Saturdays project: two Kalasams in dolomite

one of two kalasams in green dolomite limestone (Anröchter Grünstein)

Strict Confidentiality!

reliefs in basaltic lavaIt has been a while since I shared a project, and that's because our current project is a big one. Not only do we need to make a lot of parts for it, but also a lot of this work is new and exciting. I can say that it concerns the façade reconstructions for the church of Veghel, but the details remain a surprise as it will become a gift to the city/village. We have been busy for more than a year with the preparations, reconstructions and the sculpting itself. Meanwhile the work on installing it all is progressing quickly and we're already working on carving the final parts, but we will keep the icing on the cake a secret for a while. This is also an exciting part for us, of which we very much look forward to the result.

Saturdays project

blocks for the two kalasams in green dolomite limestone (Anröchter Grünstein)

two blocks of dolomite

But in addition to all the hustle and bustle in Veghel, I still saw an opportunity to make good use of my Saturdays and carve two temple finials in the same green dolomite limestone from which also the plinth for my father's statuette "Surrender’ made as well as his tombstone.

This was a venture that required some planning as it was going to be very thin and yet needed to remain strong. How did I do that? I didn't want this ornament to break in half after a few years outdoors, so I decided to glue in a stainless steel threaded rod. I drilled a hole in the middle of the 80cm tall stone with a diamond drill, well aligned, so that I would end up right about in the middle on the other side. It needed to be really sturdy right away, so I chose a threaded end of 20mm thick. This one need to stick out the bottom for 15 cm and at the top for 5 cm, so I thought to seal the stone with clay and pour some epoxy around the threaded rod. But it was still very cold outside and the epoxy would not flow properly.


gluing pens into the blocks for the two kalasams in green dolomite limestone (Anröchter Grünstein)

gluing the pins

The second attempt was with a much thinner cast epoxy. I poured this in from the other side, via a clay bowl, and this glue did flow all the way through. Success, I thought. But then it turned out in the following week that the epoxy wouldn't harden fully! To my disappointment, I had never read that you need to use this glue above 15 degrees Celsius, and it was only 5º Celsius. The stuff stayed a bit rubbery and although it hardened a bit more in the following month, it never really cured fully. But… actually that is better. These temple ornaments will be placed on the roof and will have to deal with considerable temperature differences. Then it is beneficial if the binding is not too rigid.


Kalasams are ornaments atop a Hindu temple, usually made out of brass but sometimes stone. Traditionally they were used to store rice, so that after a disaster it could always be resown. They are intended to protect the temple. Also see the English Wikipedia. In this case I was asked to make these Kalasams for the temple of Onderdijk. This hall got a new roof, and though first was thought of removing all three chimneys, later on was decided to keep the two little ones as a pedestal for these kalasams. They serve as the crown on top of the temple.

Drawing and sawing

3d sketch

side view and cross section of the two kalasams in green dolomite limestone (Anröchter Grünstein)

side view and cross section

I drew a model on the computer based on photos using Sketchup, from which, after some adjustments, I printed a profile. I used that for a full-size wooden profile template, that I could use on my sculpture sawing machine. With this copying saw I was able to cut out of the stone, just like a vertical lathe, the ornaments in several steps. However, sawing in dolomite is a very slow process, so I was kept busy for a few days sawing each kalasam.

Buffing and sanding

one of two kalasams in green dolomite limestone (Anröchter Grünstein)

first turning work

But just with this sawing work you're far from finished. The result is still not accurate enough and very striped because in fact it consists of lots of saw cuts that run horizontally around the ornament. I have been busy shaping for a few more days, sanding, grating and filing until it was to my liking. And because these are all difficult shapes, I just had to do a lot by hand. I finally sanded the two ornaments down to grain 200, so it wouldn't get too dark and shiny. A little bit matte light green, like a copper roof, seemed nice to me. Over time, this stone will weather to this color on its own.


crowning for one of two kalasams in green dolomite limestone (Anröchter Grünstein)

the first version of the capstone was much too pointed

As a last part I still had to make two separate cover knobs, which I also cut out with the lathe first. I had a very slender shape in mind, but when I put the parts together it all turned out to be out of proportion. The stem was still too long and the bud was too much Efteling theme park style. After I had adjusted all that, I was happy. I made it so that the button sits like a lid over the stainless steel threaded rod and the stem. It has become quite a slender ensemble, but the reinforcement in it makes it surprisingly strong.


first of the two Kalasams is installed

first one installed

I had thought beforehand that it would be useful if the two Kalasams each consisted of two parts: the actual ornament and a loose peak. Then I could screw on an eye bolt so that I could hoist the piece in the workshop and it could also be handy on the roof.

That turned out alright. I had prepared it all well and because many hands make light work, they were in their place on the chimneys in no time. With a long lifting strap onto the eye bolt, two men on top and two on the bottom, we could easily hoist them onto the roof. I suspect they weigh around 60 kilos, but it was doable this way. They are 80 x 40 x 40 cms. A little bit of adjusting, attaching the cap and filling the joints and it was done.


