Meghan Shogan Charts Career Path Through Solid Rock: With Hammer, Chisels, and Steel Brushes in Hand, Austin Artist is on a Path in Stone – Arts
Meghan Shogan and her trusty angle grinder, carving a block in her East Austin workshop (Photo by Jana Birchum)
Meghan Shogan is a stonemason. Hammers, chisels, calipers, steel brushes against rough rock: Shogan carves stone for her art and she carves stone for a living and sometimes these two areas overlap.
Imagine a Venn diagram that’s over half marble, over half limestone, and there’s Shogan in the middle – working out of his East Austin studio in the relative nature behind Callahan’s general store, sprinkled with rock powder, chipping and scraping off a piece of inorganic material that existed before dinosaurs walked the earth, turning more of this planet’s base material into creative gold.
Imagine a Venn diagram that’s over half marble, over half limestone, and there’s Shogan in the middle, dusted with rock powder, chipping and scraping off a piece of inorganic material that existed before dinosaurs did. roam the earth, turning more of it from the basic material of the planet into creative gold.
Shogan ran Vault Stone Shop, on South Congress Avenue near St. Elmo Road, for a time – from May 2018 to April 2021 – using the venue as a residence and base of operations, hosting the work of other artists. premises in the intimate space even when she was plying the dirtiest part of her meticulous trade elsewhere. The gallery officially debuted with the 2019 East Austin Studio Tour, then … group shows – with the works visible through the huge Vault Stone Shop windows.
Paintings and drawings, prints and engravings, even the strange more than two-dimensional object, adorning the hall of the gallery for the pleasure of the public. Works by Navasota Sering, Saul Jerome E. San Juan, Darcie Book, Virginia Fleck, Ender Martos, Jade Walker, Valerie Chaussonnet, Steef Crombach, Jeffrey Primeaux and others, all arranged for graphic impact and providing respite from the Relentless Zoom- Restricted exhibitions of creativity embodied. Month after month after the pandemic masked month.
And here we are now, in the second year of our plague, with an ongoing struggle with variants of the virus and only hope for a possible return to, uh, normalcy. And Vault Stone Shop disappeared, closed, and sold, as Shogan found new ways of life and continued to stumble the rocktastic light in the bucolic backcountry south of the river. She is currently working on a major residential project for some wealthy clients, coaxing the solid material into the precise shapes required by structural imperatives. She tries to take time for her own lithic expressions. Whether for art or money, she’s been doing what she’s been doing for decades.
But – how did Shogan’s chisel journey through solid earth begin? What attracts a woman to the arduous field of stonecutting in the first place?
“A lot of people ask me that,” says Shogan. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do after high school in Pittsburgh. I wanted to do art, but my family wasn’t too keen on it. I actually went to SCAD for a semester before. to panic and quit. I felt like I was out of place, like they were all art children – and I was not from that background. I come from a family middle class, and they weren’t super artsy – my family is all engineers or a steel mill background – and I felt like I just didn’t fit in.
Meghan Shogan wielding hammer and chisel in her studio in East Austin (Photo by Jana Birchum)
But even that work was not set in stone – or set in stone.
“I moved to Arizona,” Shogan says, “and did a lot of cool jobs in the outdoors – trail work and stuff like that. I did a season of firefighting and decided I really liked the practical stuff. And then a friend of mine told me about a college in Charleston, South Carolina, where you could learn the trades of traditional building. And I was really interested in old buildings and architectural history and old monuments and things like that; I was interested in stone. And they have all kinds of programs – you can choose from wood, plaster, stone, metal. So I ended up going. “
The American College of the Building Arts in Charleston is where the woman who most recently carved a book in Texas limestone first struck the literal books, and where she literally hit the rocks.
“They are trying to give you everything,” said Shogan. “There is only one course, not many electives. It was a very small school – I was the third class to graduate, and we had five graduates. We learned the drawing and computer aided design. We took business courses. We did, like, building science in general: construction management, math, all that. The focus was mostly on size of stone in the workshop.
And it’s called masonry, right? Not like the fraternal mystical order or something else, but real stonemasons?
