First published in The Emporia Gazette September 6, 2005


Listen to the sound of one of Alan's stonecarving classes

on NPR.


Alan Tollakson and lighted stone sculptures

Alan Tollakson and lighted wall sculptures

Emporia Art Walk - April 2005.



by Cheryl Unruh

In his studio on East Sixth Avenue, Alan Tollakson makes dust. Well, that and some splendid stone sculptures.

At Toad Hollow’s Art in the Garden in June, Alan’s limestone birdbath received a lot of attention.

Carved into the edge of the basin were two perfect mourning doves. Pink flower petals floated in the water. It was lovely.

stone birdbath

So it was not surprising that

Alan picked up two more commissions that day to make similar birdbaths.

I’ve known Alan for about 10 years. I don’t run into him often, although our paths crossed a couple of times this summer.

Alan is a somewhat quiet guy, but he’s passionate about his art. He absorbs what he sees in nature and chisels it into marble and limestone.

Recently I visited him in his studio, a garage. He had pulled back a dust barrier, plastic

sheeting, to show me his wall sculptures along the back of the room. Warm light glowed

through thin pieces of carved marble.

Another commissioned piece sat on a work table—a white marble fountain.

“There’s just so much to explore and do,” he said of his art. “It’s endless. It would take a couple of lifetimes.”

For sculpting, Alan said that limestone has a playful nature whereas marble tends to be on the serious side, with its veins, colors and crystals.

“You’re dealing with all that in addition to carving form. The material can overpower your form,” he said.

“I just so enjoy experimenting with the stuff and trying new things,” he said. “Even while doing the traditional things, I learn different ways of handling stone.”

A Wisconsin native, Alan grew up around stones—cemetery stones. His father sold and engraved them.

“I had tombstones in my front yard,” he said. They were just playground objects to me.”

“I guess that was a big influence, just being around the material,” Alan said.

Alan has a master of fine arts degree from the University of Kansas and in the 1990s he taught at the Kansas City Art Institute. He has participated in stone carving symposiums in China, Italy and the Czech Republic.

He may teach again locally or perhaps take on an apprentice. Lately however, Alan has devoted his time to stonework—and to his wife Deirdre and their 2-year-old daughter Anya Joy.

Emporia projects include limestone signs for the Technical College and the Flint Hills Care Center. The stone carvings set into the front of the Riverside and Timmerman school buildings are his.

Below are photos of the detailed stonework that he sculpted for Hale Library at Kansas State University. And he’s carved eight architectural capitals that rest on top of columns at a Rice University building in Houston.

Soon, pieces of Indiana limestone will arrive so he can begin a project for the law school in Boulder, Colo.

Because his studio is small, he carves the larger projects outdoors and has had to hammer away in freezing temperatures.

“That’s where I struggle,” he said with a smile.

Projects come in all sizes.

“When I get a great big stone--it really resonates. It has so much weight and mass, so when you’re pounding on it, it rings like a big deep bell. It’s just exciting to work on a big stone.”

But, it’s all good.

“I like working on small things too. I like the intimacy.”

Alan Tollakson’s work is going well. He has a national reputation for his architectural stonework and his art is appreciated locally.

“That’s what I’m finding in recent years--I want my work to connect,” Alan said. “I feel I have a lot to offer.”

He’s right. He does have a lot to offer. And it’s more than just a birdbath, a wall sculpture, or architectural ornamentation.

Alan takes a cold, ordinary stone and shows us the light and warmth hidden within.


stone carving
The Granada Coffee Company hosted Alan and his stonework during Emporia's Art Walk so he carved this letter G for them.

e-mail Alan Tollakson

Copyright 2005 by Cheryl Unruh

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All Content Copyright 2004-2005 by Cheryl Unruh
Text by Cheryl Unruh | Web Design: Dave Leiker
Photography by Cheryl Unruh & Dave Leiker