We’re excited to introduce Gerald J. Croteau III, artist and founder of American Stonecraft, as our Featured Maker for the month of September!
Based out of Lowell, American Stonecraft is one of our most local vendors and one of our most beloved. Gerald began our chat with an eloquent description of American Stonecraft’s mission:
One of the things that New England is famous for is that we have more miles of stone wall than there are miles between the Earth and the moon. I’ve also heard that there are more miles than railroad tracks in the United States. New England farmers have been battling rocks since the very beginning.
What we’re doing is partnering farmers still battling rocks to make beautiful goods that people can take indoors and have fun with. So we start with a fieldstone and transform them into coasters, slabs, and bowls. We try to keep the fieldstone as real as possible, so it’s live edge contrasting with the beautiful colors on the inside.
I wanted to share the geological history of New England through my studio and improve the economics of small working farms.
Quinstance: So what got you started in stone? What inspired you?
Gerald Croteau: I was an economist originally. On a trip six years ago, while visiting a relative, I saw the inside of a fieldstone for the first time. When I saw how colorful these rocks were, as colorful as anything I had seen on a kitchen counter, I was inspired. I realized that rocks, which are a new crop, can benefit everyone. Everyone benefits from the stones and from the open space using them creates. I thought it would be good to partner with farmers and use the stones.
I started a studio. I self-taught the technical side of the stone-working process; I’m sure a lot of people could. I initially used my uncle’s equipment. I used to do just craft shows and worked my way up to wholesale. Eventually my products became popular enough that I moved on to buying my own tools and getting a bigger space.
I think being in both craft shows and wholesale is a good balance. I look for shows and stores where you can tell a good story. I think about stores we could partner with and that would be willing to share the story with the same enthusiasm.
Q: Your family also works in stone, right?
GC: Yes, my grandfather would point out the stone walls when we were together. He helped me to pay more attention to them and motivated me to read about them and study the archeological ruins. It was captivating.
Q: What is the process of making an individual piece like?
GC: The process consists of gathering fieldstones, bringing it to the workshop in Lowell, slicing them, grinding them down, and polishing them. The tools didn’t even exist until fifteen, twenty years ago. Because it is stone it is a slower process than building anything with wood. You need water to cool the blades and keep the dust out of the air. We’ve invented some of our own tools to help with the process.
Q: Can you tell what color a stone will be before you cut into them?
GC: We definitely get clues, but there is an element of surprise to it. It is a mixture of both, but it is more surprise than anything. You don’t know exactly where you’ll end up when you start a journey. It’s the same thing here. Every farm visit and every trip leads to new, amazing discoveries.
Q: American Stonecraft has a commitment to promoting a farm-to table philosophy with its products. You buy your fieldstones from New England farms and you stamp each piece with the name of the original farm it came from. Why such a commitment?
GC: It is something that started as far back as when vineyards were promoting their regions. It connects people to the local geology. People have seen geology in their homes before; it is popular now for counters and bathrooms. What is surprising about fieldstones is the contrast between the thousands of miles of fieldstones—moss-growing, overgrown, and weathered—and the colors inside each of them brought out by our work. By labeling the individual farms we give each piece a sense of community. We bring their story out, the history they have seen. We recognize what has changed over the last hundred years.
A lot of these stone walls were built a long time ago. If you were to show a fieldstone to people back then, they wouldn’t have seen any value in it. Life has changed since then, you know? Each of our pieces show the evolution of something we have seen for so long, and how we can look at something in a new light.
Q: How does that connection affect your job and your thoughts about your work?
GC: My job enables me to have a lifestyle to meet other hidden entrepreneurs with their own stores and projects. It allows me to explore. I was speaking with our photographer Amy about how we document every farm we visit—52 in all. For her it is almost like a snapshot of American farms, from 2012 on. Through this project, we’re capturing at a glimpse what these places were.
Read Part 2 of our interview to learn more about Gerald's commitment to New England's stone walls and about the future of American Stonecraft!
American Stonecraft will be visiting us for our first Meet the Maker event on September 12th! Come meet them!