Flintstones CEO, Mike De Palma, and Master Mason, Gary Wade were featured in “Master Masons – The Lost Art of Stonework and Masonry” by Jill Lang. This article was originally published in the Fall 2011 edition of Homes & Living magazine. PDF link here.
Since the dawn of industrialization, convenience and affordability have monopolized the leading edge of technological advances. Why take a trip to a tropical rain forest when you can bask in the luxury and comfort of a rain showerhead? Similarly, why build a house out of real stone when concrete can be coloured, polished and shaped to look like stone for a fraction of the price?
For one thing, your home will never resemble a Persian palace or a Greek temple if you face it with concrete. And, over time, concrete erodes and requires maintenance when real stone masonry has lasted and will last for generations. It’s weatherproof, rot proof, fire proof, air proof—not only is it beautiful art, it’s strong and it’s done.
“Natural stone won’t fade or produce efflorescence over time,” says K2 Stone Quarries Vice President of Sales, Michael Penner. “It requires less maintenance and looks better.” Since November 2003, K2 Stone has specialized in thin stone veneers, full bed building stone, capstones, flagstone, hearths, mantles, landscape stone and a variety of custom products. K2 operates quarries in British Columbia and Montana, with two of its seven franchise stores located here on the island in Victoria and Nanaimo. Penner says the stone industry is seeing a renewed interest in natural stonework, as well as the emergence of modern flair to the traditional craft of stone masonry.
“New Castle wants to keep the real art alive because masonry has been around as long as we have,” says owner/operator of New Castle Stoneworks in Victoria, Mike de Palma. “Real masonry is becoming a lost art.”
Masonry, one of the oldest trades of civilization, cropped up during the Neolithic Revolution (the first agricultural revolution c. 3500 BC), when people discovered how to use fire to create quicklime, plasters, and mortars, which were then used to build homes with mud, straw or stone. Stonemasons built the Egyptian pyramids, the Taj Mahal, Chartres Cathedral and the Roman Coliseum, as well as medieval castles and many other immaculate and long-lasting monuments.
Nowadays, anything built from brick, stone, marble, granite, travertine, limestone, concrete block, glass block, stucco, or tile is generally considered masonry. New Castle takes care of all the masonry for both the exterior and interior of a home and enlists four masonry sub-trades to keep the art of stonemasonry alive. Quarrymen split and extract raw rock from the earth, while sawyers cut rough slabs of stone to the required size for carving and shipping. Banker masons then specialize in carving stone into shapes required for a home’s design. Stone specialist, Norman Brown, manages New Castle material orders and operates a stone fabrication plant out of Courtney, B.C. He travels the globe to find the highest quality of stone requested by clients. Over the last 25 years or so, stonemasonry has likely become a lost art because extracting, cutting and carving stone requires specialized skills, and fixer masonry (the installation of stone) is an intricate art and one of the most challenging sub-trades to master. The mental aptitude required to endure a project for two or three years, and turn simple stone into beautiful art takes a highly skilled master mason – precisely why de Palma chose Gary Wade to fill the roll.
Wade, a third-generation master mason, works with apprenticing masons but lays all the stone for New Castle projects to ensure the highest quality installation. Wade’s grandpa was a mason, his dad a mason—naturally Wade wanted to be a mason, too. De Palma wanted to have the best teacher teaching his guys how to become better masons, and he himself manages New Castle projects and has been involved in construction most of his life. He loves and stands behind masonry because it lasts forever and adds presence to a home, especially with stone-cladding and customized sculptures. Carvers can cross the line from craft to art, and use their artistic ability to carve stone into the foliage, figures, animals—anything can be commissioned for a home. “Homeowners should consider natural stone because it withstands the test of time better than manmade products both technically and aesthetically,” says Ivo Zanatta, owner of Matrix Marble & Stone on Vancouver Island.
Matrix Marble & Stone is a creativity-based architectural stone company that has been operating out of Duncan since 1980, and specializes in kitchen countertops, fireplaces, bathrooms and dimensional stone. Matrix opened its own quarries in ‘92/93, quarrying first imported granites and marble, and now three beautiful marbles exclusive to Vancouver Island—Vancouver Island White, Tlupana Blue and Black Carmanah. Companies like New Castle, Matrix and K2 want to preserve the true art of stonework and masonry, and draft only those masons passionate about the craft. Telling a skilled mason that all he works with is a pile of rocks and mortar is like telling an artist all he works with is paint brushes and some paint. Your stone-clad home is not just a pile of rocks and mortar; it’s artwork that will last for the dawn of centuries to come