Irish stonemason Frank McCormack says his craft is a dying art.
“The biggest challenge is now to survive,” he said. “The trade could be lost.”
McCormack, who is designing the doorway for the Irish Cultural Center’s new library, has been practicing stonemasonry since 1989, but his business struggled at first in the midst of an economic downturn in Ireland.
“We were struggling hard. That’s how we started,” he said. “I started then with two people working for me, and we went from there.”
According to Be Constructive’s website, stonemasonry is one of the oldest trades in the construction industry. It is a small but specialized trade that involves cutting, laying, renovating and shaping stone for building purposes. McCormack’s business, Irish Natural Stone Products, is run out of County Clare in Ireland.
McCormack has crafted work in all parts of the world since his beginning days.
“In the U.S., we’ve done some work at Harvard University, we made the Irish Hunger Memorial in Battery Park, and we worked on Annie Moore’s monument at Ellis Island,” he said, adding that the Annie Moore monument was his favorite project.
“Even thought it was quite small, it was a nice job because of the history behind it,” McCormack said. “It was something personal because we were working for her descendants.”
McCormack said Moore’s descendants now live in Phoenix, and a visit to the Valley is what prompted him to take on the job of designing the doorway for the cultural center’s library. The library’s grand opening is set for September.
“I came to Phoenix and met the family and the community, and then the design for the library was in its infancy,” he said. “I met the architect who said he was looking for a doorway design.”
The architect, Paul Ahearn, had visited Ireland 10 years earlier and had taken photos of the doorway of St. Bridget’s Church in County Clare.
“I said I’d love to be involved in the project,” McCormack said.
The library will house the only genealogical research center in the Southwest, allowing visitors to discover their family history. Even the library is an authentic part of Irish history, McCormack said.
“If you look at that doorway, you’ll see old history,” he said. “You’ll see we used the chisel the same way stonemasons did 1,000 years ago.”
McCormack did all of the stonework in Ireland at his plant and had the three tons of limestone shipped to the U.S. by boat through the Panama Canal. The stone arrived in Los Angeles and was then transported by truck to Phoenix.
McCormack says that for now, the survival of his work and business depends on his love for the craft. “To bigger companies, the stone is only a product to them,” he said. “We treat it personally and individually.”
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