This piece is a commission for a mantelpiece. The client wanted something subtle, mysterious, and scientifically interesting. I had been reading a book called "Other Minds" by Peter Godfrey-Smith, that covered the parallel evolution of humans and cephalopods, tracing back to our nearest common ancestor, a sort of proto-planarium. Modern cephalopods share many of the features of their much earlier ancestors, almost as if they reached the pinnacle of their evolution 500 million years ago and said "Cool, we're done". Kind of like the Amish of the pelagic zones. So the octopus was in. 

I was also fascinated by the orthocones, an ancient sort of nautilus that hadn't figured out how to wrap its shell into an Archimedean spiral yet. The theme I chose was for a couple of these cephalopods to be reaching out across time and space: orthocone and octopus.  

The dimensions of the installation space was 4 feet wide by 6 inches tall, so I kept thinking the rendition would be a lot like a banner ad except without the animated gifs. heh. 

The first stone I chose was a two inch thick black granite, which meant it was super heavy but also made an interesting pattern on the octopus pelt after polishing. After mostly completing it I realized I somehow got the wrong depth measurement, and 2" would be standing well proud of the mantel frame. After some misguided attempts to shave the back of the piece down, I decided to re-do the whole piece. 

Attempt #2 went really well for about a week, then one of the corners broke off. While I was deciding how to glue it back on I re-measured and found I was ¼" short.. aaugh! That went on the heap. Well, actually it's turned upside-down and pretending to be a stepping stone in my front walk. 

Third times a charm: this one was going to be much thinner and made of two pieces rather than one large one. I started carving it at the socially distant stone carving symposium, and actually got pretty far. The orthocone has like a million arms and it took forever to get those carved and rounded without snapping them off. 

There remained two challenges to meet: level and align the two pieces and match texture and finish across the gap; and how to hang it up. 

For the first challenge I had to build a special easel to hold it and allow me to slide the pieces back and forth to gauge their fit together. This was a lot of sub-millimeter adjustments until it aligned perfectly. 

The second challenge was a doozy. The piece would be bordered on three sides, top/left/right, so there was no way to mount it where the idea was to have a hook (think: French cleat). Putting in on a ½" shelf was good, but I needed a way to keep it there without tipping and without showing any obvious clips. 

And this is where it got really interesting: I never knew that magnets will lose their magnetism when heated too much! Each magnetic material has a Curie point where it will stop being magnetic, and in theory the temp is in the thousands, but in practice with the materials in hand I found it would lose its zing at about 100° C, which is well within the range of the fireplace insert's capabilities. I was able to locate some Samarium Cobalt magnets which will survive a much higher temp (700-800° C), but I had to get twice as many since they weren't as sticky. If the fireplace got hotter than that, the house is actually on fire, and the mantelpiece would be the least of their worries.

I'm really pleased by the composition in situ. It's very hard to get a good picture, but the effect is a very subtle relief with just enough shine and texture to define, without being overly insistent.