In His Element: Sculptor Mark Yale Harris
Photo by Ashton Ray Hansen
Mark Yale Harris is no stranger to detours. Despite having a knack for drawing and painting since age 4, Harris was swayed away from a life in the arts and onto a more practical, business-minded path by his Great Depression–era parents. “I excelled at art as a youngster and was offered an art school scholarship,” he recalls. “My parents said, ‘You’re not doing that. You have to make a living.’ ”
Harris listened and took an off-ramp into a successful career as a hotel chain developer—he co-founded Red Roof Inn and founded AmeriSuites—while spending nights and weekends in drawing and sculpting workshops. It wasn’t until he relocated to Santa Fe, New Mexico, at age 62 that he was able to fully immerse himself in his lifelong hobby. “The art community is not the type A people you find in the business world. Everyone is a creative thinker and exploring new ideas and concepts,” he says. “I found that extremely attractive.”
Now 79 years old and a full-time artist for almost two decades, Harris uses techniques learned from Native American sculptors Bill Prokopiof and Doug Hyde to create human and animal figures out of marble, alabaster, onyx and limestone. Chisel or power saw in hand, he spends his days working out of a 2,000-square-foot warehouse studio in Carbondale, where he relocated in 2007.
“Working in stone is kind of a metaphor for life,” he says. “If you remove something, you can’t paste it back on. You make a decision, you move forward, you can’t turn back.”