Friday, October 15, 2010

Getting Stoned--Paleozoically

I knew getting photographs in a place like this, so large and so dark, would be problematic. I couldn't have predicted, having never been somewhere like this, that the air would be so littered with either mist or what I suspect was marble dust, or both. In fact, when we went back to the bus, I was convinced I could taste marble dust in my mouth, but that was probably just my overactive imagination. With the flash, I could immediately see I was getting all these ghostly orbs. I don't have a terribly big or expensive camera. I didn't want one; I was going for utmost portability. But I had to be very careful with the flash so I could get the pictures I wanted.

Anyway, you can sort of see there what they're doing, pulling on the huge block of marble with the bucket of the bucket loader until it tips over.

Here's Robertson (in the hard hat, obviously) explaining what was going on behind him, which was unfortunately too dark for me to get a good shot of it. They were marking a line on a block of marble where it would be cut in half. We were then asked to proceed into the main cavern.

If I weren't a classy type of guy, I might mention that some of the ladies were batting their eyelashes an awful lot while talking to the ruggedly handsome Mr. Robertson. But I am very classy, of course, so I won't. I wouldn't want to embarrass them.
We hiked down into that gorge and then back up again into the main part of this section, which was visually unreal but I'll have to say not as large as I expected.
One woman remarked to me how amazing it was to be completely encased in a marble "room"--walls, ceiling, and floor. I said it was a bit like being in a mausoleum, she said it was much brighter, which it was.

Those grooves in the wall are obviously where they cut the marble blocks to dislodge them. Each block weighs around 60,000 pounds.
Here's one of the diamond saws at work. I'm sure it's mostly automated, but basically they just turn it on and let it run until the cut is completed.
I was kind of surprised at how slowly the blade revolves. I'd estimate no faster than about fifty or sixty revolutions per minute. Evidently cutting more slowly is easier on the saw blade, especially if it encounters a vein of harder stone like quartz.
I was also struck while walking around here at how goopy everything was. The ground is entirely covered in what I called "marble soup." It's sort of like a highly pureed vichyssoise. I asked Robertson if it's always like that, or if it was because of the rain outside. He said it always is, because everything they do requires water, and a lot of it. As with most harder materials like this, all the cutting of the marble needs to be wet for lubrication and to relieve the heat. My boots and the bottom of my pants were coated in marble soup. I did notice one of my fellow visitors had tucked his pants into his socks, which I thought was very smart. By the time I saw that, it was already too late for my unfortunate pants. I'd worn an old pair anyway, so it didn't matter much.

Next we got to see them removing one of the cut blocks of marble from the wall face. They also have a massive front-end loader with a forklift rig, but first they sort of lift it up from the bottom and pull it out further to the edge.
Then they pull it out further so it drops into the bucket.
And off it goes. I overheard someone ask how often they drop one onto the floor and the answer was "never."

Here's the corner with the block carted off. That's Jeff examining the results. I got to speak with Jeff later in the day. He's an architect working for a small interiors firm in New York, but was first in Chicago for many years. He said he worked for a gigantic firm there, and I suspected he might be referring to Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, so I asked him. Turns out I was right. I was very impressed by that, I'll have to say. He was like "you know them?" Uh, YEAH. I almost started gushing about Gordon Bunshaft, but decided to restrain myself.
Then they brought in the forklift loader to take out the next block. It was sort of funny when this giant machine approached. Robertson was waving his arms and yelling "get out of the way!" But everyone kind of stood there and stared at it like deer caught in headlights. It really was mesmerizing to watch, though.
Here's Luca Mannolini measuring the block and writing "Artistic Tile" on it. That was probably just a photo op gesture, because Artistic Tile offers the Imperial Danby that's harvested from the other side of the quarry. Still, it was amusing. I asked Levinson if he was going to take it back with us on the bus. I was struck by how smooth the cut was; I would have expected it to be much more rough before it's taken to be finished.

I grabbed a little chunk of marble off the floor as a souvenir. I asked Mr. Mannolini if that was alright. He said the rule is that anything you can carry away with your hands is free. That probably isn't an official rule. I suppose they probably don't want sculptors knowing that, but then, I assume they don't let just anyone come in and wander around the quarry looking for scraps, either. Later I discovered other guests had taken much larger pieces than I had, but my apartment doesn't really need any more stuff in it, so this one will do just fine as a memento.

Part 3.

All text and images ©2010, Ryan Witte.

No comments: