Wednesday, March 19, 2014

My Blog Archive - Scroll down to view the List of My Blog Articles to Date

I have posted ten essays on stone sculpture:

1 Some photos of my stone sculpture are shown on Joseph Conrad Sampler

2 A video which seems to have been viewed by 15,000 on YouTube, titled SPLITTING AND CUTTING STONE, which is an ever-popular subject

3 The essay titled WHAT MAKES STONE SCULPTURE SPECIAL is a general overview, which differentiates the general forms we call sculpture and describes the uniqueness of stone sculpture and the people who do it, as well as why they do it.

4 The essay titled HOW ARE YOU INSPIRED addresses one of the most commonly asked questions to the stone carver. In it I describe how different artists approach their art, and more specifically how I am inspired by stone with its limitations and possibilities.

5 To more deeply understand the process of stone carving read THE MAKING OF MY DAVID, which is a photographic narrative with descriptions of all the emotional and physical properties that go into making a serious art piece.

6 To get a feeling for what I experience when people come to my stone carving studio in Portland, Oregon, read my title TWENTY FREQUENT QUESTIONS ASKED BY VISITORS TO THE REMNANT YARD and TWENTY QUESTIONS I WOULD LIKE PEOPLE TO ASK ME when they visit the stone yard.

7 8 9 To see the joy of sourcing the marble I carve, read three blogs titled THERE'S MARBLE IN THEM THERE ISLANDS, a personal journey into the rain forest of S.E. Alaska, looking for historic marbles that were used to build San Francisco and other historic cities in the west.

10 Can local stone and local stone sculptors overcome the "Italian Mystique"?

I also have published 10 essays on stone history and technology:

1 WHY BLOG is a primer on the stone industry. In it I describe the various roles in stone quarrying and fabrication. It is a simplified overview to introduce the reader to the world of stone.

2 THE LOST TRADE OF STONECUTTING has been read by 20,000 readers in three publications, my most widely read essay. People seem to enjoy history and descriptions of historic processes. In it I use Portland as an example but it could be set in most cities in this country. I would like to do one in San Francisco, the place my father learned his stone cutting trade in 1920.

3 STONECUTTERS URBAN ECOLOGY 101 is a visual and descriptive process of the four major advances in the stone industry that have defined our modern urban nomenclature, intended to make the urban dweller more comfortable with his surroundings – what has been described by academics as a sense of place

4 FORM AS A RESULT OF HISTORIC PROCESS is method of describing how architectural forms may have evolved from practical solutions to engineering and fabrication problems, hopefully one doesn’t have to remember all the architectural terms to enjoy architecture. It's sort of an architectural description by the craftsmen as opposed then the academic community.

5 6 7 8 A LOCAL BUSINESS IS BORN is a four-part, but still incomplete, story of building a marble business in Portland from 1968 to1993. More work needs to be done to complete the story. It has also been nationally published and widely read. My son needs to finish the next chapters. I think it would make an excellent PHD economic study for local industry for someone, someday. A local industry that grew from half a dozen people to 500 people in 30 years due to improvements in gang sawing technology overseas, creating local high skill fabrication jobs.

9 STONECUTTERS PROVIDE THE HUMAN TOUCH was published in a national magazine in 1996. It describes a process I called inside-out design in the design and fabrication of marble tabernacle to go with a historic altar in a Catholic church.

10 HEROES OF LOCAL KNOWLEDGE was published in a local, progressive magazine titled OREGON'S FUTURE. It describes what is lost to a community when local trades are lost to imported goods and services.

11 LUCKY TO GET IT discusses quality in stone fabrication.

Four anecdotal stories about the stone industry:


2 HOWARD THE ONE HUNDRED POUND MUSCLE MAN, stone handling at its finest

3 MY FRIEND PETE, the old Italian stone master


I have also written 45 short essays on Stearns County, the center of the granite industry in the United States that may be of interest


