Saturday, 29 June 2013

One thousand years of working history

As well as a working master stone mason I am also Collegiate Assistant Clerk with the European Guild of Master Masons.
EGMM helped me when I was an apprentice and I was a member for 20 years before being asked to take over the Collegiate Assistant Clerks position in 2005, I was happy to accept and felt it my opportunity to give something back helping present and future craftsmen. Many are put off by the pomp and ceremony but I am proud to be involved with it, as it has formed over a many years and is the glue that holds together so many nationalities. When visiting a Hall in Italy or Turkey I feel instantly at home and in familiar surroundings even to the level of laughing with a fellow C. A. C about knocking over chairs when wearing your gown.
EGMM is a little known craftsman's guild formed around 1096 by Robert Duke of Normandy, among others, as part of the craft arm of the first Crusade to support the knights and their followers.  At this time they became closely linked with the orders of monastic knights which explains many of our ceremonies and titles still used.
Robert of Normandy, Gloucester Cathedral
Originally formed across 12 city and national boundaries, there remain 12 companies within the Guild still known by their original names; Normandy, Holy Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire, Leon & Castile, Burgundy, Aragon, Catalonia, France, Zaragoza, Brittany, Venice & Navarre.  Mainly states that one way or another were involved with the initial venture.
We have one Grand Master, 12 Masters, 12 Clerks, 12  Collegiate Assistant Clerks and Company Assistant Clerks, one for each company.  In the UK or Normandy company we also have Wardens (upper and rented), and a Beadle in the manner of the Medieval Guilds.
Grand Master is a life long position, the Master of each company is elected quinquennially, the Clerk is the company's accountant, the Collegiate Assistant Clerk deals with education, training and helping members, and the Company Assistant Clerk deals with the running of the company and ceremonies.
Today it is a self financing, non profit making organisation truly diverse both racially and religiously, our company's ceremonial traditions cover the Jewish, Catholic, Orthodox Christian, Muslim and Protestant religions.
Throughout the turbulent history of Europe EGMM has kept it's head below the parapet, carrying on quietly with it's work, allowing the organisation to continue for over 1000 years virtually unknown and unmolested.   Rather than giving a little help to the many, the ethos has always been to give total help and support to a few, as it was always the intention to nurture future craft masters, not jacks of all trades.
The Guild no longer has any connection with masonry projects as such, but through our members in over 20 modern countries we assist in training and education through our vast technical and historical archive and in the form of funding.
We still run several almshouses and supply financial help with bills etc. to elderly past members.  This harks back to medieval times when we looked after the families of dead or injured members, helped with the education of their children and arbitrated between them and their employers or clients when needed.  In the UK we were the forerunner to the operative stonemasons societies and a template for the early trade unions.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Bring the quality of British craftsmanship from the heritage sector and high end design to all price ranges.

I am passionate about getting people to buy hand carved pieces produced by experienced craftsmen rather than those mass produced, machine made, items as sold by the industry leaders.
The business model the majority use seems to me to be out of date and from a time when less interest was taken in environmental issues and the cultural importance of real craftsmanship to society was not recognised. It is definitely not what my clients expect from me these days.
Through displays and talks etc. I am working to dispel the myth that we do not have world class craftsmen in the UK. Though our sales in the US, Europe & Asia and the feed back we receive we know of the high esteem with which British craftsmanship in general is held, it seems the only people we need to convince are the British themselves.
Reasons to buy craftsman made hand carved ornament.
Higher quality at no extra cost:
Why would you buy a piece that is exactly the same as everyone else has when you can commission a custom made item, hand carved by craftsmen who are also producing work for palaces, stately homes and high end design projects across the UK, Europe and the rest of the world? There is actually little or no extra cost. People assume hand carved is considerably more expensive than machine made. For individual bespoke pieces this is not the case, there is no need for machine set up for hand carved items and you are not paying for the item to be shipped half way around the world.
Highest quality materials:
As our reputation is based on the quality of our work we use only the best materials available. We use limestones and sandstones from the UK and France, some having been used since the time of the Roman Empire. We also use Welsh and Cumbrian slate and marble from the UK, France, Italy and Greece. Often the same materials used by the ancient and renaissance masters.
Give a face to the craftsman:
We offer a service where the client, at an arranged time can talk directly to the craftsman with their piece on the bench in front of them via web cam. Yes the actual craftsman, not an extra brought in from the office or warehouse for the occasion. This takes advantage of the years of expertise and knowledge gained by the craftsmen regarding material, proportion, and visual tricks such as ocular rectification. We also supply a short 3 minute film for all our projects of the piece being worked free of charge upon delivery.
Quicker turn around for bespoke pieces:
We are approached regularly by clients who have been quoted 12 weeks for the most minor of adjustments from the industry leaders. For all but the most intricate piece we aim for a turn around of 28 days or less for their bespoke item.
Lower carbon foot print:
We hear a lot about peoples concerns regarding carbon foot print and the distance products travel but the large majority of off the shelf fire surround in the UK are travelling over 10, 000 kilometres or 6,000 miles to get to you, if you have paid more and get the real material you can double those distances as the stone has to get from Europe to their workshops in the first place. By using the acknowledged best quality limestones and sandstones, we source from quarries lest than 250km or 150 miles away and for the best marbles in the world the furthest they should come is 1,500 km or 900 miles.
Support for UK jobs and training.
By purchasing quality bespoke items produced by trained craftsmen in the UK you are supporting a traditional industry and quality skilled jobs, also allowing us to train more people thus building a healthy human crafts resource for now and the future.
And last but not least
We know from conversations with our existing clients how being able to provide such a bespoke service for their customers gives them a priceless advantage over many of their competitors and is complimentary to the quality services they already offer.

