In Miriam’s Basement, Zen and the Art of Sculpting

December 9, 2016 | Arts & Entertainment

By Maddie Orton
Arts Correspondent

Miriam Rosenstein’s basement is a sight to behold. On any given Thursday, it’s filled with sculptors chipping, and carving, and sanding away. Ninety-two-year-old Rosenstein is all business wielding a chisel or small, circular chainsaw over a block of wood. She picked up the art form in her 60s and hasn’t stopped perfecting it.

“When you have something like wood or stone, it’s different. Each piece of wood is different, each piece of stone is different,” explained Rosenstein. “And so, when you’re working on it, you probably have to work differently with each one.”

Rosenstein offered up her basement as a less crowded work space for grateful friends from sculpting class. They all chipped in for an air filtration system, and years later, they still chip in every week with a potluck lunch.

“Oh, it’s so much fun! And everyone critiques everyone else’s work,” said sculptor Debby Schultz. “I have told more people about Miriam because I think that she is the most fantastic person. To offer her house was very generous of her, I think.”

The basement, like the rest of the house, is filled with artwork — much of it Miriam’s. She said when word got out that she works with wood, people just began bringing her pieces. Still, it’s not an easy medium to mold — the same with stone. Rosenstein said sculptors can shape a piece for months only to have a chunk of it simply break off.

“Maybe it gives you more patience,” she conjectured. “Well, instead of just giving up on it, you try to work something out.”

If Rosenstein sounds zen about the process, that’s because there may be something therapeutic in it.

“This is the only thing that I love that I can just, everything can go away — the sadness, the unhappiness,” said sculptor Dolores Stewart. “When I do this, everything goes away and I just dwell on the art.”

Stewart is in her 80s. She worked as a driver for years to save up money for art supplies and classes. The focus of her work? Happy people.

“Ever since I was small, I loved faces,” she said. “I love the old people faces. I love the creases. And I love it when they smile. Even though some teeth are missing, you see the joy.”

Stewart said in art she found what gives her joy. “I absolutely think art will take you further, live longer, be happier. But, that has to be your niche!”

Whatever your bliss might be, Rosenstein said don’t let a late start prevent you from giving it a shot.

“Give it a try,” she urged. “Give it a try!”