A List of My Blog Articles to date

My Apprenticeship in the Stone Business
Lucky to Get It
The Alaska Marble Story
The Italian Mystique Provides a Bump - But Does Local Stone Speak to You?
How Are You Inspired?
Twenty frequent comments from visitors at my stone yard
New Joseph Conrad Sampler
Why Blog About Stone?
Stonecutters Urban Ecology 101: Urban Therapy
Form as a Result of Historic Process
The Lost Trade of Stone Cutting
Some Bits of Advice Given Me by Stone People
Howard, the One Hundred Thirty Pound Muscle Man
Stonecutters Provide the Human Touch
There's Marble in Them There Islands (Part 1)
There's Marble in Them There Islands (Part 2)
There's Marble in Them There Islands (Part 3)
What Makes Stone Sculpture Special?
The Making of My “David"
The State of the Arts
Things Are Different in Mexico
A Local Business is Born – Part 1
A Local Business is Born – Part 2
A Local Business is Born – Part 3
A Local Business is Born – Part 4
Heroes of Local Knowledge
My first YouTube video: Splitting & Cutting Stone
Commercial Work
The Inspection
The State of The Arts
My Friend Pete
Custom Fabrication
My Dad the Stonecutter

My Apprenticeship in the Stone Business

As a kid I suspect most children of the 40s and 50s generation were given household chores by their mother ranging from doing the dishes to hoeing weeds in the garden, or farm chores if you lived on a farm. I remember the first outside the family job, my brother Tom and I were hired by a man named Krebs to dig a foundation for a building at his lake side cottage.

I don’t remember getting much out of this other then income toward buying a Columbia deluxe bicycle from Sears & Roebuck which arrived by train, in a crate, at at great northern depot in town.

At 14 “Woosht” (Marlin Worstfield) asked me to clean the bowling pins in the six-lane bowling alley in the basement of St Boniface High School. I those days bowling pins were painted wood, which got quite beat up each season. Cleaning was done with steel wool and lacquer thinner. The vapors in the unvented back alley basement room were horrendous. Good thing as pending freshmen I had not started smoking yet. My friend Spitz told me 55 years latter that I came out of there in a daze, something, only he would remember.

Only lesson here gave me some insight on the nature of home town advantage in competition. In the 50s Bowling tournaments with prize money has held at all local bowling alleys in the early spring as the season was winding down. My dad won one year, seemed like big money, this was how the competition was rigged. Old beat up dried out pins like I cleaned were set out the weekend local bowlers played, new heavy plastic coated pins with good bottoms were set out the weekend neighboring town contestants bowled. A early lesson in competition, of course everyone knew.

Going into the freshman year at St Boniface High School I got my first big work opportunity, which when I think about it, eliminated all extra curricular activities of high school, like sports, or theater, or band etc. For the next 4 years. I had a job, which came first. At 3:30 right after school I went to the basement, I must have had a key to the bowling alley. In those days, bowling was communal drinking and smoking activity among friends, for both men and women. It helped get you through harsh Minnesota winter nights. Women didn’t need group therapy sessions to deal with there situation, they had women's league bowling nights, and men could compete twice a week. But it created a awful mess, the place reeked of spilled beer and dirty bathrooms, just as any tavern must be every morning. After every school day then I started out by picking up beer bottles and putting them in empty’s cases, then I filled the cooler behind the bar with pop and beer. Next I wiped down the all the spectator and bowler seats with damp cloth. Then I sweep ed the place out, and mopped the floors. And cleaned the bathrooms. Next, the alley maintenance. The runways were cleaned of all dust, sometimes steel wool to remove any marks, with a special large mop, just for this purpose. After everything else was clean, a special continuous roller cloth the with of the alley was pushed up and down the alley. Then in stocking feet of course a hand pump spray of just the right amount of oil was applied, and moped in with same roller device. . This left a sparkling clean alley, which you could kind of smell as you first entered the bowling alley at 7 pm for the first shift at 7:15.

I then went home 2 blocks and ate supper, which in our house was always remnants of dinner mother served at noon in our German tradition. My brother Tom and I washed dishes and usually fought over who was to do what and I headed back to the bowling alley to spot pins, 7;15 to 9;30. I never spotted pins second shift 9:30 to 11:30, many guys did. We hated certain bowlers who threw the fast bowling ball since 3 pound wooden pins could hurt when they hit you. I could pick up 4 pins at a time big guys could handle 6 at at time, Most bowling balls were between 14 and16 pounds, which you handled around 100 times per single shift.

