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 56,000 on YouTube, titled SPLITTING AND CUTTINGSTONE, which is an ever-popular subject

3 The essay titled WHATMAKES 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 HOWARE 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 BYVISITORS 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 (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3), 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 OFSTONECUTTING 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 URBANECOLOGY 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 OFHISTORIC 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 (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4) 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 PROVIDETHE 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 LOCALKNOWLEDGE 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.

12. SPLITTING AND CUTTING STONE: My First YouTube video, which has been viewed over 56,000 times.

13. SPLITTING, CUTTING, AND SCULPTING STONE: My Second YouTube video, which has been viewed over 200 times.

Four anecdotal stories about the stone industry:

2 HOWARD THE ONE HUNDREDPOUND 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


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.