Stone carving jobs for youth

Students at Hector Guimard high school learn stone carving to help restore Notre-Dame. (NPR)

National Public Radio reported three years ago that the need for stone carvers to help restore the Cathedral of Notre-Dame, in Paris, following its fire in 2019, has caused schools teaching that craft to mushroom in France. These young people are being taught the same skills required to build the cathedral 900 years ago.

Good. But three years out, the NPR article by Eleanor Beardsley does little to help readers imagine how this can help architecture free itself from its century-long criminal enchantment with ugliness – or to help slow climate change, and, if you please, strike a blow against sexism in the crafts (if such a crime exists).

NPR quotes a male instructor, Luc Leblond, at Hector Guimard high school in the Paris suburbs about three miles from the cathedral:

There’s no reason this should be a masculine profession. Men have more physical force, but as a professor, I see the women have a sharpened sensitivity for the more detailed work. So it’s complementary.

Is noticing that distinction sexist? Who cares!

A female student adds: “In the beginning, it was my own parents who were surprised when I left my architecture studies to do this,” says Marjorie Lebegue. “But most everyone who finds out I’m studying to be a stone carver says, ‘Wow, what a beautiful profession.’ ” Student François Menut adds:

I’ve always been passionate about drawing and art history, but I also wanted a job that was physical. With stone carving, we give life to an edifice and perpetuate history. We’re also creating a link with the past and transmitting values that are important to conserve in society.

It is interesting that more women are chiseling away at column bases and capitals. That will make the craft more interesting to men. But much more fascinating is the idea that a swiftly growing number of stone carvers, wood carvers, masons, sculptors, ornamental craftsmen (and women) in wood and metal, etc., could push the climate agenda in a more positive direction.

Alas, few if any articles can be found on this possibility, at least I have not located any, perhaps because the idea might have been raised for the first time right here, today, on this blog. (Okay, well, probably not.)

Young people graduating from high school and college face an uncertain future as they enter the work force. Many find that their degrees have no value in the world of real work (and they know who they are). More grads should consider stoneworking and other crafts mentioned above. Maybe that would be a pathway to greater fulfillment for a much wider range of students. Matching graduates to careers likely to gain them satisfaction – such as “transmitting values that are important to conserve in society” – promises to grow more and more difficult over the next few years and decades. Artisanship is a way out for young people who may not want to spend the rest of their lives in a cubicle.

Schools of art such as Rhode Island School of Design should gear their curricula away from current esoteric coursework and more toward teaching students how to create elegant versions of the purposely clunky artifacts toward which many art faculty seem to push their classes. Students should be taught how to design and fashion items such as door knobs, street lamp posts, kitchen and bathroom fixtures, bedposts and headboards, elevator floor button pads, finials for curtain rods, mouldings for ceilings, living-room lamp housings, furniture of all kinds, millwork for indoor walls, doors and furnishings, railings, mullions for windows, curved arms for park benches, and all of the many, many, indeed countless types of artifact that make civic and home life beautiful.

You can find alluring ads advertising such products in Traditional Building and other publications. Journals on how to renovate your own traditional house are found on more convenience-store racks than their modernist equivalents (if they even exist). That’s because in spite of decades of having the modernist bullyrag pounded into our heads, people still like traditional stuff more, much more.

The RISD mission as enunciated in its original by-laws was to foster “[t]he instruction of artisans in drawing, painting, modeling, and designing, that they may successfully apply the principles of Art to the requirements of trade and manufacture.” Wow! What a great idea! Are they still allowed to do that?

It will not be easy: the creation of a global reservoir of talented workers in these fields requires a world of assistance – from firms specializing in contemporary classical architecture to create jobs for these young people. From local neighbors and preservationists crusading to pressure developers, modernist firms and municipal design panels that feel little call to promote the crafts. Such local movements will emerge as the public weighs in, more and more, on the need for architecture and planning that makes use of tradition to cut carbon use. To reduce human pressure on nature makes sense whatever the validity of alarmist frenzy. There must be more bottom-up efforts to plan, design and build projects that use methods available for centuries to heat and cool buildings before the “Thermostat Age.” The modern movement must be persuaded to re-examine the dodgy “gizmo green” system of securing government approvals and professional rewards under current LEED-based climate regimes.

