A Career Set In Stone

–John Egan

Phil Hollenbeck

“Pigeonholed,” 78 x 38 x 10 in., Indiana limestone, 2007

Kevin Marple

Davis Cornell at work on “Abstract Bottle,” Italian Statuario

Gary Blockley

“Visitor’s Center Relief,” 3 x 3 x 1 ft., antique Lueder’s limestone, 2003

Davis Cornell ’99 and the business of art

Davis Cornell ’99 considered several career paths, including film, engineering and art. He ended up earning a bachelor’s degree in studio art with an emphasis in sculpture and has since made art his career.

Cornell credits Mary Hale Visser, professor of art, with having “a major impact” on his choice of art as a career and for pushing him toward excellence in craftsmanship.

These days, Davis applies the knowledge he acquired at Southwestern to his craft; he’s a sculptor with his own business in Dallas, La Scimmia Studios. His sculptures—mostly limestone pieces—are in homes and public displays throughout the Southwest. In December, Cornell received the prestigious Dan Pogue Gold Medal Award for a limestone carving, “Pigeonholed,” shown at a major sculpture exhibit in Marble Falls, Texas.

After an apprenticeship with Dallas stone sculptor Harold F. Clayton, Cornell trained in Pietrasanta, Italy, where Michelangelo went in search of the perfect stone. The following year, Cornell returned to Texas to be an architectural stone carver, again working with Clayton. Today, Cornell rents studio space from Clayton.

Cornell launched La Scimmia Studios in 2005. “The hours are nice,” he says. “I can really get busy when I’m inspired.” But Cornell tries to limit himself to eight or nine hours of work each day. “This is really more fun than work for me, so I sometimes work at least one day over the weekend as well,” he says.

Despite the fun, being a self-employed artist does present obstacles. Balancing creative matters with business matters can be tricky, Cornell says, as putting your mind to finances saps energy from your art.

“I try to cram any business activities, like clerical work, into about three days each month, so I can stay focused on the art,” Cornell says.

In promotional materials for his business, Cornell explains the artistic side of his one-of-a-kind sculptures: “I’ve been influenced by great architects and engineers and also by nature and its beauty, spending time observing my natural environment. I envision forms in thought and bring them to life, concentrating on the aesthetic qualities of the medium and the form itself.”

At La Scimmia Studios, you’ll find Cornell developing commissioned pieces from limestone, as well as marble, wood and metal. “I certainly don’t feel restricted to any type of material—whatever grabs me—although stone has got a pretty good hold on me,” Cornell says. “I really enjoy the permanence of it, creating art that fights with the stone being so rigid and cold and immobile.”

On the low end, one of Cornell’s works costs about $5,000. On the high end, a piece can carry a price tag of $20,000 and up. From design to stone-ordering to carving, a project consumes at least three months.

“The stone is cheap,” Cornell says, “but the labor’s not.”