An Artisan's Point of View
by Chris Pellettieri

I am a stone carver. I received my training 20 years ago at the Cathedral of St.
John the Divine in New York City, in a unique program that offered paid
apprenticeships in the very challenging craft of stone masonry. Dean Morton,
the leader of the Cathedral at that time, wanted to create a new generation of
stone masons in order to resume progress on this enormous, unfinished stone
building whose construction had been suspended when World War II broke
out. Yet his mission went beyond this specific concern. For he knew that to give
young, motivated people an exposure to traditional crafts and the opportunity
to pursue intense training was essential not only to ensure the continuation of
the crafts themselves, but also to keep our commitment to providing balanced
education to our young people.

The program that Dean Morton started lasted less than 20 years, and in terms
of completing the Cathedral, achieved far less than he had hoped, but in terms
of its impact on people's lives, particularly mine, it was a huge success. As a
result of my apprenticeship, I have fallen under the spell of stone carving. I am
convinced that if training in traditional crafts was available to everyone, it
would have the same effect on many other lives. When I decided to commit
myself to the apprenticeship program, I had recently graduated from college
with a degree in Math. There was nothing in my formal education background
that had given me any exposure to working with tools and materials.

The fact that you are reading this article indicates that you appreciate objects,
such as windows, doors, and fireplace mantels that, at the very least, resemble
those made by traditionally trained craftsmen. For that reason alone, you no
doubt share my opinion that more training opportunities would result in more
and better skilled workers who could produce more and better work that you
would enjoy seeing in both the media (including the Web) and your actual
environment. The other part of my statement, that teaching crafts is good for
humanity, I will explore more deeply.

Whether you believe in creation or evolution, you probably agree that there are
a set of characteristic attributes that make humans different from other
animals. Humans have a large brain in relation to their body size as well as very
nimble hands. These give us the ability to use tools to do amazing things with
materials. The inclination to do this defines us as humans. For us to
consciously turn away from this nature makes no more sense to me than if
beavers decided to build nests in trees rather than lodges in lakes. Yet, this is
the direction we humans have been moving in since the invention of machines.
The dominant mentality today would seem to hold that if a machine can be
invented that will make a task that requires skill into a task that doesn't, then it
is to be embraced without further reflection. The trend in the building industry
enables workers to do more work in a shorter time with less training. The
problem with this thinking, from my own artisan’s point of view, is that my
greatest feelings of satisfaction and fulfillment have come from overcoming
challenges, by building up my skills rather than by making the work easier so
that I can succeed without increasing my skills. By saying this, I don’t mean to
condemn the use of all machines. There are many instances where I gladly use
machines such as electric drills to reduce drudgery and the more monotonous
aspects of my labor. After all, knowing how to use machines judiciously is an
element of a good apprenticeship.

If we can ever find a way to make apprenticeships available to more people, it
would become very important to ensure that there is work for them to do once
they are trained. This might be challenging since the work of skilled people is
always more expensive, but the products of trained artisans have a selling point
that in 2009 is stronger than it has ever been. People today are starved for
contact with things that have been shaped by hand. We are completely
surrounded by machine - made objects. Consider an antique wooden bowl,
shaped from the burl on the side of a tree. Compare it to a mass produced, lathe
- turned, wooden bowl - still pretty in its own way but sterile and characterless
next to its hand - made ancestor. We are so starved for character in our
environment that entrepreneurs scour the globe for ancient stone slabs, the
traffic of generations of feet etched into their surfaces, to uproot and export to
be used in new construction projects. When trained artisans focus their
attention and energy on shaping a piece of material, character is inevitably
imparted into every groove and surface. Much of the blame for Modern
Architecture’s failure to inspire affection can be attributed to its rejection of
traditional crafts. Even the products of today’s Classical Architects tend to be
disappointing when they lack the warmth and human feeling that only a
craftsman’s hand can provide.

One person’s opinions are inevitably shaped by their life’s experiences, so all
that I have said here is heavily influenced by my love for what I do. I am very
aware that to some people, from different backgrounds, my devotion to hand
crafts might seem fanatical in the same way that a wine afficionado might seem
overly passionate in describing the virtues of their favorite vintage. I have
always found though that one of the greatest pleasures in reading is to imagine
seeing the world through the author’s eyes and that is what I have tried to do
for you by writing this piece. It is the same thing that I try to do each day in my
workshop, as I strive to make my hammer and chisel as eloquent in
communicating my feelings through stone as pencil and paper have been in
composing this article.

Pellettieri Stone Carver

114 Morningside Drive, #52
New York, NY 10027

Chris Pellettieri, Stone Carver

Specializing in free-hand sculpture, decorative design, portraiture,
casting and lettering for public and private settings

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copyright ©  20
13 by Chris Pellettieri