For Stone Carvers, Their Profession is Their TraditionDuring the late 1980s, the Humanities Council funded a documentary film project on the dedicated craftsmen who carved the hundreds of gargoyles, statues, and architectural embellishments adorning the National Cathedral. The film called The Stone Carvers was produced by Marjorie Hunt and Paul Wagner, and is available at a number of local libraries. Because stone carving is such a high-skill profession, requiring years to master, the expertise is usually passed down from parent to child. This was certainly the case for many of the carvers featured in Hunt and Wagner's documentary, but, according to a recent Washington Post article it holds true for the craftsmen steadily chipping away at the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial scheduled to open this Summer.
According to writer Brett Zonger, at least one of the carvers working on the MLK memorial is continuing in the tradition of his father and grandfather. Though Nicholas Benson and his ancestors did not work on the National Cathedral, it is fair to say that they, more than most, have literally carved Washington. Benson's grandfather carved portions of the Iwo Jima Memorial just across the Potomac in Arlington, his father worked on the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, and Benson carved inscriptions on the World War II Memorial.
Benson relishes the opportunity to leave his mark on history, and seems to have gained a deep, personal connection with the words of Dr. King. The total number of letters comprising the inscriptions is 2,085, and each one takes Benson an hour to complete, so it stands to reason that he and his colleagues will have had plenty of time to carefully reflect on these memorable quotations by the time they complete the project.
Some of the carvers in Hunt and Wagner's documentary confessed that they viewed their profession as one on the verge of extinction. Mechanization and changing architectural styles have decreased the need for hand carved pieces. But on the Mall in Washington, as long as there are heroes to immortalize, and histories to transform into legends, it seems there will be a place for the artisan mason – master carvers.
Check out the Post article for more on Benson and his work on the MLK Memorial.