Not that it matters, but we got 7 cents a line per bowler, five bowlers three games, thirty-five times seven cents, paid one dollar and seventy five cents per two hour shift, for a single lane. Some guys could easily do two lanes at a time. I never did. Two lanes would pay two dollars and fifty cents per two hour shift. That would have been fifty cents a hour above then minimum wage at one dollar per hour. Two cents per line was held by Woosht to be given to pin spotters in the spring, at the end of bowling season, as a bonus if you did not quit Some guys would run up a charge account for cigarettes and candy and pop in case they got fired or quit to beat the two cent bonus rule. Sort of a company store plan back then. I loved it, bought my first car and insurance as junior in high school. '47 Plymouth with suicide doors in the rear. Like any dumb teenager I ruined it trying to be trendy.

More then any other memory of the bowling alley is the memory of walking home from from the bowling alley and seeing rabbits in the garden, on bright moon lit snow and the stillness of the night before snowmobiles, maybe the sound of crunching ice snow under the wheels of a car driving home somewhere. Snow seems to be a great peaceful dampener of sound which sticks in my memory.


I left high school with a felling of failure. I passed geometry and physics quite well but failed chemistry and algebra, was a poor speller but a good reader. Seems to me to be a strange combination but I was glad it was over with. Father Vernon the vice principle agreed, and told me I would not amount to much as I left.


I grew up in a central Minnesota town population of 2500 which was the home of the largest stone fabrication company in the world. This may seem strange to many readers. Blocks of granite from25 upper Midwest locations were shipped, mostly by rail, to be cut and fabricated for architectural projects all over the United States in this little town. The glaciers did the heavy work, removing the top soil uncovering many colored granite deposits. Variates of color helped provide a steady job source for this company. My father and his three brothers and my three brothers, and many other family members worked there in many different capacities. My dad made an appointment for me with Bob Tice, vice president in charge of engineering, where my two older brothers already worked. He hired me as an apprentice pattern maker, I am sure because of my dad and brothers.

In order to better understand what this job was, think about the next time you see a large urban plaza granite job with sweeping curves or complex shapes, or stone fountains, or slopping walls of stone. Each stone was fabricated to fit in a certain place, based on architectural drawing as interpreted by shop drawings and individual shop work tickets and zinc patterns for durability and accuracy in the fabrication process. I, like everyone else, started out in the office basement floor, it was great, minimum wage, and an opportunity to learn, 19 years old as a apprentice pattern maker.

Architects provide general information, site specific, for stone engineers to make shop drawings for stone fabrication, as per their general plans. These stone fabrication shop drawings were made by senior draftsman. And approved by the architectural design firm before fabrication was begun. Stone mill blocks could then be ordered from the quarry the correct sizes and quantities to produce the project. Apprentice draftsmen would make a individual shop ticket for each individual stone on the project to be sent to shop with fabrication instructions for that individual stone. If adequate information could not be put on the individual shop ticket a pattern was made for that stone.

This is how this was done, my first job in stone. I did this for one year.

In the office basement was a space, from my memory, about 40 by 50 smooth concrete floor. There was a large roll of very heavy paper about six feet wide. This paper was pulled out and taped to the floor to make area large enough, to draw out the project full size. Then with the aid straight edges, snap lines, long sticks and points to swing arks, hundreds of pre-made zinc radius templates and other aids, a drawing was made with 6 h pencils, in stocking feet for clean lines. As a example a plan view, of a given radius on a curved wall with given end points defined by architectural drawings, could be lay ed out full size, so equal individual stone pieces could be arrived at. Granted all of this can be done mathematically with the help of logarithms etc. But full size patterns are needed for shop fabrication nevertheless. Full size layouts help to eliminate errors, and often provide a visualization that is hard to in vision mathematically (I wrote a article about this published in Stone World magazine in 1996). The process helps to see three dimensional forms developed from two dimensional drawings.

These full size layouts were inspected by a senior draftsmen and he would then tell you to proceed to the next step, making zinc patterns for the fabrication shop if he found no errors in your layout.

There was a pallet of zinc sheets about three feet by five feet that you placed over the paper layout, of the stone you were working on, and with a sharp scratch awl you scribed the shape of the future stone, the zinc was then bent to break on you line, edges filed, and felt pen ink piece numbered with all the specific information pertaining to that stone. This pattern went to the fabrication shop to be used in connection a shop ticket to fabricate the stone. That was pattern making. Of course I was also every draftsman’s errand boy as well to fetch whatever from the fabrication shop.

