Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Die-hard stoney

March/April issue, 2010

Michael Jamieson
A Spirit Set in Stone

By Paul Clark
Writer, Managing Editor

As a medium, stone packs more permanence per square inch than any other. For of all the media that eons of nature have provided for shelter, protection, strength and expression, stone remains our most enduring thread to the past, and the most sustainable of the present. Stone is eternal. And with Michael Jamieson, master stonemason, sculptor and die-hard “stoney,” the confident beauty of that eternity comes through in every stone he cuts, carves, sculpts and builds with.

To merely say that Jamieson loves stone doesn’t do justice to him, or to stone. At his core, he is a thoughtful, low-key and thoroughly hands-on artist who revels in stone’s many splendored types, looks and textures. And in the grains, hues and patterns that depict its ancient lineages. He hears poetry in the telltale “thunk” stone makes just before it splits, how it acts and reacts to his hews and chisels, and he’s forever awed by however massive, miniscule or in between, no two stones look exactly alike — inside or out.

In the end, he takes immense satisfaction, both personal and artistic, in the way his hand-cut, matched and meticulously fit and finished stonework comes together in a wall, fireplace, home or sculpture. And in how, for 25 years, he’s impressed and delighted homeowners, businesses and others with the visibly striking quality of his work.

His affection for stone began, simply enough, in the ‘80s when an excavator advised him to buy his own backhoe for the property he’d recently purchased in Sloatsburg. “You’re going to need it,” Jamieson recalls being told, “so I did. I started digging and hit rock, and with the sheer amount of rock I drilled, split and took out of there, I started to get into it. One thing led to another,” he laughs, “and here I am.”

His true inspiration, though, began among the stately walls, entrance piers, homes and stairways that lined and defined the winding roads and landscapes of Tuxedo Park. Here, he absorbed the spirit and ethic of the stonemasons who created these classic settings. “It was kind of a religious experience for me working here in the beginning,” he says. “Just seeing all of this old and beautiful work, everywhere I looked — the best of the best in the area was here.” But what still guides and inspires him to this day, is how naturally that craftsmanship mirrors the environment around it. As if, he says, “all it took was to walk around, gather rocks and start building. To me, that’s my favorite part of it. When you take stone from the area and make it look like the house is coming right out of the ground.”

Along the way, Jamieson continued perfecting his craft with stone carving coursework, sculpture studies and by regularly attending professional clinics, lectures and expositions around the country.

Put together, his drive, ethic and eagerness to keep on learning have made him one of the most genuine and respected craftsmen around. A hard working, “regular guy” perfectionist who’s as comfortable building pristine, perfectly positioned steps and fireplaces for normal suburban homes as he is constructing elegant patios, stone walls and entrance piers for big estates. Unless otherwise requested, he steadfastly prefers local stone — limestone, bluestone, sandstone, basalt, quartzite, granite — which is more economical for everyone and readily available from nearby quarries throughout the area, upstate New York and Pennsylvania.

True to his conviction that “you can never have enough stone,” Jamieson also finds and collects vintage architectural stonework, some dating back to 18th and 19th centuries. And he salvages and recycles stone whenever he can. At the same time, he’s often called in to repair and repoint existing stonework of all shapes and forms, and to step in after the fact to rescue work done — or not — by lesser-skilled masons.

When he’s not building, collecting and restoring, he spends as much time as he can at home in his “outdoor studio” working on sculpture. In the last few years, he has steadily produced an impressive array of large, original and carved-to-order pieces which, when possible, he also creates from salvaged and recycled stone. Designed and sculpted for gardens, pathways, patios and other outdoor environments, they include Buddhas, classic and conceptual forms, Easter Island-esque faces, imaginative fountains, and stone planters.

Thus with works in progress on projects big and small, including some of his signature work enhancing Restaurant X & Bully Boy Bar in Congers, Michael Jamieson shows no intention of slowing down, or doing anything else. Except, he says, maybe wind-surfing, which he also approaches with the same die-hard spirit. He intends, he says laughingly, “to keep on going ‘til the body goes out, and the day arrives you start cursing the stone.” But given this extraordinary artist’s love and affinity for stone and all it was, is and will always be, chances are good that’s one day he’ll never see.

For more information about Michael Jamieson and his stonework and sculpture, go to

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