This article appeared in the Fredericksburg, Virginia Freelance –Star under the byline of Lisa Chinn. Photography by Scott Neville
Ed Jaffe’s studio of sculpted marble and textured paintings stands out like a sore thumb in Orange County.
Amid the quiet gift shops and quaint eateries in the town of Orange, Ed Jaffe’s exhibition space is a bit of a shock. Massive marble sculpture and an open, upscale atmosphere give the Main Street storefront a big-city feel–smack in the middle of a tiny Virginia town. “People walk through my door and say, ‘What the hell is this doing in Orange?'” said Jaffe.
Melding with marble
Images of another realm greet those who slip off the streets of Orange and into Jaffe’s world. Female figures and abstract forms made of marble mingle with African pots and masks. Textured paintings of Portuguese villages and Spanish alleyways hang on the walls. Jaffe’s art is inspired by his travels, including a hike through the Mayan and Incan ruins of Central and South America. “They say that an artist reflects the time in which they live, but I have always been attracted to another time, another place and a culture that is not my own,” his artist’s statement reads.
A New England native, Jaffe has carved African hardwood and Italian marble. He’s fashioned figures from fiberglass, acrylic and clay. But “I’m into stone,” Jaffe said. “I like the smell and taste of stone.” And marble–cold, hard, sensual marble–is his favorite material to carve. “Carving marble is better than going to a shrink,” he said. “When you’re really upset, you go in there and you start working on a fresh piece of stone and any frustration ends up on the floor.”
Jaffe often draws designs on paper, then uses charcoal to transfer them to the material he sculpts. He starts chiseling at the front of a stone and works “through” it, drilling away excess rock and hammering off unwanted hunks. The shavings become smaller and smaller, turning to flecks, then dust. Jaffe leaves a “road map” of the marble at each step in each piece to give viewers a sense of its journey.
As the structure takes shape, he “listens” to the marble, letting its quirks and qualities lead the way. “I never think when I’m working on stone,” he said. “I just let it happen.”
Jaffe was just 13 when he picked up a camera. Before long, he was using one to turn a profit. As a student at Syracuse University, he scared up local photography jobs. In his junior year, he left to study advertising photography at the Art Center School in Los Angeles. He bumped himself up to the big leagues in the 1950s, when he moved to Manhattan with enough money in his pockets to last six months. He stayed for 22 years, landing jobs with major companies, like duPont, Pfizer, AT&T and IBM. But it wasn’t always easy.
His first apartment was tiny, with a bathroom that doubled as a darkroom. He paid bills and purchased photo equipment with the money he made, then used the rest to buy groceries. “If my dad knew how many meals I skipped,” Jaffe said, “he would have killed me.”
A wood carving on the cover of a 1958 issue of “Life” magazine caught Jaffe’s eye, and changed his life. “I can do that” he said. He bought a slab of mahogany and a book, and taught himself to sculpt. He was smitten by his new hobby, invigorated by the three-dimensional quality that was sculpture..
The catalog work that began to dominate the photo industry left him less enamored with his career. Then, a 1970 photo shoot sent him to Vermont. “I had a love affair with the place.” said Jaffe, whose eyes twinkle when he speaks of the skiing he enjoyed and the state, where he bought land and built a house.
The camera still paid the bulk of the bills. But Jaffe was spending less time taking pictures, more time sculpting. His works sold from New England to Florida, from Georgia to California. But the money-driven, anything-goes attitude that emerged in the 1980s art market was more than he could take. He refused to tweak his style to meet the changing demands of the business
A knee injury that left him unable to ski-coupled with a need for change, spurred his desire to leave Vermont. That’s when he stumbled across the empty Orange County storefront. He bought it because it was there, he said, and because it was big enough to house the 15 tons of sculpture and equipment he was hauling. The 16,000-square-foot building became his studio, his exhibition space and his home.
Today, he sells his work to private collectors and to those who are willing to travel to Orange to see his sculpture and paintings. Smaller pieces sell better because they’re less expensive, easier to handle and more convenient to transport. But that doesn’t stop Jaffe from chiseling the massive works that make him happy, like the 4-foot, 1,500-pound piece he carved from Portuguese marble. “I don’t care if I never sell it,” he said about the figure–an abstract image of a man embracing a woman. “I enjoy every minute of it.”
As he nears the end of his current supply of marble, he’ll decide whether to buy more or return to sculpting other materials. One thing is for certain: Jaffe won’t be swayed by friends or foes or fortune. “Fame is always welcome”, he said. “but a really wealthy artist is an artist who can stay in the studio all day long. I’ve been doing that for a long time.”