The next time you see a Notre Dame football game on TV, look at the large stone mural of Christ and his disciples on the campus profile, made up of many stone colors. I did not do much on this project, but it was all laid out with patterns on the office floor, the first year I was there, I remember fetching stone for a couple of weeks when the project was being cut and cast in panels to be assembled on site.

After one year of working there, it was my turn to go on active duty in the US Navy for two years, were I served one year on a Island and one year on a troop transport hauling American troops to SE Asia and back, 12 pacific crossing in one year, we rarely stopped.

This was my introduction to the stone industry. As stated Cold Spring was the largest stone company in the world, may be 1500 people at that time, so there were many opportunities to learn many trades or professions there. By spending much time running errands in the fabrication shop I could see many aspects of how high production architectural fabrication was done.

I learned how to read shop drawings and was introduced to general drawings which served me well all my life.

I was taught to be precise and neat, which is fundamental to stone work were the product is so unforgiving. And mistakes so costly.

And I got my foot in the door of the stone industry with maybe the best architectural stone company in the world. Few could argue that.

Originally posted December 4, 2012


I looked on the internet recently, and found the close to 200 advertisers are listed in Portland area, most of them stating they specialize in quality stone counters. Times have certainly changed.

When I moved to Portland in 1968, 46 years ago, there was one stone fabrication company, that took care of the entire state, as well as southern Washington state. It employed six people including two man who only worked on memorials. If you needed some slab marble or granite work done it was sawed by Art Lear our foreman, machine polished by Howard Coleman, the edges were finished by Cal Mickalson with a belt sander, and measured up by the new kid, me. It was installed by one of five union marble setters who worked by the job, most often my mentor, Pete Rigguto. [ These five marble setters had nothing to do with local fabrication in that they strictly were stone installers, a special branch of union brick layers that installed prefabricated stone mostly on high rise commercial buildings ]. That was the total fabrication and instillation team in 1968 in Portland Oregon, a city with a population of maybe one million in the metropolitan area. Our foreman Art Lear told me when I gave him the information on the first job I measured up, that it was the first shop ticket he fully understood in 40 years. This wonderful man had a way of making you feel good, as well as himself by stopping by the Elks Lodge every night on the way home before dinner. In these less stressful times, Art summed up the QUALITY issue of every job with LUCKY TO GET IT. When I talk to Bob Skull the structural engineer, who still attends the Elks lodge 46 years later, he reminisces that the local fabrication team , Art, Howard, Cal, myself and Pete doing every job twice, and still making money.

We felt like top notch quality team, when the stone fabricator, from Seattle came to Portland, he told me he didn’t even have a surface polisher Likely QUALITY in those days in Seattle involved pretty much taking the stone the way you get it. Same thing, LUCKY TO GET IT. We actually seemed to do quite good work considering the tools and stone variety’s we had at that time. What we lacked in tools and I think we made up in personal service and concern for the customer. Which proves theirs a lot to be said for the same person, listening to what the customer wants and advising him as to the best way to achieve the results, and fallowing through until jobs completion. I found out early on, in custom fabrication, subdividing and handing out different parts of a job for the sake of economic gain leads to customer dissatisfaction. Or lack of QUALITY. Unfortunately I don’t have photos, but I am sure there are a lot of fireplaces, and bath vanities, still around Portland, resulting from our efforts.

The word QUALITY, is a lot like defining the third person of Christian dogma THE HOLY SPIRIT, everyone says they have it, but no one can define it. It just is, in the mind of the individual, who declares he has it . As stated, looking on the internet in Portland, you will in 2014 find, about 200 stone advertisers who tell you they specialize in QUALITY kitchen counters. All these QUALITY people have entered the stone fabrication business in the last 15 years and are ready to serve your custom stone fabrication needs. The old LUCKY TO GET IT DAYS are apparently over for Portland. But are they, I tend tend to think all these folk declaring themselves as Quality providers are much like religious zealots, declaring they have the truth.

