Stone arch

Me working on a stone arch at Le Mazel in the Ardeche

Stonemasonry was an accidental career choice but one I have never regretted. When I started off in the building trade I was living in the South of France, in a little hamlet in the Ardeche.

I was 25 years old, and a professional artist. I’m proud to be able to use the word ‘professional’ because I did earn a living selling my work… up to the point when I landed in the middle of nowhere in a foreign country where I didn’t speak the language. Earning a living got that little bit harder.

I moved to France from NYC to help start an artist’s commune. I was always up for a bit of adventure, so I bought a one way ticket, and off I went, with my easel, my mountain bike, the rest of my painting stuff and a change of clothes. All my worldly possessions, in other words.

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The farmhouse at Le Mazel before it was restored

Le Mazel was a wonderful place, magical even. And while I didn’t have any rent or bills to pay, I did have to eat and by the end of summer 2000, my money was running out. To say it was difficult to sell art out there was a massive understatement. Most of the houses were ruins (not that there were many to begin with) and the Sanglier didn’t seem to have much cash.

A cash-strapped Sanglier

The owner of the commune-to-be embarked on some renovation and hired a German Maçon named Dieter. Short of help, Dieter saw a strapping young lad and enlisted him. I was already doing some bricolage around the property, so I was thrilled to be able to learn more.

After a few faux pas, like using kitchen measuring cups to mix mortar and not knowing how long 20 cm was (both of which made Dieter go completely nuts), I started to get the hang of it. I already knew that I loved working with my hands, but I also realised that building work was creative and extremely rewarding. And working outdoors in a beautiful setting like that was the icing on the cake.

Dieter

The keystone: I am operating the crane for Dieter

One of the highlights of my time working at Le Mazel was helping to build a stone arch that spanned 4 metres. We reused stones from another arch on the property that we demolished and then built a concrete load bearing arch behind it. When I go back and visit, I still feel an enormous amount of pride in being involved in the project. That feeling of having an impact on a place, helping to make something beautiful is what I loved most about being a stonemason.

With hindsight, I can see that it’s the same feeling I got from being an artist, and now the same feeling I get from MyBuilder. I’ve created something I can be proud of, and that makes me happy. It also helps to elevate work to something that’s timeless and priceless, well beyond just making money. That’s why I love my trade.