The Natural Stone Council's first major project to promote the use of natural stone was a 2,500-square-foot exhibit at the American Institute of Architects 2004 National Convention and Design Exposition at McCormick Place in Chicago, held from June 10 to 12, 2004. Constructed and staffed by contributors to the Council, the booth was organized into nine sections, each with its own theme.

Sections One and Three that faced the main aisle featured landscaping stones with granite curbing, Bluestone and sandstone patios and flower-filled triangular shaped drystack walls. Photographs of residential and commercial landscaping formed the background for the stone materials. Inside the booth, the focus was on the green movement in architecture and the value of natural stone.

Section Two was the grand entrance, featuring a majestic limestone colonnade and marble flooring that welcomed visitors into the booth. Everyone who walked by couldn't resist touching the smooth limestone columns and asking “Is this real?” The prompted signs throughout the booth that read “Yes, it's real stone!”

Section Four focused on stoneworking technology, with the latest in CAD machinery from Park Industries being demonstrated to the architects who walked by. Next to the high-tech machine were stone carvers, putting the finishing touches on decorative stone elements that had been first cut and shaped by machine. Fascinated crowds watched both demonstrations and, curious to learn more, came into the booth to talk

with staffers.

Section Five was the reception area with four curved countertop units topped by highly polished granite countertops with four different edge finishes. The centerpiece was a precisely balanced limestone sculpture entitled, “The Universe,” which was mounted on a stainless steel rod, that rotated on its axis changing the perspective of the smooth and rough finished curves of the piece.

Full-size slabs of a variety of stones were featured in section six along with four wall veneer mock-ups, again of a variety of natural stones.

The focal point of Section Seven was a 16-foot-high photographic timeline of stone structures from 2000 BC through the present day, taking visitors from Egypt to Cambodia, Ethiopia to Peru and beyond and graphically illustrating the durability and longevity of natural stone.

Section Eight was the “back door” into the booth with a welcoming balustrade, limestone flooring, and a wall mock-up demonstrating anchoring systems. Section Nine was the continuing education center, where for-credit seminars were offered to architects. The center was surrounded by panels of natural stone in a wide variety of types, colors and finishes.

The success of the booth was due in no small part to the cooperation among many diverse interests in the natural stone industry. While there were many contributors of time, materials and financial support, five individuals deserve to be recognized for their efforts. Ed Walsh of Sturgis Materials in Kansas City, KS, coordinated all of the stone contributions that were featured in the booth. Fred Becker of Becker & Becker Stone Co. in Dubuque, IA, designed and fabricated the colonnade at the entrance. Brad Poynter of Fieldstone Center in Conyers, GA, designed and contributed the commercial landscape section and was a necessary extra pair of hands during installation. Jack Van Etten of Galloy and Van Etten in Chicago coordinated the stone setters during installation and dismantling of the booth. Pennie Sabel of the StonExpo Federation facilitated and oversaw the design and construction of the booth and was responsible for the photographic displays. This group was responsible for installing all the booth elements and overseeing the final touches on Thursday morning before the show opened. Following the three-day show, these five remained on site through Sunday to coordinate the dismantling and make sure the elements were safely packed away for transport and storage.

The Natural Stone Council was the brainchild of Mark Fernandes of Luck Stone in Richmond, VA, and was formed in 2002 to address issues and opportunities in the natural stone industry. The Council is comprised of a diverse group of business and association leaders from across the country, who represent all facets of the natural stone industry. The mission is to raise the level of awareness and education of natural stone in the North American market. The vision of the group is to establish a council of industry associations and businesses to develop and deliver a clear, consistent and distinguishable message which positions natural stone as the premier product in its category. Associations active on the Council include Allied Stone Industries, American Monument Association, Building Stone Institute, Elberton Granite Association, Indiana Limestone Institute, Marble Institute of America, National Building Granite Quarries Association and the StonExpo Federation.

The success of this first project of the Natural Stone Council led to a commitment to another booth at the AIA show in 2005 in Las Vegas, NV, and fund-raising efforts have begun to support this important industry endeavor to communicate the value of natural stone to the architecture and design community.