The Carrara Experience

Jim and his daughter Beth

For all my years as an artist I had waited with great expectation for the day I finally managed to elude all other responsibilities to arrive in the land that had for millions of years preserved such exquisite marble within its fortress mountains from where Michelangelo would ultimately carve his inimitable “David.”

As a man closing on seventy years of age I had waited most of my life for this chance to tackle the great challenge of carving the very marble that has tormented even the most eminent and capable sculptors over the centuries and yet who succeeded to master it and become legends in our history books. The thought of carving marble in Carrara then was an inspiring yet terrifying prospect for someone who hadn’t touched a chisel since being a student but I was to discover that I had absolutely nothing to fear and every thing to rejoice in as it turned out to be the most enjoyable and productive experience far beyond any I had hoped and anticipated.

Getting there

Having inspired my entire family to become artists, Beth my eldest daughter who is an established professional sculptor urged me to accompany her on this sculpture course and in so much turned the tables on our tradition by leading me into the unknown just as I had done so many times with her and how grateful I now am to her for her inspiration. She had arranged for us to go by plane from London Heathrow to Pisa where we hired a car with satellite navigation. This gave us the freedom to come and go as we pleased and we arrived at the address in Carrara where we were to stay without a hitch. On arrival Roberto and his wonderful family made us very welcome and throughout our stay they couldn’t do enough for us even to the extent of putting on a special night to celebrate us Brits with Roberto providing a brilliant BBQ of Spanish food and local wines. The property is very private and secure. The rooms are cool and clean with the linen and towels being changed daily. The dining room is spacious and breakfast is served to suit your schedule. For laptop users broadband is free.

Roberto, the host at Villa Acero, sets the table for breakfast.

The workshops

The Studio is full of inspiring completed works whilst the yards outside are equally heaped full of the most enticing blocks of marble of varying quality and colours. The studio owners and management team are friendly and helpful. Their expertise is essential when choosing marble to work with and this complements the gracious way the tutors support your own aspirations in order to get the best out of your time. To this end the lead professional sculptor Steve Shaheen has a gift of knowing just what to say and just when to say it as he helps you get to grips with your work. He also has that rare skill of knowing just what tools you will need and even takes you to the trade tool stores to acquire them.

Beth and I working with the pneumatic chisel.

All those involved in the academy work hard and long and this soon gets into your blood as you synchronise with this talented team of humble but impressively competent artisans not that graft is compulsory you can come and go as you please but the work ethic is truly addictive.

I loved the shaded open-air workspaces that they provided for us in the huge yard. They ensured that we had everything we needed and were also extremely safety conscious. They see that you come to no harm in this busy and bustling workplace yet they trust you as a brother artisan that I found charming and typical of these genuine and talented people.


Some of the excellent food we enjoyed.

The daily lunch takes place on site in a typical workman-like kitchen and is always served on time yet whilst it is informal it is also generous in its delicious typically Italian fare and is normally helped down with local wine and much laughter and light-hearted chat. The best coffee in the world completes the meal. Work also resumes on time and in earnest and continues until you want to finish and that could be late at night if you were on a roll. In the evening there are many places to eat. The house is located in the town but it is quiet and peaceful and many restaurants are within walking distance. One Trattoria where you can eat under cover but actually in the street is “FolleMente”. And it’s only a few minutes walk just down the road and is well supported by the locals, which tells you a lot. The menu is great, the food is good and service is fast and friendly and the bill is surprisingly modest. For real quality food, we tried the Hotel Atlantic Restaurant near the seafront where we sat under giant umbrellas by the side of beautiful opulent swimming pools set in rich gardens. This proved to be a star choice as it was superb in every way with great fish dishes washed down with brilliant white wines, but as you may expect we did have to pay for it.

The Students

One of our delicious group lunches at the studio

We may have been just lucky, but I don’t think so as each student had a commitment to their own work and whilst we were all so different in our age, gender and work approach there was a stimulating air of camaraderie and support that grew quickly from the first day and became a regular positive daily appraisal of our progress. There existed a natural respect for each other and I valued and enjoyed the fact that everyone just got on with their work and most of the time we were oblivious to each other as we dealt with our own challenge locked within that inscrutable marble. We also had fun in the evening sharing giant pizzas and local wines and beers that was a great stress-buster after a hard days work. In all a happy perhaps unrepeatable journey of self discovery shared with others of a like, each facing the struggle of self expectation and with the added bonus of not only ending up with works in marble that are ultimately shipped home to remind one of the victories but also with new friends from across the world who share the same vision and passion for the greatest and most compelling art form of all. Would I do it all again? Absolutely!

James Cullen



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