Jul 16, 2011

Walking Through a Stonecarving Project

So Tommy breezed through a 4-year college program in just 5 years, a pinch over the national average of 4.7 years.  He struggled with majors as well as with narrowing down his list of serious interests.  He's passionate about so many things, how could he choose just one for a career?   He finally graduated in 2010 with a Bachelor of Arts in Fine Arts Technology.

Tommy has been working for us doing graphic design work on our sites so I thought he might stick with that unless music pulled him away.  Thus I was curiously surprised when a local stonecarver snatched him out from under us.  Curiouser and curiouser. 

Everyone has the same reaction as I:  "Stonecarving?" Spoken with eyebrows crinkled.  "What exactly does he do?"  Well.... sit back and let me tell you.

I caught up with Tommy and his boss, Ron Clamp out at Stonecrafter's Farm in Pelion on a hot June afternoon. We huddled in Ron's office just a few feet from his shop, a couple of panting dogs in between. Over subs and between phone calls for Memorial Design, we talked about their current projects.

“I love having Tommy on board,” Ron started, “Tommy has enough artistic talent that he's going to be really good.  He's meticulous.  The problem with carving stone is that there is no margin for error, you have to be meticulous.”  

In addition to taking on the travel work, Tommy is also responsible for sales and design, gilding, laser etching, and the art features on mausoleums and church monuments. He's worked in several states already and claims his ultimate goal destination is American Samoa to learn to hand chisel.  At this point, we were seriously sidetracked by a discussion on how American Samoa -- “Football Alley” -- contributes the largest percentage of NFL football players.  We mapquested it – it'll take Tommy 20 hours to get there by plane should he ever get to go.

Tommy has also been working on the First Responders Memorial in Columbia, a huge 9/11 Memorial to be placed in the Vista to honor First Responders.  As I write, Tommy is in Rochester NY for a project that involves etching a US map on granite.

It's the creative etching projects to which I'm drawn.  Tommy agrees. "The diamond etching is probably my favorite part of the job," he smiles, "Other than the caulking and that's because caulking means I'm done with the project."  Clamp chimes in, “With Tommy's computer graphics background, the etching is right up his alley.   It's something he has both the skill set and the natural talent for."

I got the guys to walk me through a project so I could get an idea of what they actually do.  We took the Orangeburg Veterans Memorial, Tommy's first solo project, and broke it down.

The centerpiece of the Veterans Park Memorial in Orangeburg was partially created in 2009.  In May, 2011 the town was ready to complete the project by having the wings crafted with over 700 names engraved, adding about 24,000 pounds of stone to the original centerpiece.  The names engraved were those of veterans from Orangeburg County who were killed in active service.  Tommy received the architect's design in mid-May and laid it out on the CAD system.  After some revisions, the city approved it and Tommy fabricated the stencil.

Meanwhile, the gray granite arrived from Georgia on a tractor trailer and was parked just outside the Pelion shop. The next step was to put the template on the rock, 6 pieces at 4,000 pounds apiece. Tommy glued the stencil and spent several days in the June heat out on the back of the tractor trailer sandblasting the names into the rock.

“The hottest June since 1988,” Tommy smiles, adding, “Day after day in the sun while Ron supervised from the air-conditioned office. Day after day.” I 'm enjoying watching these two guys volley back and forth. Ron smiles and shakes his head while Tommy jokingly adds  He's sipping iced tea and complaining about the air-conditioning.”

Upon completion of the sandblasting, Tommy then painted the granite with lithochrome, a shadow enhancer.  He peeled off the stencils, removed the glue with a pressure washer and took the granite to Orangeburg where a 40-ton crane was used to set them in place.  They will remain under the blue tarp until the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

“Did you have any concerns,” I asked Tommy, “when you were handed your first solo project?”  He laughed. “Yeah, that I might accidentally burn the stencil or not go deep enough sandblasting and mess up the rocks. Those things are pretty expensive if you mess them up. As far as design goes, I didn't have any concerns here because I knew the city of Orangeburg had gone over that with a fine toothed comb.” The work was all stuff Tommy had done many times before, just not of this magnitude.  He admitted that everything finished smoothly and that he is proud he has done something that his great, great, great grandchildren can look at with pride.

While I was packing up to go, I asked the gentlemen what's next on their agenda. “We've got a lot of medium-sized monuments to do, some church monuments and things, but the next big thing is the 9/11 monument for Columbia. And soon Tommy's up for certification, he'll easily qualify for his journeyman when it comes time.  Tommy nudged Clamp and said, “All you gotta do is get me in the top 20 and I'll do the rest.”  Clamp snorted and I leaned back and enjoyed the banter.


Ruth said...

Congratulations to Tommy for finding a job that blends so many of his loves and talents. Wonderful description of the project.

Mimi said...

So proud of that grandson of mine! Hope to see his work in person one of these days.

Fern said...

This is so cool, exciting to see what Tommy is doing!!!