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Laguna art college president cancels stone carving class, citing health concerns

stone carving
Lizbeth Fritz works on a piece of Italian translucent alabaster during a stone-carving class at the Laguna College of Art and Design in 2015. LCAD President Jonathan Burke is canceling the class because of health concerns about dust generated by stone cutting.
(Steve Rabbago)

The days of a stone-carving class at the Laguna College of Art and Design are numbered.

After consulting with staff, LCAD President Jonathan Burke decided to end the class on June 30, citing health concerns from students and faculty from the dust generated during carving.

The class is open to the public and held every Saturday on the campus at 2222 Laguna Canyon Road.

Its history dates back 40 years.


“I don’t want students [students and staff] to be subjected to the stone dust generated by grinding and other materials,” Burke said in an interview Friday. “The wind picks it up and moves it to other areas of the campus. It’s in close proximity to other studios.”

Students and an instructor of the class approached the Laguna Beach Arts Commission earlier this week, hoping the group could do something to intervene.

“People have handled this product safely for more than 2,000 years without a mask,” Steven Lustig, a sculptor and course instructor said in an interview Thursday. “The last true art college [in Orange County] just closed the last stone-carving yard in Orange County because of dust. You’ve got to be kidding me.”

Students work primarily with marble and alabaster, Lustig said. Alabaster contains no silica while marble has between .05% and 5% silica, which Lustig said are trace amounts.


Stones containing any hazardous material, such as asbestos, are not allowed in the yard and any person who cuts or grinds granite must wear a mask, he added.

Crystalline silica dust is hazardous when very small particles are inhaled, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration website. Silica commonly occurs in nature as the mineral quartz and is found in granite, sandstone, quartzite, various other rocks, and sand.

Dust particles can penetrate deep into the lungs and cause disabling and sometimes fatal lung diseases, including silicosis and lung cancer, as well as kidney disease, the OSHA website said.

Burke said he did not have the air tested.

Lustig said Burke did an about-face from three months earlier.

“Ninety days ago he told me there are no issues and we are free to stay indefinitely,” Lustig said.

Burke said he made “no promises for continuation” and received permission to shutter the class from four LCAD board members.

This is not the first time the class’ status has been in jeopardy.


“I told them a couple of years ago about the program staying and to start looking for another space,” Burke said.

At that time Lustig said they negotiated and agreed to give up one-third of their allotted space and moved tens of thousands of pounds of stone off the yard so they could stay.

Burke sent an email to Lustig and Joe Sovella on May 23 telling them he was closing the class.

Arts Commissioner Suzi Chauvel said she wanted the item placed on the agenda, though it’s questionable the extent of the city’s involvement since LCAD sits on private property.

“I am personally devastated that they are leaving,” Chauvel said. “This is a valuable asset to our town, to our mission of retaining artists, of creating that magic.”

Lustig said the class will move to a studio in Santa Ana.

Sil Penovi, a student for two years in the stone-carving class, first heard about the decision from Lustig.

“I was incredibly surprised because two months prior we cleaned up the yard and reduced the amount of space we use,” Penovi said.


Penovi added that there is “hardly anyone” on campus on Saturdays when the class is held.

Burke said he was en route to meet with an OSHA official Friday.

Twitter: @AldertonBryce