The Sculptor

by Clay Scott
Photos by Kenton Rowe

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January 25, 2012
Helena, Montana
Clay Scott

CLAY SCOTT: Joseph Baraz has always loved stone. When he was a kid in the town of Eger in northern Hungary, he used to cut classes and spend hours watching the stone cutters near his school, or he’d wander around the town, mesmerized by the 16th century stone buildings. His favorite playground was an abandoned cemetery near his house, where he absorbed the style of the carved Baroque gravestones. He was 22 when he and his wife, Agnes, left Hungary – first for Germany, then the U.S. -and by then he already knew he wanted to work with stone. The first time I met Joseph he had a trowel in his hand, and he was laying tile. He was working on a small remodeling job and doing everything himself: carpentry, stone, tile, stucco. I didn’t know at the time that he was a sculptor, but I was struck by his beautiful work, and by his unhurried pace. The other day I stopped by to visit him in his studio; in the basement of the house he and Agnes built for themselves in Helena, Montana.


JOSEPH BARAZ: This is an interesting piece. It has an interesting bevel to it. I kind of use that bevel to make some kind of interesting shape when I carve into the stone.
I’m fascinated with different space – it give me different sense, or sensation of how it’s crowded or more light. And actually it’s kind of strange but I like to work in the basement or dark places. It’s very strange for a painter or sculptor.

SCOTT: Joseph has worked in all kinds of places. He says the process of trying to make himself feel at home in new circumstances gives him inspiration. He talks a lot about the balance between rootedness, and rootlessness – that’s something he’s been pondering since he was a kid in Hungary, when he spent his summers working as an acrobat with a circus that would travel from village to village.

BARAZ: So I became a nomad, and always loved that notion of…you just…you’re just moving on with either with your work, or with yourself. I didn’t have a studio. Just had a temporary place. And that was a basement. And ended up I did a number of good work in the basement. With no any organized space. Just lay down a piece of paper on the floor, so that’s type of what the nomad is. They always moving one place to another, finding richer or different ground that feed you…with your life.

SCOTT: Looking around Joseph’s studio, at the piles of stone and pieces of wood and bronze and lead, and at the sculptures and paintings, you get the feeling that everything here is in motion – that none of these works are finished, and that the idea of completion and perfection is even kind of irrelevant.
BARAZ: I never have a plan. Even with my life. I’m very fluid in that sense. When I make a sculpture I don’t sit down and draw what I’m gonna do. So actually I find a piece already speaking to me, and I try to make an idea or conversation with the piece or modify or working with it.

SCOTT: One of the materials that Joseph has been working with – having a conversation with, as he says – is old wallpaper that he salvages from abandoned buildings, then paints over.
BARAZ: I took it home and cherished them and I loved the past; what happened with them, how they happened to be. And I see them vanishing; but I bring them back alive. I put another image on top of it and framed them and look at it and it just make me so happy. but the happiness is short lived, in a sense, because I’m looking something else…if you’re satisfied, you’re dead…you’re looking…not what you do today, but what you’re gonna do tomorrow. Every time it’s a new blank page. And when you start working on it it’s just very inspiring.

SCOTT: Sitting in the upstairs study of the house Joseph and Agnes built from scratch, partly from scavenged material, and surrounded by Joseph’s art work, much of it also from scavenged material, I wondered about the overlap between Joseph’s work as a builder and his life as an artist.
BARAZ: Extremely different. One of them functional and have to serve a purpose. Other one has absolutely no other purpose just as spiritual or what they call as something beautiful. And what is beautiful might be a possibility or hope…or happiness. you can sit down and have your favorite poems or novel and you could not get enough of it. Just very powerful. And that’s what move you. Give you some kind of…it’s a mystery basically. It’s a bridge between life and art. It’s a bridge to understand life through art and creation.

SCOTT: You’ve been listening to Mountain West Voices. Our series is produced in association with the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West, a regional studies and public education program of the University of Montana. Additional support was provided by the Greater Montana Foundation. To see images of Joseph Baraz and his work by photographer Kenton Rowe, and to listen to dozens of archived stories from around the Rocky Mountain West, go to

I’m Clay Scott.