This weekend we had a soapstone carving workshop at work. Due to a few no-shows, I was able to sneak in and try my hand at this age-old craft.
When I think of soapstone carvings, I think of the Inuit, but it turns out that this art form dates back over 3000 years to the ancient Chinese. Even ancient Africans and artists from the Middle-east (Iran) were busily creating not only artwork, but also daily utensils, like bowls, plates, teapots and the like. Slowly soapstone made its way into Europe (1600s) and even the Vikings were using it to carve jewelry and containers.
My loon is the pale one - third from the front.
Apparently the Inuit didn't start carving soapstone until they met, and began trading with, white settlers across North America. Their traditional art involved carving whale bones, but they readily took to the soapstone the early traders offered them.
Soapstone is a form of talc, and is very, very soft. Actually, the more talc present, the softer the stone. Some quarries have soapstone with only a little bit of talc, and this stone, while equally as beautiful as the softer varieties, is much more difficult to carve.
If you'd like to see the process we went through to make these loons, visit Dirt Time at Dahlem, the Dahlem Center's blog.