Art show features ancient marble craft

Published 7:32 pm Thursday, November 19, 2009

North Shelby Baptist Arts and Crafts Show organizers hung signs along Highway 280, and visions of gingerbread, Christmas candy drew me to their parking lot where a hotdog stand stood ready.

Inside didn’t disappoint.

Craftsmen filled a fellowship hall, spreading into every nook and cranny paintings, wrought iron art, wood carved nativity scenes, needlecraft and goodies from the kitchen. One lady made silver wire jewelry on the spot.

In a far corner a display took my breath.

Did I go through Wonderland Alice’s hidden door and enter an art gallery on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue? Tables brimmed with stunning marble pieces, a millenniums-old craft: vases, plates, urns and goblets in various hues. Some pieces were imbedded with fossils created during earth’s cataclysmic change when the Himalayas were formed.

Dr. Lewis Menaker, who spent most of his career as professor at UAB, is the president of HML Enterprises LLC, importers of unique handcrafted Asian marble. He shared the story behind this work, which began with Menaker becoming a surrogate father after his brother died.

“I decided to help my nephew begin a business back in 2002,” he said.

If visions of board rooms entered your mind, think again. Imagine being perched on a horse-drawn cart, bumping along a path in China, on your way to a factory in a remote region of Tibet.

“I don’t even like to fly, and found myself on a 15-hour flight to Bangkok, then more flights, and a taxi, which turned out to be a pickup truck. Finally, a horse drawn cart took us to the factory,” Menaker said.

This factory, a dugout in the earth supported by trees, is operated by a group of artists working with enormous pieces of raw stone, crafting with foot-operated lathes, creating one-of-a-kind pieces like craftsmen have done there for 4,000 years, providing unique pieces for royalty.

Perhaps these craftsmen produced the boxes in which gifts for the Magi were brought by wise men from the Orient to the Messiah? Thinking on this possibility, and drawn by its natural beauty, I selected a vase.

“That’s snow flower marble,” Menaker said. “Good choice.”

Each piece is signed by the artist, and a certificate of authentication comes with the work. Established in Homewood, HML Enterprises caters mostly to fine decorators who fuel its growth. The decorator showroom is open by appointment only, so call 276-9933 or see