What is Soapstone Sculpture?

Sara Schmidt

Throughout the world, artists have made sculptures from a variety of mediums. One such medium is the metamorphic rock known as soapstone. Soapstone is considered an ideal artistic medium for its softness, largely due to its composition of the mineral talc.

Soapstone is considered an ideal stone for shaping for art because of its softness.
Soapstone is considered an ideal stone for shaping for art because of its softness.

A soapstone sculpture typically resembles a marble ceramic. Its lines are normally very smooth, with rounded corners. Artists use mallets, rasps, saws, chisels, and rattail files to create soapstone sculptures. These creations may also be sanded with sandpaper and treated with oil for a shiny finish.

Many traditional tools are used to sculpt soapstone.
Many traditional tools are used to sculpt soapstone.

Green soapstone is a popular choice of medium in creating a soapstone sculpture. Small sculptures, particularly of animals such as elephants, owls, and bears, as well as people and gods, are often made of green soapstone. It is also used in creating soapstone burners. Black soapstone is another popular choice, and is often used in creating sculptures such as chess pieces. Soapstone can also be pink, white, and other colors.

Some very famous soapstone sculptures can be found all over the world. The giant Rio de Janeiro statue, "Christ the Redeemer," is made out of soapstone and concrete. The Hoysala Empire temples of India are made of soapstone, as are many Native American relics, Inuit carvings, Chinese seals, and Egyptian amulets.

Also known as steatite or soaprock, soapstone has a variety of names across the globe. A rock used in soapstone sculpture for thousands of years, it is also known as kisii stone, combarbalite stone, palewa stone, and gorara stone. People in Kenya, Chile, India and many other countries use the metamorphic rock to create various works of soapstone sculpture to sell to tourists or to export to other nations.

Talc makes up most of soapstone's chemical composition. Talc is so soft that it causes soapstone to have a hardness rating of one, compared with a diamond's rating of 10. Talc is composed of oxygen, silicon dioxide, water, magnesium oxide, magnesium, and silicon.

Soapstone also contains chlorite, the amphiboles tremolite, magnesiocummingtonite, anthophyllite, and other oxides. Soapstone is also abundant in magnesium. It is known as soapstone because of its slippery feel. Its size can vary, and its density is similar to porcelain. Other rocks with a similar composition to soapstone are used to make soapstone sculptures include teatite, pyrophyllite, and breunerite.

The uses of the rock are not limited to soapstone sculpture. It has been used in making beads, pipes, and many other materials, as well as a cast for pewter and silver creations. Soapstone is also used in many modern creations, such as counter tops, cookware, and gravestones.

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