Her work is included in the following selected collections:  Providence Portland Medical Center, Museum of Northwest Art, The Hallie Ford Museum, The Portland Art Museum.

MJ Anderson at work, sculpting a large marble bust in her studio.

Carrara, Italy

Life in Carrara

For 40 years, I have returned to Italy, to Carrara, to be reabsorbed into the patina of time. Walking the small streets and vicoli (alleyways) where marble carvers have lived for centuries, where history is alive, and looking upward to the light changing atmosphere throughout a day on the rugged mined-out mountains of marble, I feel a part of this place.  I am not a visitor or tourist but one of the many components that makes Carrara so unique. Although part of the ex-patriot community, my Italian friends know me for my own layers.  I am the artist from the other side of America, somewhere where it rains, north of California and east of Japan. A layer of dust on my shoes and in my hair gives me away to anyone who hasn’t met me. I work at a studio/laboratorio, SGF Scultura, a 30 minute walk up the hill from my apartment in the old town of Carrara.

Merble sculpture crew in Cararra, Italy
Marble sculpture in progress in Carrara Italy

Most days I bike to “work” up the hill along the Carriona river to get a better cardio workout, coming back to town at the end of the day in a five minute blissful glide home.  My route is the same small road Michelangelo used to bring down his marble from the quarry to the sea, passing by his former lodgings on the Piazza Duomo at least twice a day. Until recently this same road brought marble trucks careening around turns, carrying their loads of one or two enormous 15 ton marble blocks. The river, spilling from above Torano to join its twin from down the Colonnata, is an ever-entertaining report on recent weather.

With a decade or two of environmental regulations in place, the former river of milk is seldom seen anymore although the river of thick cappuccino still appears after a heavy rain.  Eroding hillsides and marble dust combine to create the churning force, strong enough to move ton-sized boulders down the narrow passage.  Seeking a lower threshold, the rocks move their weight willingly in the rush of water, as the mountain spills its seed toward the sea.  Whether gifted with erupting millefiore woodland blossoms or the bright fuchsia clouds of wild cyclamen in autumn, the daily ride through the woodland forest along the river makes for a prayer, a respite, as I begin and end each workday.I arrive breathless through the purple metal gate of the studio each day, greeting Buongiorno! to my colleagues.

I then dress for work in my pre-dusted clothes in our locker room and emerge to begin the process of making more dust.  SGF are skilled artisans and artists who fabricate and carve art for artists.  I am one of only a few sculptors lucky enough to be able to make my own work there. They have the equipment to cut large blocks with a computer wire saw and table saw. There is another saw just up the river to cut very large blocks.  My co-workers and I have had a long relationship, with ups and downs, much like a marriage. But the bond of sculpture keeps us together. Although seeking out stone for commissions or special projects in stone deposits and quarries, I normally find my marble right at the studio, leftovers from larger public art commissions they have produced. Most of my inspiration comes from the marble itself and I am lucky to have a wide assortment of rocks from which to choose. I started out carving grey Bardiglio marble because it works well outdoors in the Northwest.  As much of my sculpture is for interior placement, I have been lured to carve antique paonazzo and black portoro marbles as well as the famous statuario marble. Mine is an Italian love story with metamorphic marble.  The travertines and onyx which are shipped to Carrara from Pakistan and the Middle East are equally compelling. Unless I have a commission to ship home right away, I usually wait until I have enough weight to make the shipment cost effective, every 2-3 years.

Marble quarry in Cararra, Italy
Statue in Carrara, Italy

I save precious Italian studio time by just roughing out the pieces to ship and later finishing the sculptures in my home studio of Nehalem. The artigiani at the studio taught me how to rough out my sculptures early on and I have learned to do it fast. I am a much bolder carver in my Italian studio, seemingly working on deadline.  Because of the costs of simply being there (and because I am there to work), tourist activities happen only on an occasional weekend-- if I am not too tired!  I have learned to enjoy the local holidays and seasonal exploits of hiking, swimming, hunting mushrooms, gathering chestnuts, and picnics with friends.  The mountains are only 8 miles from the sea –so the best both worlds are under my feet!  In my younger years I worked from 8:30-noon and 1 to 5 pm in the afternoon. I was allowed to work at the studio if I stayed on the same schedule of my capo, not disturbing the rhythm of everyone else working.  Now that we are of a certain age, the years race by and the workday begins a little later and the lunch hour lasts a little longer. The studio is my family and other sculptors in town are my close relatives.  Like all families, we have lived through hard times, joyful successes, medical traumas, surprise pregnancies, and sorrowful passings. Needless to say, my soul resides and is nourished in Carrara.

Mary Jo Anderson, in studioLoading crates of marble in Carrara, ItalySelecting marble slabs for sculpting in Carrara ItalyCarrara, Italy

Nehalem, Oregon

Life in Nehalem

For over 35 years I have lived and worked in the small town of Nehalem on the Oregon coast.My crates of marble and roughed-out sculptures are shipped to Portland from Italy and then trucked to my studio in Nehalem, unloaded by the forklift of our local lumber yard.  Nehalem is surrounded by river, bay, ocean and sky, an optimal place to work on stone. The temperate coastal climate is suitable for working outdoors under an open roof, as I appreciate the changes of humidity, subtleties of light, and dramas of rain and rainbows.

Abstract sculptures at MJ Anderson's Nehalem Studio
Abstract sculptures at MJ Anderson's Nehalem Studio

My studio and home are intertwined as I perform both domestic and professional tasks somewhat seamlessly throughout the day, covered in a fine layer of marble dust on my person.I can hear the calls of bald eagles and flocks of geese overhead as well as the occasional lumber truck driving through town. Nehalem is home base for my business, for organizing sculpture shows and working on the marketing and business aspects of my career. I spend more time on the details of finishing sculptures here, polishing and re-polishing forms to get them right. My friends in this coastal community are used to my annual migration back to Carrara and often ask me when I plan to leave again, usually just as I have returned from my last trip!  I have a foot in both places and am lucky to be able to walk along the shores of both the Pacific and Mediterranean.