Pencils have been associated with art for hundreds of years, but it is only recently that they have been used for sculptures rather than to draw with. Artist Dalton Ghetti, a Brazilian native now living in Bridgeport, CT, has been carving miniature sculptures into the graphite of pencils since he was a school boy in Brazil. However, he makes a living as a carpenter. He received his associate’s degree in architecture from Norwalk Community Technical College. As a child in Brazil, Ghetti sharpened his pencils with a razor blade, which led to him experiment with carving into the wood of the pencils and then with other materials such as chalk, soap, and tree bark. Eventually, he discovered the ease with which graphite could be carved into because of its smooth texture. He uses No. 2 pencils and stronger, flat carpenter pencils.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about Ghetti’s sculptures is that he does not use a magnifying glass of any sort while creating his pieces. He does them all by hand and most of the time all he needs is a razor blade, a sewing needle, and very bright light. In order to protect his eyes and keep them from getting tired, he only works on his pencils for about an hour and a half a day. The time restraint and the tiny, intricate details make for a long process; his pieces can take months to years to complete. Ghetti explains: “I have an interest in small things in life—insects, moths, spiders. I spend a lot of time observing them. There’s a whole microscopic world out there that people don’t even notice.” Magnifying glasses have been previously provided for visitors to exhibits of his sculptures, as well as enlarged photographs, to fully appreciate the detail.
It took Ghetti about two and half years to complete Alphabet, a set of 26 pencils with each letter of the alphabet carved into the tip of the graphite. The letters are in perfectly block shaped, reminiscent of letter magnets. In recognition of his career as a carpenter, he has also created a series of mini sculptures of tools such as a hammer and a saw. Chain is different from his other works because instead of using the tip of the pencil, he carved individual links out of the graphite in the middle of the pencil. This created a chain that links the two ends of the pencil together.
“People look at my sculptures and then they look again, more closely, and they say, ‘Oh, there’s something in there.’ We’re a fast-paced society, and people don’t have time to stop and reflect–it’s all go, go, go. Hopefully these pieces make them stop and realize there is beauty in small things.”
Ghetti has been working on an ongoing memorial project for the tragedies of September 11. He is carving teardrops out of graphite, one for every person that died that day (3,000). The teardrops will then be arranged together to form a much larger teardrop.
The idea is, as you walk in, you’ll see a huge tear drop far away. As you walk up close to it, you’ll see that it’s made up of tiny little ones. So I make one a day. I was watching the whole thing from Sherwood Island State Park, and I broke down and cried all day. I had a vision about doing something about it, and that’s what I came up with. It’ll probably take about 10 years to do it.
Watch Ghetti talk about his work in this video.
Come see Ghetti’s work at the New Britain Museum of American Art in our exhibition Meticulous Masterpieces: Contemporary Art by Dalton Ghetti, Les Lourigan, and Jennifer Maestre from April 2 to August 29, 2010. There will be an opening reception in conjunction with our First Friday event on April 2, 5:30-7:00, with opening remarks by the artists at 6.