A work of art: Montevallo man attributes sculpting success to UM

Published 4:53 pm Monday, June 22, 2015

This is the finished product of the sculpture called “Once Upon a Time,” outside of the B.B. Comer Memorial Library located in Sylacauga that was done by sculptor Craigger Browne. (Reporter Photo/Graham Brooks)

This is the finished product of the sculpture called “Once Upon a Time,” outside of the B.B. Comer Memorial Library located in Sylacauga that was done by sculptor Craigger Browne. (Reporter Photo/Graham Brooks)

By GRAHAM BROOKS / Staff Writer

SYLACAUGA–There are only two places in the world where you can find pristine white marble suitable for sculpting: Carrara, Italy and Sylacauga, Ala.

Sylacauga, sometimes called “The Marble City,” is home to sculptor Craigger Browne and his incredible marble sculptures, one of which was recently completed and revealed at the B.B. Comer Memorial Library.

The four sculptures dedicated to the library are part of one complete piece named “Once Upon a Time,” and is in memory of former Sylacauga Mayor Curtis Liles Jr.

The sculpture was commissioned by Curtis Liles III, son of Liles Jr., and is meant to be a memorial to his mother and father.

The carving of the actual sculpture took nearly a year-and-a-half, but from concept to installation it took a total of two years according to Browne.

“The grouping is meant to be ‘Rockwellesque,’ to have the feel of Norman Rockwell’s America, which really is the way life is here in Sylacauga,” said Browne. “It’s a literacy scene with the Grandfather reading and if anything, it’s the sharing of knowledge from generation to generation and the importance of time being spent with family. It’s a grandfather reading to a grandson and a granddaughter and there’s an empty cushion. The empty cushion is sort of a play on story time, where there’s always room for one more.”

Another unique part of the sculpture is that all of the marble used to construct it came from the Sylacauga quarry.

Browne resides in Sylacauga and carved the sculpture for the better part of a year in a spot he calls “The Cage,” and those in town could view his progress each step of the way.

Browne attributes much of his success and foundation in sculpting and art through his education at the University of Montevallo where he arrived on a baseball scholarship and studied graphic design.

“Montevallo gave me the basics and it taught me the alphabet, if you will, the sentence structure and grammar in terms of what I do,” said Browne. “It wasn’t until I went to Lacoste, France, that I discovered stone and carving stone and I immediately knew that this is what I want to do. Without the foundation I got at Montevallo, there’s no way that I’d be able to do what I do now on stone.”

Browne earned his degree from UM in 1991, and during his four years on the baseball team, Browne played all nine positions after all was said and done.

Browne is also grateful for Roy Swindal and TBGS Holdings.

“They’re a group that came in and bought what used to be Alabama Marble and it’s now Sylacauga Marble and they’ve rebranded the stone and upgraded the machinery,” said Browne. “They’re promoting the marble worldwide with hopes to return Sylacauga Marble to what it used to be. This marble is actually in the Lincoln Memorial, it’s in the U.S. Supreme Court and skyscrapers in New York.”

The “Once Upon of Time” sculpture was finally revealed in late April at the B.B. Comer Memorial Library in front of a large crowd eager to see the finished product.

Browne acknowledged that it’s now a relief to have the sculpture finished and said it was daunting to see the large amount of marble in the beginning stages of the project.

“It’s a relief,” said Browne. “Discovering Alabama was filming in the early stages of the Once Upon a Time piece and so there were film crews and a lot of people out there when we were picking up the stone and moving it in. It was daunting to see 40,000 pounds of marble sitting there untouched and know that’s what I had to do, was carve it and get what’s out there out of it.”

Browne attributes his ability to focus and perseverance back to his days of playing baseball.

“That’s kind of where baseball comes into play,” said Browne. “It’s just like taking ground balls all day. It’s something you just have to do everyday and work hard and embrace the process and the rest will take care of itself in the end.”

Browne’s newest project will be going to the Helen Keller House in Tuscumbia, and will be The Miracle Worker scene.

Browne has now completed sculpting work on five of the seven continents, excluding Antarctica and Africa.

Browne’s “Once Upon a Time” piece can be found at the B.B. Comer Memorial Library in Sylacauga located at 314 N. Broadway Ave.