Sculptor Edwin Hamilton going to Venice

“I’ve been making so much stuff, I needed a place to display it more properly, and I was running out of room at my shop,” says local artist.|

Petaluma artist Edwin Hamilton has always dreamed of exhibiting his unique stone sculptures in Europe, where he once trained in the art of stonemasonry over three decades ago. But when that opportunity finally presented itself last fall, it came as a complete surprise.

“It was kind of out-of-the-blue,” recalls Hamilton, of the offer to display one of his art pieces at this year’s Architectural Biennale in Venice, Italy. The large, internationally acclaimed event, which takes place every other year, runs from May 25 through Nov. 25 throughout the City of Venice. Hamilton’s sculpture, “Untitled, Peruvian Travertine,” was shipped over in mid-April, and was installed earlier this week in the garden of a large palazzo.

Visitors will find it near another sculpture, created by Daniel Libeskind, the renowned architect who designed the master plan of the new World Trade Center. “There are a lot of great artists out there who never get any recognition, ever,” notes Hamilton, “and I’m being given a shot, so I’m incredibly grateful and very excited.”

Hamilton and his family live in Petaluma, but he maintains an office and studio inside a small, light-filled house in Penngrove, the four-acre grounds of which are ornamented with his distinctive, abstract stone figures. In fact, from inside the place – attractively incorporating the sloping walls of an old tower structure – every window offers a view of a different Edwin Hamilton sculpture, out in the field.

“I’ve been making so much stuff, I needed a place to display it more properly, and I was running out of room at my shop,” he says.

In addition to his sculpture work, Hamilton runs a thriving stonemasonry business out of his masonry shop in Cotati, working with a team of other craftsmen to fashion all manner of stone structures, from full buildings to elaborate custom stone fireplaces and more.

“This is Chinese granite,” he says of the kitchen counter at which he is making a pot of coffee. “It’s a leftover from one of our stonemasonry projects. The piece in Venice is also carved from large block of stone leftover from a large masonry project we worked on, and I repurposed it into the sculpture.”

Throughout the room, there are sketches of projects, and a few smaller, carved stone models of larger sculptures, which are assembled from different types of stone in a kind of patchwork, brick-laying approach, rather than being carved as a whole from a single block of rock.

“I use a very architectural approach to my sculptures,” he allows, noting that it’s why he’s one of only 30 sculptors in the Architectural Biennale, alongside 150 architects.

“I use a lot of local stone,” he adds, stepping close to one window and pointing out into the yard. “That gray piece over there? It came from big boulders that were pulled out of Sonoma Mountain. There are exceptions, obviously, but for the most part, I try to use all California stone.”

Using local rock in his work is a tradition Hamilton learned early. After apprenticing in Bolinas, he spent several years working with stone masons in Europe, largely in France.

“It was the coolest thing,” he says. “The guys I was working with were like old hippies, living in this small town in the French Prealps. We’d get up in the morning, have our coffee, then take a wheelbarrow out into the field and fill it up with stones. Then we’d bring it over and use those stones to build out the house. That’s the purest form of stone masonry.”

Sitting down at the kitchen table, he describes what it’s meant for him to be included in the show in Venice.

“Like most every artist I know, there are times when you feel like you’re just out in the woods, and nobody knows you’re there or gives a s---t about what you’re doing,” he says, softly. “It was during one of those moments, when I was feeling pretty down, that I received this message from a Dutch arts non-profit, saying, ‘We noticed your work. Would you be interested in showing a piece in Venice, at the annual Architecture Biennale?’”

At first, Hamilton thought it was a joke, or some sort of scam.

“I honestly almost threw it away,” he says. “But it turned out to be real. The only catch was that I needed to find sponsors to pay for the piece to be shipped over there and installed. At first I considered launching some sort of GoFundMe campaign, but it was right around when the fires hit, and I knew I just couldn’t go asking people for money. That seemed wrong.”

But Hamilton does know a number of art collectors, many of whom have acquired some of his pieces. So he drew up a list of ten people, and wrote them each a letter describing the Biennale opportunity, and offering the sculpture in exchange for the money required to ship it to Venice, install it, and then bring it back home at the end of the show.

“Within a week, a couple came over and said, ‘We’ll do the whole thing,’” Hamilton says. Though declining to reveal the exact cost of the project, he does admit, “It’s not cheap. It went over air-freight, which wasn’t that expensive, all things considered. But once it’s over there, it has to be installed using a crane. The crane has to be on a barge, so we had to rent the barge too.”

Hamilton plans to travel to Venice for the opening, with his family, and to stay in Venice for a couple of weeks, networking with other artists and exhibitors. He admits that his hope is that his participation in the Biennale will lead to other such opportunities in Europe and elsewhere.

“Oftentimes, with these things, nothing happens,” he allows. “But it’s my first opportunity to exhibit in Europe, and I plan to do some outreach to galleries and museums, and try to develop a relationship that would lead to a full exhibit in Europe in the future. Mainly, I’m just really curious to see how my work is going to read over there.”

And should he receive offers from collectors, while in Venice, to buy “Untitled, Peruvian Travertine,” Hamilton says, “I will get to say, ‘Well, this one has been sold. But I have a few acres of other work back home in California. How’d you like to come see it?’”

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:
  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.