The Salvation of Humankind

Thought I’d share my replies to some questions that recently came my way from a graduate student doing research for an internship and paper in historic preservation.

Q: What attracted you to the dry stone masonry trade and how long have you been in this field?
A: I’ve been a full-time professional dry stone waller for 35 years.  I prefer the term “stone worker” to “stone mason” for my trade.  A stone worker employs no cement or mortar, few tools, no laborers, and uses undressed, readily available stone.  My initial attraction to the trade came out a desire to work alone and close to home.

Q: In your experiences, has much maintenance and protection been addressed regarding stone structures?
A: Well built dry stone constructions have a long lifespan relative to other built structures.  Whereas a wood structure might need maintenance and protection after 5-50 years, dry stone may not need any attention for 30-150 years.  Therefore, the memory link from one generation of stone workers to the next regarding the creation of any particular stonework is often broken, and information about it lost.  There are maintenance and protection issues that could be addressed on a regular basis with dry stone structures.  They are mainly simple issues of drainage and vegetation growth that are easily addressed but seldom are.  Most dry stone structures are expected to stand up to forces of nature, and human activity, on their own as best they can.

Q: Where do you see the field moving in terms of new construction and preservation of existing structures?
A: I see the construction of new dry stone structures as the salvation of humankind.  They represent stability in society and stimulate creativity in the individual.  
Preservation of existing structures means nothing more than not aiding their destruction.  They are natural objects in a changing environment.  They’re not static structures.  The point is not to keep them exactly as they are right now, or restore them to how we think they might have been years ago, but to accept that they have a life cycle and help them to have as long and productive a life as possible.

Q:What preservation efforts are currently in place to protect stone structures? What are future goals?
A: There are some high-profile structures (the Bailey Island, granite crib, bridge in Maine comes immediately to mind) that are getting attention on a regional level with state and federal funding.  The organization doing the most at this time is the Dry Stone Conservancy.  They have restored canals, arch bridges, and miles of stone fence.  

Q: Historically, what innovations have evolved or hindered the trade?
A: Carbide tipped hammers, made available in the past 20 years, , increase accuracy and reduce the blows needed to trim a stone.  As a result a lot of wrist and elbow stress is relieved for the stone worker.  Carbide makes it possible to keep a sharp striking edge on a hammer head much longer than plain, tempered steel.



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