Stone Carvers Needed to Restore Notre Dame

The Massive Fire Kindles Demand for Skilled Stone Carvers

Notre Dame scaffolding after the fire

Disasters have a way of teaching us. In the case of the fire earlier this year at the cathedral of Notre Dame, one of the lessons is that stone carving is still a skill that has a use in this modern world.

Restoring the glorious cathedral will no doubt take many years, although hopefully no where near the 200 years that it took to create it in the first place. However, there are fewer people who have dedicated their lives to becoming a stone carver today than back then.

Like many of the trades, there is perceived to be less of a need for the skills these craftsmen possessed. Today’s building rely on other materials and even when built with stone, rarely have much ornamentation.

Fortunately, there are some men and women who are studying the art of stone carving. One can actually get a degree in the subject! Pictured below is François Menut, one such student.

Apprentice stone carver Francois Menut at work

And to be clear, being a stone carver and being a stone sculptor are not the same thing. Not that they are mutually exclusive, of course. However a stone carver who chooses to work on historical monuments must understand not only how to work the materials, but also have a love of art history as well.

Certainly the historic stone carver has incredible skills. In addition, they are looking for accuracy and symmetry. Their work is steeped in history, textures and patterns. A sculptor, may or may not, be as interested in that level or style of work.

The Centre de Formation d’Apprentis du Bâtiment Saint Lambert, the Saint Lambert center for training and apprenticeship, offers a 2 year post-baccalaurete program specifically about carving on historic monuments. Upon successful completion, their graduates are qualified to work on monuments, such as Notre Dame cathedral.

Another route to becoming a stone carver who is licensed to work on historic monuments is still to work through the ranks of a guild.

Apprentices of today’s guild, “Les Compagnons du Devoir,” the Companions of Duty, have gained “near-mythic status in France” according to NPR’s Eleanor Beardsley.

That program is based on the way young people were trained for professions in the Middle Ages. To become a “compagnon” takes at least five years of rigorous training, and apprentices are expected to travel around France working on different sites. The apprentices live and eat together and follow certain customs.

Eleanor Beardsley

There are other programs that teach stone carving skills. Some stone carvers consider themselves masonry artists, others architectural artisans.

Photo credits:

Photo Credits:
Notre Dame scaffolding image from Stephane de Sakutin/AP
Apprentice stone carver Francois Menut at work photo by Eleanor Beardsley/NPR

Read Eleanor Beardsley’s article on NPR here