These are deep waters, were few care to swim, but I will continue on this subject of QUALITY stone fabrication, because as a friend of my says, its what I want to do. I expect few readers, since one one who ever fabricated or installed or purchased a stone counter, could bring himself to question the quality of their project. Often, the only way define Quality, is to identify whats missing if there seems to be a lack of quality. . Maybe a weak method but no one has come up with a better one. Kind like me defining the quality of a figure skating event, I think I know a good one, but can only describe a lesser one by intangible things like poise, or, bad jumps, mis-timed music, etc.

So let's describe what might be missing in a bad quality job and see if it helps describes a good job, so now we are equating quality with goodness, another deep philosophical issue I have no intention of getting into.


1. Personal care, if you not working with someone who carefully listens to you and is strong enough to give you years of experience weather you like it or not, and fallows through you project from begging to end without handing it off to others you probably are not going to get quality.

2. A old friend of mine used to tell me the difference between a amateur and a professional is the amount of time one spends on each part of a job . So True. Spending time visiting with a prospective customer in his house with some color samples probably isn’t going to add much in the way to quality A salesman in you kitchen will likely tell you anything you want to hear. Your spending time in a marble shop , with a stone fabricator showing you the material and tools and all the possibilities and limitations of the stone, and steps to get the details you want is time well spent. Its all about preparation, and announcing expectations up front including price agreement.

A quality shop allows the customer to be part of his kitchen layout.

3. Scheduling and coordination with customer and contractor. There is a sequence to putting a kitchen together and a shop fabrication format, that must interface , if they doesn’t, there is a good chance of customer dissatisfaction .

4. Field templates Full size templates must be made on the job site, this is a best time to work out structural details. stone shapes , jointing patterns, overhangs, sink and appliance details etc. This information is then passed on with professional shop drawings to the CNS operator and Diamond saw operator to began fabrication , Precise information is fundamental, the old days of Dagoing it in, are for amateurs , field cutting and grinding almost always provides poor quality. Professionals spend a great deal of time getting the information correct up front , not making corrections on the job.

Full size templates waiting for fabrication

5. Shop Technology , The sculptor Nagoshi stated with unusual artistic honesty, I am only better then artists before me because I have better tools. I remember the way Art had to slide the slab to the saw blade track, to make a cut, or the hacker with a skill saw cutting out a slab, I guarantee the slab will be cut the easiest way rather then the rite way.

Having a bridge saw that allows the sawyer to study the stone patterns , even with the customer if they like , and he can easily choose the best blending of stone. This also provides the stone sawyer a sense of pride in his work.

Bridge saw capable of doing 3-axis work

Stone fabrication today is so much superior to anything done before this
machine that there is no comparison . This machine that has taken all the brutality out of fabrication , is essentially a 3D automated router, that cuts and forms edges, plus it mills stone exposed edges to precise thickness , unheard of in my working days. Counters not finished to this way shows . The old days of reaching over stones to grind holes was a back breaking and crude system , hard on people and produced not such good work . I remember grinding front edges on job sites years ago to try to even them up, those days are best forgotten. Today its all done under water and professionally formed . Complex shapes come out of this machine as easily as straight runs all holes are perfectly machined Need unusually shaped and detailed stones, no problem, the craftsmen and computer technology exists in a modern fully tooled shop.

Finished counter with all exposed edges planed flat to the same thickness


This is the first major tool I perched 35 years ago when we set up our fabrication shop. Along with modern diamond technology, this machine allows a fabrication shop to provide any finish the customer chooses as well as a way to resurface stones with a unacceptable finish. Not having this ability suggests to me a major void in the finished project.

Surface polisher using diamond technology

How could anyone say he has quality if the job was fabricated in dirty, unhealthy conditions Healthy present working conditions attract the best craftsman. To have a job done by someone who cuts corners in peoples health and working conditions, is not quality. Its unconscionable in modern stone work. I would be willing to bet that less then10% of the 200 advertisers discussed here are ever looked at by OSHA. The reason they can offer cut rate prices is because the not only do cut rate work but fly under all health and safety and insurance regulations . Brick and Mortar parts of the business community are the easy to visit locations that inspectors spend there time at. The cut rate fly by night dust covered operators that people seem to believe are craftsmen are part of the general myth bargain hunters find to do there job. The race to the bottom my produce jobs, but it does not produce quality. In a survey taken by STONE WORLD magazine January 2014 , asking stone fabricators there biggest challenge 61% stated these low end fabricators, 25% stated lower margins, 8% competition from other materials, and only 5% from changes in the housing industry.

