“I am a sculptor who carves stone from quarries around the world. Stone carving requires a lot of effort to translate the idea into the natural beauty of the stone. Rock is hard and unyielding and always a great challenge. The challenge of stone carving is worth it though, because the end result is so three dimensional and alive.”
- Rollie Grandbois
Sometimes the artist’s words are best to convey the situation, the context and the emotion, and these are from Grandbois’ brochure for his Southwest Stone Carving Symposium. You can see how he could motivate both artists and beginners.
Rollie Grandbois, a celebrated Chippewa Stone Carver, known throughout Indian Country and to the rest of the world for his beautiful stone carvings, has walked on.
Rollie Anthony Grandbois was born in 1954 on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation, Belcourt, North Dakota. He was one of 10 children, with 5 boys and 5 girls. At 18 years old he enlisted and served in the U.S. Army from 1972-1974. He made Sergeant E5 within two years. He also served in the 101st Airborne Division, 187 Infantry Company, he trained as a paratrooper. He taught combat infantry tactics to cadets. He went on to attend the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, where he was student body president.
Rollie has travelled around the world for sculpture exhibits and at the invitation of cultural dignitaries and to visit quarries and other stone carvers. His studio in the Jemez mountains of New Mexico was close to a Zen Buddhist community where he was accepted as a friend and neighbor.
The Peace Museum in Hiroshima and at the Noyuki Soga Collection in Nagoya, Japan purchased his work. His visit with the Shona Stone Sculptors in Zimbabwe was a highlight for him with an invitation to stay with the community of Shona Sculptors as long as he wanted.
He preferred Tennessee limestone and was one of the first artists in New Mexico to use a hydraulic diamond chain saw in his work. That chainsaw looked small in his hands. He was generous and humble and was known for always giving back.
You’ll hear many stories about Rollie, most of them true. One true one was that he gave Bob Dylan private stone sculpture lessons at his home in California in 1998. A recent internet story said Dylan is still doing sculpture in his free time, as an ironsmith, think ‘Knocking on Heaven’s Door’ but the iron gates are made by Bob Dylan. We’d like to think those were some great lessons by Rollie.
Colorado marble eagle,"Flying Through the Abstract"
Over the last couple decades Rollie had made a name for himself in giving stone carving workshops, he called them symposiums where he would teach ordinary folks to get dirty and make art. They loved it and they loved him. He was at another one of his Stone Carving Symposiums in California for a week. He and his students were having a blast as usual, but on his drive home he became ill in Barstow. He had to stop and get a room and called family but then called 911 as he was apparently experiencing a heart attack. The hospital then called his family to report sadly that he had passed away. Symptoms of a cold or flu combined with possible food poisoning on the road coupled with a diabetic condition are the likely causes.
After so many important artists passing over the last few months, Rollie’s passing was especially shocking to the tight-knit Native American artistic community in Santa Fe and Indian Market artists. Grandbois made a point to visit his many friends at their booths at every Indian Market, just like an ambassador or alumni president, which he really was. When he would call Indian Artists over whatever issue had popped up, he would crack jokes first, then ask, “Well, what are WE going to do about it?”
On Monday May 16 hundreds of people attended a memorial service for Grandbois held at the Museum of Indian Art and Culture in Santa Fe, as Indians came in from around the country. Services were also held in Belcourt, North Dakota. As artists we hear about other artists dying in accidents after delivering artwork to a show or some similar situation, like other monumental sculptors David Smith, Dale Eldred, Luis Jimenez or the Caddo-Kiowa painter T.C. Cannon.
Houser installation, courtesy of MIAC
Rollie Grandbois waits for his piece as its installed at MIAC, 2014.
It is always sad that our friends may die alone on the road but they also were doing what they loved right up to the end. Rollie Grandbois may not have been as famous as these other artists but he represented those artists who went about doing their daily grind, making clouds of dust, making stone art and deep friendships that will last forever.
Rollie Grandbois and and sister Dorothy Grandbois (photography professor at the Institute of American Indian Arts) were instrumental in the development of the tribute exhibit for Allan Houser held at MIAC from 2014 to 2015.
If you’d like to help the family defray the cost of the services and the memorial, you can can go here.