The artist nods. “So, for a piece of stone that is going to go on a building, there are two different kinds of masons: the one who Make this stone, and the one who to install this. But at school we did a lot of brick and concrete block laying, a lot of concrete work and stuff too. And, at the time, the college did not have power tools. We did everything by hand for four years. After which, Shogan moved to France, where she joined a cult.
Good kind of.
“There’s this thing called the Tour de France,” said Shogan, “and it’s not bike racing. It’s a trade school situation, where you leave home as a teenager and instead of going to regular high school to get an education, you do. It’s super hardcore, and a lot of people quit – they don’t like the lifestyle, because you have to leave home and go and live in boarding houses. It’s very old-school and weird – the French consider them a cult. The students spend a year in a different city each year, in a boarding school, and they move and work during the day and are in class at night and on weekends. It’s a 10-year program, and they have different locations in every city, different companies that they work for, and they travel and do that for seven years. Then they have to build a masterpiece that is accepted, and then they have to give back for three years – as teachers, helping run the residential schools. “
Set in stone: (ld) Fossilized Book, 2019, limestone; Uncle Hat, 2021, marble; Miracle Toaster, 2019, marble and limestone (Art by Art by Meghan Shogan / Photos by Chris Franks)
Shogan, however, did not devote a decade of his life to this program. “I applied for a scholarship, which was offered to Americans, and it was like a step along the way. You could spend a year with a bunch of people who were already in this process. So they threw me away. with the others, and they were all way above my level. And the workshop is one of the best in the world, and it’s difficult for the French to enter, and I just offered it to myself. . tell me I shouldn’t be there But I learned more than I had in the previous four years. I ended up staying a year and a half.
And so ends the lessons, at least formally, for Meghan Shogan. But artists always learn by working, of course, and Shogan learned she could work in Austin. So she moved here in 2012. “To Joseph Kincannon from Kincannon Studios,” she says. “They used to be called Archaic, and it was a little stone carving studio in East Austin, on – Fifth and Pedernales? Joseph is one of the few classically trained stone carvers in the United States, and he did a great job. I really wanted to work for him, and he said he had work for me, so I came to work for him. But eventually the work with Kincannon ended. He lost a big client or didn’t have enough work for everyone – just enough for himself, really. ” So Shogan turned to construction.
“I kind of made my way into a corporate office and worked my way up,” she says. “And, well, I was a project manager and a site superintendent. But all the while, I felt, it took me so long to learn stone carving, and I put so much heart and soul into it, and I’m not ready to give it up.“
Which led to greater engagement with the local artistic community. And Shogan’s participation in Big Medium’s East Austin Studio tour. And in the exhibitions of the Northern-Southern Gallery as well, like the end of 2019 exhibition “WORK PLAY MONEY LOVE WHAT IT IS WHAT COULD BE BOTH NEITHER ART DESIGN” which revealed the work of Shogan Fossilized book cut in Texas limestone. And at Vault Stone Shop.
“Philip Niemeyer from Northern-Southern was super nice from the start,” says the stonemason. “He said, ‘Come on’, and made me some tea, and we sat and chatted and reflected and had some great conversations. He asked me to be a part of this’ Work / Play “. I met a ton of people and made a lot of friends, and I feel like I’m part of the community now. Sean Gaulager from Co-Lab has a barn behind Callahan’s that he rents, and there’s a bunch of people sharing it. There’s an arborist and a few carpenters and other people, and now I also have a store space there – just a patch of land , really. And a toolbox, and a few shelves. I want to build it and have a workshop there. And I really want to do more of these books. I don’t do almost anything abstract. It’s either architectural. , for a building, and someone else designed it and everything has to be cut down to the millimeter. Or, personally, I like magical realism – where the object looks a bit real but it there is something weird about it. Like this book, or the marble cowboy hat. “
And carve rocks for a living? Create enduring works of complex beauty from such a ruthless material? It’s a bit magical too, isn’t it?
Shogan shakes his head, his golden hair moving in vertical planes.
“The stone is dirty,” she said.
A version of this article appeared in print on September 17, 2021 with the title: Trajectory in stone