My work encompasses all architectural and design types

My work encompasses all architectural and design types including Gothic, Edwardian, Victorian, contemporary and modern, I am especially experienced in the period from the English Renaissance through English Baroque to Regency sometimes in design circles loosely named the English country house style.
In addition to training with a City of London company whose origins date back to 1690's Aldgate, I have over 30 years experience working in and around The City of London, also working extensively in Georgian Bath and Cheltenham Spa.
queens house
I gained experience and expertise whilst conserving and carving new architectural stone and interior pieces for some of the great palaces, stately homes, country house and churches in Britain, such as Queen's House Greenwich, Woburn Abbey, Somerset House, St. Martin's in the Fields, St. Paul's Covent Garden, and Heythrop House.
This gave me an insight and a greater understanding when interpreting and carving fire surrounds and ornamentation from designs by the likes of Inigo Jones, James Gibbs, William Chambers, Henry Flitcroft and from the contemporary pattern books by Batty Langley and William Halfpenny.
More recently, as well as the minimal contemporary ornament we have been making for interior designers for town houses and apartments we have been producing many more classically inspired pieces used as a juxtaposition to the decoration in a modern setting . Fire surrounds, urns and pedestals, finials, columns, water features, panels, busts and statuary are all regularly produced.
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A large proportion of our design work involves carving fire surrounds to the design of an antique piece for architects and designers, the advantage of this for the client is, the antique although beautiful was made to suit a specific space, as such much of the design and thinking that went in to the piece is now lost when placed in a new setting.
painswick - Copy
 A new piece of the same quality and in many cases exactly the same material as the original can be produced allowing for the proportional changes to its surroundings and for ocular rectification to allow for light fall etc.
These pieces are by no means just copies, they are new original pieces in the same way as the piece we are working from is an original in the style of a classical design or which ever style it may be. There is no need make do when it comes to dimension or material.
WESTONBIRT DETAILAlthough all our fireplaces and ornamentation are still hand carved using techniques, tools and materials virtually unchanged since the 17th century, we do use technology to give a better service to the client. For example via web cam my clients can see their item on the bench in one of our UK workshops and talk to us in real time to discuss materials, design dimensions etc.
I supply items worldwide to dealers, architects, designers, developers, galleries and the public, with my main markets outside the UK being the USA and Asia.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Go for Quality

Many companies claim they hand carve fire surrounds and other ornaments themselves, however, the vast majority, including most of the brand leaders actually buy their fire surrounds from China or some other country with low labour costs where they are largely machined.

Carrara, instead of being the top quality marble as used by Michelangelo becomes any old white marble or in some cases not marble at all but quartzite, which in fact dissolves in hot water and Bath stone that has never seen south western England. Remember, when buying these inferior materials the financial saving is not passed down to you the client, it pays for the plush showrooms, expensive web sites, ads in glossy magazines and half a dozen reps - in fact nothing that adds to the quality of the piece.

Before obtaining a quotation there is an assumption that hand carved is much more expensive than machine made, but this is often not the case.

When a company claims to produce their own items: ask where their workshop is, ask to talk to one of their craftsmen., ask where the stone comes from and a little about it, ask where they trained and what is their experience, and ask why it takes 12 weeks to take delivery of a fire surround that needs altering by 25 mm to the one in the shop.

The problem is, many members of the public are impressed by expensively designed shops in the right post code. In the future, when children and grandchildren are discussing their predecessors hand carved commission, would you rather they were saying “he got it from a dealer in Kensington who later sold cars, he was a very good salesman and they had lovely brochures” or “ the man who carved this also carved work for Windsor Castle and for the Duke of Bedford at Woburn Abbey”.

We are not fire surround manufacturers or water feature makers, we are stonemasons and architectural sculptors. We carve all types of fire surrounds, fountains, urns, etc. It is only coming back to the design sector from heritage and high end commissions that I notice the lack of quality being offered, all in the name of greater profits for those jumping on a gravy train.

Don't buy from a middle man, go direct to the craftsmen. You may not get your plush showroom but you do get the true bespoke experience and a hand carved piece wholly original, and an antique of the future.