I am a stonemason, artisan and overall stone enthusiast based out of Corbett, OR. My modest operation consists of one man, one 20-year-old flatbed truck and an assortment of specialized hand tools.
I have worked directly with natural stone since 1996 and have cultivated a passionate relationship with what I believe to be the planet's finest resource next to water and oxygen.
To begin, I agree with your general categorization of current stone industry practices and business ethos. Without too much imagination, one could extend your template of ethics to the construction industry as a whole. Occasionally, someone will utter the old saying; "They don't build them like they used to," or "they don't build them like that anymore."
Why don't they?
Because a stringent moral code combined with innate ability is required, and [some of] today's practitioners appear to be lacking the vital repertoire of patience, energy, conviction, inspiration, passion, creativity and competency necessary to achieve and uphold the high standards of yesterday.
These are the attributes and ethos of true craftsmen, artisans, pioneers, inventors and others who are propelled by forces other than personal financial gain. These are people who understand the value of producing something of lasting, usable beauty and quality. They understand that what you contribute to the world can influence and inspire others, individually and collectively. These qualities and actions are honorable. They are also worthy of any accolades or remuneration they might receive as a result.
Our instinctual proclivity towards the path of least resistance, coupled with eroded standards of workmanship, over-mechanization, bad economic policy and unabashed greed, has left many industries at a crucial juncture.
A serious assessment of our priorities and values are in order.
Many of us within the industry are well aware of the inherent natural beauty of stone and its ecological and structural benefits. Why do we continue as a race to build uninspired, effacing, soulless, rectilinear architecture?
If we are to spend a third of our lives working, should we only strive in performance towards the low levels of acceptability? Should our only inspiration come from the financial compensation necessary to cover our basic human needs? What is to be our legacy and ultimate gift to the future?
These are questions that each individual must answer for him or herself, and I have no intention of offering blanket solutions.
As to the stone industry's survival:
To my limited understanding, the stone industry on a global level is a vastly intertwined network of resource allocation, production and distribution. It employs the services and talents of millions. Stone products, bi-products and applications seem limited only by imagination and human will. Industrious use of stone has always survived and will continue to be utilized as long as humans walk the earth. Stone contains the ultimate reflective power. It tells us who we are and will show others who we were as a race and culture.
But, will the shrinking middle class and burgeoning upper classes continue to adorn their kitchens and bathrooms with [cheap] granite work? It is hard to say.
I commend you and your colleagues at Stone World for the heart, energy, and resources devoted to an often well-researched, informative publication.
I would enjoy seeing more of the following within Stone World's contents:
* Traditional stone masonry, stone cutting, carving and sculpting
* Slate roofs, traditional architecture
* Historical accounts of quarries
Although these subjects represent marginalized components of the stone industry, they are, historically speaking, responsible for creating the foundation for the current "stone industry."
I acknowledge that you do occasionally touch on these subjects and am excited when they are represented.
Thank you for your time and passion for stone.
Owner, Poetry In Stone
Editor's Note: Thank you for your letter. While we have focused on elements such as stone quarrying and traditional masonry and cutting techniques in the past, I believe you will be seeing more of this in the future. In particular, we have several focuses on "U.S. Quarried Stone" appearing in 2013, along with reports on historic stone quarries and artisan studios around the world.
Also, while I agree that there are many out there that emphasize money over craftsmanship, I do believe that our industry has a great many craftsmen who take pride in their work. This is particularly true of some of our industry veterans and leaders, but I have also encountered some who are new to stoneworking, who also value the craft of our trade.
Nevertheless, a recent poll of North American stone fabricators revealed that HALF of them feel that competition from low-end stoneworking shops are the greatest threat to our industry. Just a year ago, only one-third of stoneworkers felt this way.
Bottom line: If we don't preserve the craft of stoneworking -- and promote the importance of that craft to the general public -- we as an industry will fade away.