Ira the Stone Sculptor
November 21, 2002
A part of artist Ira Kessey’s inspiration comes from his medium.
“The stone tells you what it wants to be,” he said.
Kessey has been an artist all his life, beginning at age eight when he got his first wood carving kit. Later he moved on to glass, and worked as a monument designer, before discovering his love of stone sculpting.
“I love stone,” Kessey said. “I still do glass work too. I started doing stone because it’s so permanent.”
Many of his carvings incorporate Norwegian designs. His latest creation – a sign for the Ponderosa Townhouses complex – is located on the corner of Palisades Drive and Schaeffer.
“It’s basically just a sign, but I’m still proud of it,” he said.
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The design – a simple combination of a pine tree and stylized lettering – is a bit subdued compared to his usual Viking motifs or intricately carved headstones.
“I’ve always been kind of interested in Viking history,” he said. “It’s amazing. There are thousands of stones they’ve left behind.”
Continuing his study of remnants of Viking history, Kessey will travel through Ireland, England, Denmark and Norway on his motorcycle next year – exploring his heritage and, hopefully, finding more sources of inspiration.
Each of his stones goes through a complicated process that involves stenciling, sandblasting, carving and painting multiple layers of color on various elements of his design.
Besides being commissioned for work all over California, Kessey takes his creations to festivals to “find homes for them,” he said.
“At the next festival people will tell me stories about it or bring me pictures of it,” he said.
Perhaps the most satisfying part of his job, Kessey said, is designing headstones for families who’ve lost a loved one.
“I’ve managed to touch a lot of hearts, which I didn’t think I would manage to do,” Kessey said.
Some of his headstones depict places that the person loved, his or her hometown or other objects that were a part of the person’s life.
When he hasn’t been commissioned to do a monument or sign, Kessey searches the Truckee area for rocks to turn into art.
“I’ve always got more projects going on than I can do,” he said, adding that he feels like he’s being lazy if he isn’t working on a project.
“I try to create something every day,” he said.