Artist carves true self from stone

"By A Nose" is one of several pieces of work by Malibu resident Eugenie "Rose" Spirito that will be on display Sunday at the Germaine Morgan Salon.

Working as a shiatsu massage therapist for 22 years, Malibu resident Eugenie Rose transitions full-time to carving stone.

By Rachael Stillman/Special to The Malibu Times

Marking her transition from shiatsu massage therapist to full-time sculptor, Malibu resident Eugenie Spirito will be having her first sculpture show on June 5.

“The start of my show is really the start of my retirement,” said Spirito, who sculpts under the name Eugenie Rose. “I have wanted to drop everything and carve for a while. I am finally doing it, 20 years after I started.”

Stones have always intrigued Spirito. As a young child, Spirito said she was drawn to rocks, and enjoyed collecting them. But it wasn’t until she moved to New York that she started carving. First and foremost, she considered herself an artist.

“I was always an artist. It’s my passion. I really got into art when I was five. My grandparents took me to the L.A. County Museum of Art, and I immediately gravitated to the sculptures. I liked the other art too, but it was the Greek and Roman figures that would almost make my cry at their beauty,” Spirito said. “I crave museums and art-it’s just something I have always needed. Whatever jobs I have had in the past, I have always done something with my hands, whether it be drawing or photography or sculpting.”

Spirito moved from Los Angeles to New York in her late teens. She would go to the Met on her lunch breaks. Her initial brush with sculpting landed her in a room full of men. When she started using the sculpting tools, and picked up a sweat, she knew why she was the only woman in the class.

“I didn’t realize it would be so hard. Men tend to carve quicker than women,” Spirito said. “It can take me twice as long to carve something.”

Spirito got lucky with her first class-taught by world-renowned sculptor Philip Pavia. Pavia zoned in on her and told her she must carve. She trained with him for 10 years.

Pavia was considered a pioneer in abstract modern sculpture, and was known for his large-scale works, such as the four-piece bronze sculpture, Ides of March, which was displayed outside the New York Hilton for more than 20 years.

“He was a master. His work [was displayed at] Guggenheim, and all over world. He was a friend and contemporary of Willem De Kooning, Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline. He was very special,” Spirito said. “Philip was also very traditional and very strong. When I moved to Malibu with my husband, I sent him some photos of my sculptures, and though I hadn’t told him, he could tell right away that I had used power tools. And he reprimanded me.”

Pavia said that Spirito was an abstract impressionist. Spirito said she thinks she carves what she sees.

“I’m very asymmetrical, I don’t like everything perfectly centered. That’s how you really see things. I don’t want my sculptures to look like photos. Life’s more interesting.”

Pavia died last month, at the age of 94. Spirito dedicates her first sculpture show to him.

“I can feel him when I carve. I always had a connection with him, but now it is even more apparent,” Spirito said. “I’m able to carve now for five hours at a time, and it will feel more like 20 minutes. So, I think he’s with me.”

For the past 22 years, Spirito has worked as a successful shiatsu massage therapist, featured in a bevy of national magazines. She was known for her ability to put her clients at ease and into a state of relaxation.

Lately, her shiatsu massages have been leaving her physically exhausted, whereas her carving, she said, just makes her happy. Today, her former clients tell her that her sculptures have the same healing nature as her shiatsu massages did.

Actor Harry Hamlin has known Spirito for close to 13 years.

“For years she was my shiatsu massage practitioner, and without question, she was the best massage therapist I ever had,” Hamlin said in a phone interview. “She has a gift of touch, a kind of magic with her touch that extends to her sculptures. She is able to relate through her hands to the stone, which I am sure is why she is so passionate about her sculptures. Her passion transcends any kind of normal experience.”

Another former shiatsu client, Malibu resident and voice actor Kathy Soucie, had this to say about Spirito’s work: “Eugenie’s work is luminous … her beautiful sculptures glow with life and vitality. They seem to bring a feeling of serenity and originality to any space they inhabit. I think her long career in the healing arts has almost certainly given her special [sensitivity] in rendering the human form so masterfully.”

Spirito said the sculpting show melds perfectly into her present life.

“My friend has been telling me I should do this show for a couple of years now. I am a shy person,” Spirito said. But it’s time now-it is just time.”

Eugenie Rose Spirito’s sculpture show takes place Sunday, June 5, from 12 p.m. – 3 p.m. at the Germaine Morgan Salon, 24955 Pacific Coast Highway, Suite B 204, in Malibu. More information can be obtained by visiting the Web site,