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She Made Me Into A Newt

She Made Me Into A Newt, sculpture by Ellen Woodbury

If stone sculptures could talk, this one would say, “She made me into a newt!”

Inspiration

A conversation, a line from a film, and a memory inspired this little spotted newt sculpture.

A Memory

My Dad built a house in the woods on the outskirts of Corning, NY, when my sisters and I were little. Lots of animals lived in the surrounding woods, including deer, bears, and little red newts. I remember finding newts among the ferns, rocks, and leaf litter in the woods. Watch what they were doing (crawling around) and where they were going (nowhere in particular). fascinated me.   I don’t believe I built tiny houses for them, but that may be a selectively forgotten memory.

A Conversation and a Film Quote

One can find silver linings in even the worst of times. Covid-19 has been a challenge and a tragedy in very many ways. One positive thing to come out of so much chaos is weekly zoom conversations with my two sisters, Anne and Marty. We talk about cooking and baking a lot (they are both excellent chefs), and what is happening in our lives. It is great to be in touch with them again, and I look forward to our conversations as part of my weekly activities.

During one conversation I mentioned I had a small boulder of Translucent Orange Alabaster and thought I would make a newt from it, like the little ones in our Dad’s woods. My younger sister Marty piped up with “She turned me into a newt!” a classic line from Monty Python’s “Holy Grail”. What? Perfect. Ideas collide and combine. Marty’s enthusiasm was infectious, I caught her excitement, and the newt idea took on a form and life of its own.

The Quote

“Monty Python and the Holy Grail”, released in 1975, is a retelling of the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table in their quest for the Holy Grail. This newt’s title is based on a quote from the witch sequence. A dense but enthusiastic peasant pipes up from the mob, “She turned me into a newt! (long confused pause) I got better.”

This newt sculpture is not really related to the film or to the quote, except in the adapted wording. It is more about the fun of weekly conversations with my sisters, and finding ways to stay positive.

The Cuteness Factor

Newts are very small, also endearingly cute. The cuteness factor, along with Marty’s enthusiasm, convinced me to make such a tiny sculpture.

Newt sculpture and gallon of milk
This size comparison with a gallon of milk gives an idea of the diminutive size of this stone sculpture.

I have made many sculptures with serious messages about endangered species and climate change. The pandemic was and still is for many people a tragic chapter in our lives. Humor and whimsy are essential if we are to be optimistic and positive. This cute newt raised my spirits and made me happy in the process of making it. It is a cartoon sculpture, so also inspired by my animation career, another positive era in my life.

Working Teeny

Making small sculptures is equally as challenging as making large sculptures, but in different ways. Weight is a big factor when working with large blocks of stone that I can’t lift by myself.

Very small sculptures are difficult to carve because the tools and margins for error are very small. Decisions on placement of body parts must be almost exact from the start. There is no wiggle room beyond an eighth or a quarter of an inch.

Tiny carving burrs used to make She Made Me Into A Newt
Tiny cutters and grinders used to carve “She Made Me Into A Newt”.

Precision can be nerve-wracking. The grinding burrs are teeny, and some days I only took off a teaspoon of dust. The hand finishing work was even more precise. One slip and I could end up with a wonky face or deformed fingers.

The Stone

The stone is Translucent Orange Alabaster from Utah. I have carved it several times (Monarchs Matter and Crabby Lady to name a couple of them) and it has always proven to be an opulent and reliable stone. This small block turned out to be equally reliable despite the extreme variations in color.  

Sadly, the quarry for this stone is closed and we can no longer buy it. I have a few shards left from other sculptures that I plan to use in a future project.   It is such an exciting stone to carve and to behold when made into a piece of art. I will miss carving this elegant piece of the earth.

She Made Me Into A Newt back view
The back view of She Made Me Into A Newt. Photo by Mel Schockner.

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She Made Me Into A Newt

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