Frequently Asked Questions
A sculptor assigns shape to an idea. A carver imposes a shape on stone, and must be able to do so reliably and in a manner that can be duplicated.
There are two definitions. One is a more "artistic" definition, written by a professional stonecarver. The other is a "bureaucratic" definition, as stated by the Federal government.
WHAT IS A STONE CARVER? - Thoughts by Patrick Plunkett, 17 May, 2002
A question never asked in days of old
When every town possessed its team of artisans young and old
To carve the stories and the tales
Of men that fought and men that failed.
So, what is a stone carver? The Cathedral used to define the carver and the cutter by the tools they could use. The cutter would work with a one-inch air hammer, square, and a compass. A carver would only be allowed to use a three-quarter-inch air hammer or smaller, calipers and a pointing machine.
But in this day and age, a carver must adapt to many situations. Nowadays, it may not be enough simply to carve the stone, but a carver may also be required to run the moldings, cut returns, and execute true mitres. Traditionally, this had been performed by the stone cutters.
A stone carver may specialize in historic restoration, to restore old statuary or to repair the maze of architectural ornaments that adorn our old city buildings and cathedrals. A carver may choose to work marble or limestone, sandstone or granite. Some choose to work basalt or dolomitic limestone.
Stone carvers tend to be very individualistic people. Serious in their thought, with a large hint of whimsy, and dedicated to their art.
So, what is a stone carver? A man with a mallet and chisel, a compressor and an air hammer, an angle grinder and a diamond blade, a gas tank and a blow torch?
What is a stone carver? Some of us learned our trade from the old masters, others gathered their skills in a mill, and some of us are self-taught.
But whatever our background, we all have one thing in common: a great love of stone, and the need to create.
United States Federal Job Description:
771.281-014 STONE CARVER (stonework) alternate titles: hand carver; sculptor
Carves designs and figures in full and bas-relief on stone, employing knowledge of stone-carving techniques and sense of artistry to produce carving consistent with designer’s plans: Analyzes artistic objects or graphic materials, such as models, sketches, or blueprints; visualizes finished product; and plans carving technique. Lays out figures or designs on stone surface by freehand sketching, marking over tracing paper, and transferring dimensions from sketches or blueprints, using rule, straightedge, square, compass, calipers, and chalk, or scriber. Selects chisels and pneumatic tools and determines sequence of their use according to intricacy of design or figure. Roughs out design freehand or by chipping along marks on stone, using mallet and chisel or pneumatic tool. Shapes, trims, or touches up roughed out design with appropriate tool to finish carving. Periodically compares carving with sketches, blueprints, or model and verifies dimensions of carving, using calipers, rule, straightedge, and square. Moves fingers over surface of carving to verify smoothness of finish. May smooth surface of carving with rubbing stone. May be designated according to type of work as Monument Carver (stonework); or according to kind of stone carved as Granite Carver (stonework); Marble Carver (stonework).
Interested, but don't know where to begin?
For many potential clients, working with a stone carver can be a bit daunting. For many, it is the first time they have had something so unique made just for them, and the process of how things get designed and made in a material so seemingly unforgiving as stone can lead to apprehension (or excitement), or both. Knowing what to expect and how to proceed before you speak with a stone carver can help ease the anxiety, save time, and help to insure that you feel comfortable with your decision to commission a work that will awe and inspire each time you see it.
If you haven't yet explored the Internet and seen the work of some of the stone carvers currently available, please do; we are all different in talent and style, and have assembled this web site to help the potential client to narrow his/her search for the "right" carver. All of us work by commission, which means that we are hired to produce an object that fits as exactly as possible with the image the client may have in mind.
The works you see in our portfolios were created because somebody wanted wanted them and was willing to pay for them. If you don't see what you want, that doesn't mean it isn't possible. One of the most frustrating things about being a carver is hearing a potential client say something like "well, I see you do well in a Georgian (or gothic, or whatever) style, but I don't think you are the carver for me; I don't see work in your portfolio in the ______ style." The only reason you may not see work in this style or that is because nobody has yet commissioned the carver whose portfolio we are discussing to make something in that style. Since every object a carver makes is an absolutely hand-made and unique object, it must be stressed that what you are seeing when you review a portfolio is the manner in which a carver has handled the commissions given him/her in the past. You are reviewing skill and style, not the objects themselves, since those designs were determined by what other clients requested.
We are not the type of artists that make whatever we want and then wait until someone likes it enough to buy it; our work can take many weeks or months, and we work very hard to insure that there are no surprises when the work is delivered. So, the most important thing to remember about commissioning a stone carver is that that stone carver is going to do all he/she can to guarantee your satisfaction with the result. Your input is not only valuable, it is desired, and it is a big part of how to be sure you get the product you want.
All that having been said, the following is a brief summary of how the process typically works:
- Client has a wish.
Stone carving has a long and very noble history. This one should be self-explanatory.
- Client discusses the wish with his/her builder, architect, designer, etc.
If the object desired is part of a larger project (a new build, a remodel, etc.), often one or more individuals will be co-coordinating the details of the entire job, and the job of guiding the carver might fall to these individuals. Often they are the ones who translate the client's wishes to the carver. It is a good idea to begin to discuss budget at this time.
- Images are reviewed.
Drawings, magazine photos, architectural renderings, etc., are used to convey the direction intended by the client. From these images and discussions,
- A design is determined.
Shop drawings are usually required, and either the carver, the architect, or the designer may prepare these drawings for final review. During this phase the particular material is reviewed and chosen. Usually, a final price is decided at this time. If a contract hasn't yet been signed, this work might require a design fee or retainer.
- Models are prepared.
If necessary, the carver will prepare models or detailed drawings to both determine final form and to convey that form to the Client.
- Material is obtained, a schedule is determined, and work is begun.
This is the fun part for everybody involved. Most carvers will allow studio visits during the carving; some will forward progress photos upon request.
- Delivery and installation.
Some carvers will install their work; most do not. A consultation with a mason or builder in your area is helpful for this part of the process.
Although brief, the outline above is generally applicable to almost any stone carving job... Enjoy!