Merrill Orr Carves Art Career Out of Stone

La Quinta artist will host interactive demonstration at Indian Wells Arts Festival

Sculptor Merrill Orr of La Quinta will be a featured artist at the Indian Wells Arts Festival April 4-6.

Photo by Marcia Gawecki


Sculptor Merrill Orr won’t be the only one carving stone during the 12th annual Indian Wells Arts Festival, which runs April 4-6.

“I will be working on a huge block of alabaster, while each kid gets to carve his own piece,” says Orr, who will be one of the festival’s featured artists. “It will be more fun than working with clay.”

The theme of Orr’s artist demonstration is called, “When in Rome,” which harkens back to his teenage years when he first learned to carve marble in Italy. Orr’s artist dad encouraged him to study abroad before entering college.

“I was classically trained by three Italian brothers, Hugo, Nino and Joe,” recalls Orr, who lives in La Quinta. “They made me appreciate a sculpture’s perfect, crisp line.”

He still keeps in touch with Hugo on a weekly basis.

“The main thing children will learn while carving in stone is patience,” explains Orr, who regularly teaches symposiums to grade school children.

After a recent one, an 11-year-old boy approached Orr with an announcement.

“He told me that he found his life’s calling,” Orr says with a laugh. “So I patted dust all over his clean shirt, and asked him if he still loved it, and he said yes!”

In June, Orr will travel to Mainland China to create 45 small and monumental–sized sculptures at three universities. He will bring his wife, Marla, who is Japanese-German, and his 25-year-old assistant, Wayne Wilson, aka “The Hammer.”

Orr was reluctant to give the names of the Chinese universities because of competition.

“I don’t want anyone to break up this deal,” he says.

His year-long arrangements began at an art fair in Palm Springs. A Chinese professor approached Orr’s booth saying that he liked one of his sculptures. Orr, who had previously worked in Hong Kong, attempted to speak to him in his own language.

VIDEO: Hear from artist Merrill Orr and watch him work on his latest sculpture.


“My Chinese isn’t good, but neither was his English, but somehow we communicated about art,” Orr recalls. “Then I took a picture of him and his wife in front of my sculpture.”

Then Orr received an email saying they were interested in a commission. Months passed, and then they got a call saying they were on their way for a visit.

“The house was in complete disrepair because we were renovating the kitchen,” exclaims Marla Orr.

Orr was frantically looking around the house for a gift.

“I found a bottle of whiskey, and later gave them one of my sculptures,” he says.

Months later, the Chinese educators commissioned Orr to make 45 sculptures, including 10 monumental ones (20-30 meters) to be created on site.

Orr’s approved renderings include large geometric and figurative steel sculptures. Some parts he’ll bring with him in a large shipping crate, while others will be created from Chinese steel.

For information on the Indian Wells Art Festival, call (760) 346-0042 or visit

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