The growing ranks of firms that use traditional methods of design, commercial outlets that sell traditional artifacts as described above to architectural firms, and the organizations that urge developers and civic leaders to use traditional design for development or for institutional projects remain small compared with firms that still bow down to the aesthetics of machinery, and the architects who staff them. National organizations and associations such as the American Institute of Architects see their mission as preserving those misguided prerogatives. They bow down as well to the multinational corporations whose bottom lines rely on shady accounting and exploitive financial schemes that force poor quality down the throats of the development (and every other) industry and its dependencies.

So what’s the point of this post? Is it cobbled together with fairy dust? Will the need for stone carvers at Notre-Dame lead to a magical revolution in how we build our cities and our world? Well, that is more likely than the prospect of retooling our nation’s carbon-based vehicular system to run on electricity made largely from fossil fuels. That is not going to happen, not by 2035, 2050 nor 2150. The need to mine increasingly costly minerals in mindboggling amounts way beyond current availability puts that out of reach. A transition to electric vehicles cannot be humanly (let alone humanely) accomplished. But as this depressing realization dawns on our interlocking establishments over the next decade or so, pressure will grow exponentially to do something anyway. Perhaps retooling the design and planning professions to build cities more sustainably (and beautifully) is one possibility. The job of transitioning from modernism to tradition in architecture is, conceptually at least, much easier to accomplish.

Let the stone carvers lead the way.

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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11 Responses to Stone carving jobs for youth

  1. LazyReader says:

    A transition to electric vehicles cannot be humanly (let alone humanely) accomplished. But as this depressing realization.”

    Uhhh…. predicting the future is hard…. When and if are hard. Simultaneously…virtually impossible….but the battle for a technology trend is one reason they innovate. I’m not one to believe harsh resource scarcity concerns….. Concepts of lithium shortages doesn’t take into account there’s 100x more lithium dissolved in seawater… beyond that industry experimentation with non lithium batteries including
    – Sodium
    – Iron-Carbon
    Two substances we are not running out of.
    As for rare Earth’s, industry is quietly investing and studying reducing or eliminating Rare Earth’s from electric vehicles.

    https://www.nist.gov/mgi/mgi-impact-stories/securing-americas-future-through-rare-earth-free-magnets

    When resource discussions are brought up I always laugh. Because outside nature is no such thing as a resource.

    My Teacher once said.. “technology creates natural resources”.What good is oil or uranium if the technology were never invented to use it? None at all. If not for Edison,Tungsten is but a paperweight. Ayn Rand said it more harshly “man is not provided anything by nature except air and water….everything he needs it wants he makes ”

    Electric cars may or may not succeed, it is inconsequential cuz normal cars will improve in efficiency and replace old ones.. …. And “Law of Large Proportions” saves energy and resources better than trying to transition technology or change perception of mindsets.

    Attempts by architects and planners to make America more Europe-esque are facetious and crude. What fail to realize is Europe is nearly as auto dependent as US . Modal split data ends this sort shangri-la of car independence…. modal split data passenger miles by source
    . by car.
    USA: 85%
    EU-27: 79%
    Japan: 77%

    Transit:

    Like

  2. LazyReader says:

    The number of reported [extreme weather] events are increasing, but that is mainly due to better reporting, lower thresholds, and better accessibility of information news service….. No one here probably cares a monsoon huts Thailand…. but thanks to out social media addiction they’ll tell us….. an out hearts next to said nation’s flag……

    Actual climate related fatalities have declined 99%. …..Relax and enjoy the weather…..

    Like

    • John the First says:

      Currently, for both the fear agenda’s COVID and alleged human caused climate change, of the corporate oligarchy, the bureaucratic elites, and the green foot soldier fanatics, they rely on village drum reports combined with the fear mongering of the priest-expert class. Besides that extreme weather has actually diminished, the temperatures have been stable roughly the last two decades, depending on where you measure even going down slightly.

