At a more practical level, Moore and Hepworth were avis collectors of found natural objects, pebbles, shells, bones and driftwood, which acted as a constant stimulus to their sculptural inventions. Gabo developed a similar penchant, especially during the seven years that he lived on the Cornish coast near St Ives. A sizeable haul of stones accompanied him when he moved to the United States in November 1946. Like the English sculptors, he began to carve directly into pebbles which nature had already weathered into pleasing shapes. (eg p.4).
During the next few years in America the only significant sculpture which Gabo produced was Repose, shown in Hartford in 1954. His renewed enthusiasm for stone carving in the early 60s resulted in part from a change in his working methods. Now in his seventies, he began to think in terms of preparing for his work for posterity, stimulated by the prospect of a major retrospective exhibition.
Gabo was loosing his physical strength and dexterity, but now could afford to hire studio assistants who helped him produce durable and often greatly enlarged versions of his most valued constructions, using metal and spring-wire in preference to more fragile plastics. This new system of studio production also enabled him to undertake commissions for monumental public works. This aspect of his activity presents an obvious parallel with the later careers of Moore and Hepworth. In contrast, when he was working on his own, Gabo tended to concentrate on more private activities such as small-scale carvings which he produced in considerable quantities in his later years.
At the same time, the impulse to complete his creative legacy lead him to look for a professional carver who could turn some of his favourite stone models into large-scale, fully realised sculptures. When Leslie Martin visited America in summer 1963, he told Gabo about the wonderful quarries in Portugal where he had a house. That December Gabo made the first of a number of visits to Portugal, with the intention of acquiring materials. Antonio Duarte, a Portuguese sculptor who specialised in stone-carving, accompanied Gabo to Pero Pinheiro, ‘the land of the stones’.
Gabo subsequently commissioned him to make a series of carvings, using Gabo’s models, the stones which they had selected together and an ‘apparatus for enlargement’. Duarte completed three sculptures in time for the 1965 retrospective, Redstone and Quartz stone carving in the present exhibition, and an enlarged version of the white stone which Gabo which Gabo had only recently carved in Connecticut. Gabo may have added some finishing touches to these works, but the large stones, like the late constructions, were essentially produced by other hands. Gabo continued to commission works from Portugal, including large versions of Granite carving, conceived in model form, some 25 years earlier, and of Alabaster Carving which now turned into Construction in space with Rose Marble Carving.
In the 1930’s, Gabo may have been stimulated by the work of his English friends and contemporaries, but this does not seem sufficient to account for such a sustained engagement with stone carving. It also seems reasonable to suppose that this type of work meant more to the artist than occasional relief from the finicky work of cutting shapes in plastic or threading nylon strings across the spaces of his constructions. How then can the carvings be connected with the main body of Gabo’s work and ideas?