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A Lotus flower for my father's grave

The symbolism of the lotus flower

For my father's grave I made a design with wavy water and a large lotus flower. The waves represent turbulent life and the lotus flower is a well-known symbol for the spiritually grown person who is firmly rooted in earthly life, but the worries of everyday life are beading from him or her, like water drops roll off a lotus leaf. The flower is directed towards the light, just as the soul strives for unity with the Divine.


I had ordered a few large pieces of stone. In trade it generally called dolomite however, but the actual name is Anröchter Grünstein. It's quarried in the German village of Anröchte, about 60 km from Dortmund in North Rhine-Westphalia. It is actually an ideal stone for sculpting in a few ways: it's not all that hard, all surface treatments come into their own beautifully, from roughly worked to polished, and you can carve in it in great detail. It also turns beautifully light green outside over time.

Much too fat

At first I thought to make the waves quite deep and so I had ordered a slab of stone of 100 x 200 x 20 cm. I had already carved some of the waves but it all got very restless. So I just decided to cut the thickness back to 12 cms, so that I could carve the waves much more subtle and it would radiate much more tranquility. I then sanded these waves and not polished them too much, so that they retained a soft surface that will later oxidize nicely to light green.


Then came the lotus itself. I had found a nice image on the internet. I traced it onto the 16 cm thick standing stone and first removed the contours of it up to 8 cm thickness for the background.

Shaping the petals

Then I could start carving the remaining shape. I shaped the petals with a tooth chisel to make an effect of the veins in the petals. One of the most frequently asked questions I received was whether water will remain standing in it. That would be a beginner's mistake, of course. After so many years in restoration work, carving ornaments in all kinds of stone, that is something I really don't have to think about anymore. Although the leaves are hollowed out, the water from each petal flows neatly downwards.


I outsourced the installation and lettering to a befriended stonemason. Harder Natuursteen BV from Hoogkarspel who have very conscientiously taken care of this part. If I wouldn't have been up to my neck in assignments and deadlines, and if I hadn't been hopelessly out of routine in letter carving, I might have carved the text myself. But now it has been sandblasted and colored very subtly, and I'm glad it looks so nice. I'd rather have it neatly sandblasted than end up with not-quite-up-to-standard hand carved letters.

I also didn't have the equipment to install such a big stone in a cemetery myself. It can of course all be arranged, but these people do this several times a week and have a trailer with a hoist, a flat cart, a movable gantry crane and all the expertise, in short, everything you need to do this smoothly and professionally. I myself could have rented everything and probably would have taken four times as long and had a lot more headaches. You can't always do everything best yourself. I am very grateful that they have completed all this so professionally for us.

Can it be an ounce more?

When ordering the stone, I had taken into account the information provided by the cemetery. A family tomb is 100 x 200 cm and may be up to 100 cms tall. But it has now become apparent that these sizes are considerably larger than the other graves, especially because the neighboring grave has also subsided considerably. That is why this grave stands out so much now. Most graves are 80 wide and 50 high. But anyhow, it has become an attractive ensemble, I think.


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Carving Four Dolphins Into New Stone

copying dolphins into sandstone

Four classic sandstone dolphins

damaged old dolphins and new stoneworkSometimes there are those assignments that I dread a bit, because of the high quality work it demands. I'll admit that the next job wasn't easy. I was to copy one of the two early 20th-century dolphins-featuring ornaments that graced the building of the Art'otel on the side of the Prins Hendrikkade in Amsterdam, opposite the Central Station. On 13 January 2020, now more than a year ago, a gas leak burst into flames there. The fire that started as a consequence of that roared up against the facade of the hotel for some time and it especially damaged the natural stone of the exterior, including this ornament. In 2020 all damaged natural stone was replaced by Slotboom Steenhouwers BV from Winterswijk.

Dolphins or just fish?

fountain with dolphins Palace CasertaThis design is very widespread. You ccould find these 'dolphins’ for example along the banks of the Thames in London, in renaissance sculpture in Italy, on vases, fountains and garden benches, and used as gargoyles over a basin, pond or swimming pool. However they don't look at all like dolphins as we know them, but more like fish. They have big round eyes, fat lips, gills and fluttery fins and a distinct fish tail. While, of course, dolphins are smooth mammals without much frills.

After some searching on the interweb I found that dolphins have been depicted so terrifyingly since Roman times (the ancient Greeks came a lot closer), but nobody knows why. I did find an interesting and amusing article, by Donna Zuckerberg↑ (english), but that does not provide a good explanation either. Perhaps the real reason is that it is a lot more interesting to paint and sculpt them in this way? Dolphins are creatures of quite high consciousness. Perhaps the same applies here as it is now: demonize the good, portray it as bad, creating so much confusion that you can take advantage of the resulting fear yourself.