      Like

  3. LazyReader says:

    Notre dame didn’t fall because if climate. At fell to disuse…..
    I got news for you, be it modern or classical, climate wreaks havoc on everything if you leave it alone.
    If you want examples of traditional architecture that fell to ruins in a matter if years see Detroit or Cuba………

    Another tid bit, regardless of age, you’re gonna stop giving a shit about climate change…. when you hit 25- 30 you outlive all the shit predictions that were supposed to kill us all if we didn’t “act now”…..
    – Rainforest gone by 2000
    – atmospheric pollution so bad we’ll need gas masks…. only in China.
    – Depleted fisheries
    – coral reefs gone by….. insert date
    – Arctic ice free by …. 2009, 2013,…. whenever AL Gore changes his fukin mind.
    – new york and the Maldives were supposed to be underwater.

    The climate is fine….. and nothing you can do can fix it change non linear chaotic systems.

    The two biggest environmental issues we have to deal with are Air pollution in developing nations and heavy industrial places. Water pollution be it oceanic or rivers. As a supporter of nuclear power, we have opportunity for both.

    People whom like me watch Star Trek the Earth, despite ungodly and appalling sets of futuristic architecture…… Still Earth is unbearably clean…. writers point out Earth got CLEANED UP. Virtually all industry has been relegated underground, transportation infrastructure and the like integrated into the environment, as super fast trains, maglev, hovering vehicles eliminate the need for comprehensive highway 🛣 and road network.
    you can build artificial islands for what it costs for the infrastructure of major highrise laden cities.

    Nuclear powered dredging you can harvest 250 million cubic meters of muck and rock a year at minimal energy cost.

    Beyond that, it’s being widely investigated the idea of floating cities on water.

    The surge in housing demand is people who wanna live near the shore.

    Just as a case of public works projects, islands would serve numerous purposes.

    – parks/gardens in crowded urban areas.
    – additional housing(Hong Kong, Jamaica, bermuda)
    – purging muck and filtering water would restore estuary ecosystems. Chesapeake bay could enjoy blue, crystal clear waters again. Poplar Island is already being built from dredge spoil from widened ship channels. Digging up decades of surface muck….several feet thick you could build an island 500+ acres as wildlife, wetlands seasonal nesting birds.

    The Nuclear atom produces 1 million times more energy than a hydrogen/carbon bond…..

    Like

  4. Maybe one would go to the following college if on was to consider the craft as a perfect match of theoryb and practice. https://acba.edu/

    Like

  5. steve bass says:

    Craftsmen and women could be called ‘artisans’ or ‘crafters’.

    Like

    • I believe, Steve, that I’ve seen those words used before!

      Like

    • I graduated Mass. College of Art in Boston as a Sculpture Major in Foundry work. I wish there was an apprenticeship program like this available to me back then (1980) .
      But the reality for me was no direction…the professors were upset with me thinking that I was too focused on making a “living” and not becoming an “artist” ….almost didn’t pass me.
      Needless to say… 30 years in with a global creative gig of my own employing 4 artisans and never had to spend a day in a cubical.

      Another great story… (I think so anyway)
      I went to a RISD fashion show years ago with an older gentleman in the jewelry industry….the MC of the event (English, of course) proudly describes the next runway outfit designed by a fashion student. It was an evening gown completely made of pennies. MC, “This student painstakingly hand drilled each penny to create this work of art, it actually took her the entire semester!, just amazing.” My friend looked at me and said “it’s too bad she didn’t know about my shop, we could of kick-pressed out all of those holes in an hour and she would of had enough time to make an entire collection!”

      Like

  6. John the First says:

    It appears that what mister Brussat is trying to say, in a long and winded way, is that the solid carved stone structures will still be there in 2150, while the gaseous theories of contemporary elite cliques will be long evaporated. In fact, such solid carved stone structures will likely be all what is left of contemporary gaseous culture.
    Imagine all big plans of contemporary elites, all their babble, all the tons of documents they produce, all the plans, all their efforts, all unsustainable down the drain, with the stone carvers work still erect (whether made from physical stone, or stones of thought).

    Like

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