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Rock Sculptor Begins to Mold New Life

March 14, 2000|GAIL DAVIS

Homeless artist Stuart Finch, known for building graceful rock spires on Ventura's beaches, has a job and expects to use his first paycheck to get an apartment.

Finch started work Monday as a handyman for the Clarion Ventura Beach Hotel, working afternoons and evenings, at $7 an hour.

"I was cleaning the pool this morning. I had to put a new bolt in a dryer drum; just little things that need fixing," Finch said of his new job.

Finch, 38, claims he has been homeless most of his life and unemployed for years. He drifted into Ventura sometime last fall and promptly began stacking smooth rounded rocks into towering sculptures near Surfers Point. The elegant creations soon drew scores of appreciative fans from across Southern California.

But Ventura city officials bulldozed some of Finch's larger towers out of concern that admirers could be hurt if one collapsed. And then Finch ran into trouble with the law, being cited for illegal camping.

That's when Chad Caton, a bar manager at the hotel, stepped in, arranging free housing for Finch until he could get back on his feet. Finch began job hunting and cleared up some of the camping fines with the help of a local advocate for the homeless.

When the hotel's chief maintenance engineer learned Finch has a background as a repairman and a knack for fixing almost anything, he offered Finch a job.

Caton said the job, and Finch's industriousness, may be a turning point for the man with a ninth-grade education.

"I'm overjoyed that he took it as strongly as he has to change his life," Caton said.

Finch, meanwhile, expects to be so busy learning the maze of machinery and behind-the-scenes corridors at the hotel that he will have little spare time to continue his rock-building artistry.

"It's so busy here at this hotel it ain't funny," he said.

The hotel will continue to house Finch until he gets a studio apartment, as planned, with his first paycheck, Caton said.

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