A marble shop should not break employees' backs

Clean, environmentally sound working conditions

I doubt that many people know the difference between a cut-rate counter job and a quality one. Thankfully, there are enough discriminating people still around to keep some quality marble fabrication shops and all the people they employ still active in the industry.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Alaska Marble Story

Alaska marble sculpture
The only indigenous Pacific northwest marble that was used nationally, was quarried on a remote island in Southeast Alaska pan handle, near Ketchikan. Most people would think of Marble Island as part of the Pacific Northwest inland passage rain forest, and it is that. Geologists call these islands and land forms ''docked geology'', that is, these land masses were pushed in here from a long distances giving a lot mixing and stirring of materials. I personally have looked at a variety of white, and black, red and green marbles, all of many shades and varieties, as well as other types of stone formations there.

Around 1900 many entrepreneurs looked to these stone deposits and started to quarry these stones for architectural use. There is some interesting reading on these efforts as well as geological survey records available. Lots of money, human effort and dreams spent here by many brave and hardy people. Even today, with all our modern devices and transportation systems, it's a beautiful but difficult location. Water and air transport only, and little infrastructure. Most of the work was probably done with steam driven tools. Today electricity is provided by oil-driven private generators on these remote islands, transportation to camp or town, is by boat. A friend of mine says you better be boat-wise to live here. I think it takes a lot more than that to survive there. I would say say local knowledge is essential. As often happens one company came out on top of the struggle and developed quite a viable stone business in the end. That was the Vermont Marble Company.

The Vermont Marble Company did a lot of exploring and cleared topsoil and quarried and core drilled many different locations along with other stone companies looking for high quality architectural stone. Various locations were developed and abandoned by these companies, leaving wonderful sites for people like me to visit if you know someone with local knowledge to guide you. I was once taken to a remote site were I fallowed a line of green marble blocks up a rainforest hillside to the top where a little 20 by 20 foot quarry was filled with water. Likely none of the marble was ever sent to San Francisco to be sawed into slabs. These men were experts in there field and didn’t waste money if they could help it.

Eventually the VMC focused on marble deposits on Marble Island. They built a camp where about 60 men lived for eight months a year, with a machine shop, and brought in the latest quarrying technology. Cook houses, bunkhouses, a band, even a little golf course and Sunday services. Five white marble quarries and one black marble quarry were opened. About fifteen hundred perfect quarry blocks were shipped to San Francisco or Tacoma Washington to be sawed and polished for architectural building projects on good years. This went on for about twenty five years. It was a huge industry when you consider the average block probably yielded six hundred square feet of stone.

The VMC was total vertical integration back then. They quarried it, they sawed and cut it to size and they installed it. I believe one of there last projects was the state capitol of Alaska. The Washington state capitol used a lot of this stone as well. Building all over the US used this stone, including much use in San Francisco. Left behind on this remote island are thousands of quarry blocks deemed unfit to ship for processing. A pile, miles long snaking through the rain forest, thirty feet wide and thirty feet high covered with moss. A sight to behold for someone like me.

If you are interested in this sort of thing you can read three essays titled “There's Marble in Them There Islands” here in my blog.

Alaska marble block in Portland

Alaska marble quarry in the rain forest

25-foot long marble columns never removed from the quarry

One of many colored stones from Alaska; this one is green stone.

Thursday, April 11, 2013


Stone sculpture is a totally unique, for it is a singularly subtractive process. Even in polishing the finished piece, there is only removal of material, with no addition. SCULPTURE from the Greek word to remove.

Stone sculpture for me, is also a study in nature. The chemical and physical properties of the stone, its color, mottling, grain, and texture, all direct me to interpret the possibilities and limitations of the stone.

Each sculpture I have carved in the last twenty years has been a unique interaction between my
emotions, the stone, and the tools I am using. This challenge, and inner tension, gives the sculpture value and meaning to me, and sometimes others willing to engage with my art.

So I solicit audience participation for my sculpture, for above all, it only needs to evoke
emotion to be to be meaningful. I want my work to pass this simple test.