Why do I carve rocks?

More than a few times I have encountered folks who ask, “What got you into carving rocks?”

I can tell what they REALLY want to ask is, “Kind of a weird hobby you’ve got going there. Why?”

Fair point.

So, why exactly do I carve rocks? Well, for those of you that don’t know, my day job consists of creation and dissemination of communication, often in the form of digital media. These come out in print, radio, and online, but no matter how they are released, I am thoroughly proud of the work I do.

Still, the thought persists of the longevity of this work. How long will the media I help to create last? What is its lasting impact? In the scheme of history, the answer is not long.

Craftsman Mindset

I embrace what’s called a “Craftsman Mindset,” as made popular by author Cal Newport in his book So Good They Can’t Ignore You. He describes it as focusing on the value you’re producing in your work, or what you can offer the world, compared to the more favored “Passion Mindset” which focuses on what the world can offer you. The craftsman mindset lends itself to the world of media with very measurable results and comparisons to improve day after day.

Even so, the things which we pour our hearts and soul into in the field of communications are very fleeting – meaning it’s here today and gone tomorrow. The reality is a good lifespan for a very good piece of our news is about a week.

What does this have to do with rock carving?

I love my work in communication, and I’m not ready to leave it anytime soon – but I also know that I want my daily work to reflect my hopes and desires. One of these desires is to be involved in something that lasts.

The question then becomes, “What form of communication does last?”

Me at my day job
Me at my night job

Where stone carving comes in

The oldest records of civilization come to us through stone carvings. Stone carving has evolved and adapted throughout the ages, in cultures around the world.

Stone Carvers Guild

We know about the history of our world through stone carving. We record and memorialize each of our lives through stone carving. The beauty, depth, and simplicity of the written word comes to life physically through stone carving.

See a theme?

The art form of stone carving, and specifically traditional letter cutting, grabbed me and hasn’t let go since I began exploring this idea a few years into my communications career. Like some sort of disease, my passion for the craft has rooted itself and worsens over time. I continue to learn more and more each day, and wouldn’t you know it? I love it.

I was not born into a tradition of stone carving, but rather born into a family in love with art, history, and the natural world while also in love with a working life. It’s important to me I am physically involved in my vocation. Stone carving allows me a philosophical approach to discovering an age-old art form and also to get down and dirty with the work itself.

Is stone carving a lost art?

Yes, and no.

Things created in stone are not uncommon – heck, go visit your nearest cemetery! Like anything in the modern world, industrialization is king and a process of CNC-machining and sandblasting are the go-to methods for creating stonework these days. In my opinion, these approaches have resulted in a sterilized and overly mass-produced version of stonework and have damaged the impact of truly beautiful creations in stone.

A commissioned piece by Ohio Caverns completed in mid-2023, carved on location out of a piece of reclaimed cavern limestone.

Or if I were to choose a movie quote to convey this:

…It is in the rock that real scientists make real discoveries. Now what John Hammond and InGen did at Jurassic Park is create genetically engineered theme park monsters, nothing more and nothing less.

-Dr. Alan Grant, Jurassic Park III

With this realization in hand, I soon found myself going on a search for the traditional method of carving. It didn’t take me long to discover an entire world of like-minded artists and craftspeople that approach stone carving with hammer and chisel. They do this not just to keep a tradition alive, but because it’s the most effective way to see a design realized in the unique medium of stone.

I wanted to be a part of that world.

Just one problem

I literally knew nobody in that world…

No worries! Through internet meetups, trial and error (and a considerable amount of money buying the right tools), most of my non-full-time-career hours are spent refining my practice of letter cutting with hammer and chisel. My friendships with carvers far, far beyond my expertise grow and I watch their work in awe (such as the members of the Stone Carvers Guild), hoping to learn by osmosis through them.

There’s a quote in this world – “You don’t learn stone carving, you steal it.” It means the interactions and observations of fellow carvers around you is how your own craft develops. I hope to continue to do just that, and be rewarded for my larceny with longevity. The same kind of longevity this form of communication has handed down through millennia.

Stay tuned.

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