Taking a different approach than usual

block of stone for dolphins, removing unnecessary volumeI next received in my yard sometime in December 2020 a large block of profiled sandstone from the stonemason, out of which I had to carve a copy of these dolphins. This block was made of Polish Rákowicz sandstone. Rákowicz is comparable to Bentheim sandstone, but more cost-effective. This was an exceptionally fine, dense and homogeneous piece, although it had a few ochre smudges in it.

Normally I would put such an old statue on the pre-sawing machine and then start detailing from the sawn copy. But these dolphins were missing many parts, especially their tails. They're also rather small and quite detailed. So I quickly came to the conclusion that presawing wouldn't work. I would have liked to have had the brother of this ornament, which was still intact because it was a few meters further away on the façade. That would have made copying a lot easier. But I was involved too late and this was no longer possible.

Pointing step by step

starting the pointing processThe solution was to approach it in the classic way. I would measure the dolphins point by point and copy them with a pointing machine. This is something I prefer to avoid as it is an excruciatingly slow process, and as you may know by now I have a thorough dislike of measuring and I like to hurry up. But this time there was no escaping: I couldn't find any large shapes that would help me carve the sculpture mainly by eye or with just a few rough measurements. I did cover the original sculpture up with clay, to see if a simple main shape remained within which the most protruding parts fell, but it remained a tricky complex form. I had to simply measure it up in detail and do it step by step.

I started by reconstructing the tails in regular modeling clay. A sturdy rod inside the sculpture was to provide stability for the measuring device. Usually you'd need to make three base points on the original as well as on the block from which the copy is to be made, in which to hook the copying crosswood. This time I couldn't glue on some nuts or drill holes in it, so I decided to clamp some small boards onto it, in which I could fix some torx screws. The hooks of the pointing cross fitted perfectly in the torx heads.

Patience work

The new block with the stonemasonry parts already carved, that I had received from the stonemason, was much too big, so I first started to cut away the excess mass. I could measure that with some compasses. Then I started measuring lots of points on the dolphins, whereby one always works out the highest points first, and then will start shaping the intermediate parts. It's not really difficult work: you just need to keep setting up the pointing machine patiently, check that each wing nut is properly tightened and retract the needle, then transfer the pointing cross to the block of new stone and drill and carve there until you get to exactly 1 single point copied. Ad infinitum. The disadvantage of this method is that it takes a very long time before the shapes start to become visible. It's pretty stupid work actually. And slow work too. But after a few weeks of pointing, the details were all there and I was able to put the dreaded device aside.

I had all kinds of other assignments in between, such as my father's grave, the cornerstones of the Latin School in Nijmegen and a new set of large crockets for the Dom Tower in Utrecht. Fortunately, because pointing is not my favorite job.

Carving by eye

the sculptor ties the sculpture to the palletFortunately, there always comes a point where the sculptor has enough grip on all the measured points to work out the details by eye.. In this type of work, I like to trace a transparent plastic template from the main lines, so that I can very quickly get from the rough shape to a sculpture by transferring these lines onto my copy. After that it was only a matter of copy-carving the original dolphins by eye. I could make the tails from photos. I had deliberately left the modeled tails on my reconstructed parts very rough, because I find it easier to work that out in the stone than spend days fiddling in the clay. As long as I know how big the main volumes need to be, I have enough to start from. With some measurements that the stonemasons had provided me from the other original that was still on the Art'otel, I was able to make a decent copy. The entire ornament was finished with a narrow claw chisel, so I copied that into the copy as well.

four classic sandstone dolphins


pointing processI really dreaded this work because it is quite complex, and because this old sculpture was made with great flair and craftsmanship. I thought it would be a tough job approaching this level. Fortunately, it wasn't all that bad in the end, because what is very difficult at first was made a lot easier by the simple pointing process. That is also the reason that in Italy, for example, this simpler work is often left to the lesser sculptors. The real craftsmanship is done by the master artigiani, who for example can carve the faces, hair, hands and other details to a level that the ordinary carver cannot match. In this case, the pointing machine was a useful but boring tool for me. It was once again clear to me why I am so happy with that copying saw. Imagine that we would have had to measure up all of the 83 (until now) flying buttress statues of the Eusebius Church with the pointing machine, or Thomas Aquinas and Pope Leo the Great… then there would have also been a completely different price tag to such a sculpture, because we could never have made it so fast that way.

Speed ​​and price all-defining

The pointing machine is quite accurate, but as I said, it is a slow process, which would mean for most of the work we do that it would all become too costly. That is probably also the reason that more and more often robots are used to pre-mill the sculpture. The disadvantage of this is that professional knowledge is lost and that the work does not become very interesting if you're only required to finish what a robot has already milled to near perfection.. But usually that is not the most important point for most projects: it always turns out that in the end it is mainly about the cost price.


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