Upholding the â€œLost Artâ€ of Stone Carving
October 6, 2008
Tucked away among the sprawling plains of Florence, TX, is Texas Carved Stone - a company comprised of a very talented group of artisans that all share the same passion for carving stone. These craftsmen, who hail from all around the country, specialize in architectural carvings in limestone.
The company, which was started in 1987 by Bob Ragan and Mary Condon, is comprised of the two owners and six carvers. As founding members of the Stone Carvers Guild - a group of independent-working professional carvers throughout the U.S. - the owners are careful in their selection of employees. Condon, who handles the business aspect of the company, explained that in the beginning, it was more challenging to find skilled artisans, but now that the company has built a reputable name for itself, carvers are coming to them.
“We are one of the largest stone carving shops in the country,” she said. “Now they seek us out. One [carver] came down from Philadelphia, who had studied in London for two years. We also find people through the Guild.”
Ragan began his career as a stonemason, before dedicating all of his time to studying and perfecting the craft of carving. “I began carving limestone as a hobby, with a sharpened screwdriver and a ball peen hammer,” explained the head designer and carver. “On my next birthday, Mary bought me a full set of fine Italian hand tools and a block of Carrara marble.”
In 1985, Ragan laid his trowel down and went to work full time for a local cut stone mill. “My wages as a beginner couldn’t compare with what I was making as a masonry contractor, but I saw the mill work as a great learning experience,” he said. “For a year and a half, I worked 12 hours a day, six days a week. It was an intense period of miles and miles of architectural stone cutting.”
Ragan quickly realized that the milling industry was understandably more interested in large projects. “I noticed that many smaller specialty projects ended up on the back burner, and I realized that work was my niche.”
As a result of his findings, Ragan and Condon were prompted to open Texas Carved Stone. “There just weren’t that many people in the area doing this,” said Ragan, adding that it was difficult to find skilled carvers in the beginning. “We took local kids and trained them. We have one [employee] who has been carving since he was 17. He came on as a sander, and now he is one of our best carvers.”
Ragan and his skilled team carve in the traditional, classical, European manner. He explained that meticulous attention to detail is paid to each piece.
At the time of Stone World’s visit, a light breeze was blowing through the open mill and upbeat music was playing on the radio - an ideal environment to encourage creativity. “We can have as many as four or five jobs going through the shop at one time,” said Condon. “Most of our work is interior. There has been a renaissance in high-end residential. We ship all over the country.”
Condon went on to explain that during Stone World’s visit the carvers were currently working on a project for a private residence in Austin, TX. “The homeowners are fans of the opera,” she said. “We are making 14 capitals - each representing a different opera.”
In addition to custom residential work, the company’s portfolio includes a number of altars for Catholic churches as well as some restoration work. The majority of the restoration projects are for courthouses in Texas.
Texas Carved Stone purchases all of its limestone from Continental Cut Stone, which is located just down the road. Drawings are done in a CAD program before the carving begins. Once a limestone piece is completed, it is treated with an Aqua Mix penetrating sealer. “The reason we do that is for the ease of the setter,” explained Condon.
The shop sits on 17 acres, of which only 5 acres are used for the business. The rest is in wildlife exemption, explained Ragan. Just outside the mill is a European stone garden, where unique fountains, birdbaths and various other architectural elements are on display for purchase.
“About three or four years ago, Bob said that we were going to do this,” said Condon. “He designed these [sculptures] all from ‘boneyard’ material at Continental Cut Stone.” His inspiration comes from many trips to Europe where he takes a large amount of photographs, according to Condon.