As a teenager, Thea Alvin spent some time working for her dad, hauling and shaping stone on Martha's Vineyard. "He needed the help," says Alvin, 45. "Plus, I'd totaled his car, so I had debt to pay off." She gave up the work after eloping at 18, but in 1998, when she found herself divorced and a single mom, masonry became a way to make a living—and then some. "Whether it was a wall or a well, the brute labor relieved any lingering turmoil from my broken marriage and the stress of raising three kids alone," Alvin says. "It's like a daylong yoga practice, where I can breathe, move, meditate, create—and laugh!"
Using stone as her medium, Alvin creates stunning sculptures: spiraling arches, open circles, and towering cairns. She begins by slowly carving tons of rock, with a chisel in one hand and a hammer in the other. (She owns more than 50 hammers, all painted pink, and calls her favorite Garfield.) Alvin sculpts primarily as a dry mason, without any adhesive. Instead, her work, like the helix that spans 100 feet on her Vermont front lawn (or, as she calls it, her public sculpture park), is held together by gravity and the careful fit of each crafted slab. Alvin balances stones on top of a wooden frame until they're secure. Then it's time for her tried-and-true wiggle test: "I shake the sculpture. If it moves as one, I know it's stable."
Her Dream Job
For the past four years, Alvin has been traveling to a 15th-century village in Italy to repair crumbling stone roofs on 19 homes. "I get my artsy side from my Italian grandfather," she says, "so when I'm there, I feel connected to my roots." Which means that although the project will take several more years to complete, Alvin's happy to keep chipping away.
— Zoe Donaldson