The University of Texas Gate Crash of 2010
By Brewster Hudspeth
you’ve once stood outside a Texas
courthouse admiring the intricate carving of a stone face while
awaiting your divorce case to be heard. Perhaps you’ve wondered if
anyone else has noticed how many county
courthouses have been misspelled Covrthovse.*
*Thank you for recognizing the attempt at humor and not sending
If you’ve ever marveled at a cluster of marble grapes or stood transfixed
at the folds of limestone robes, you’ll be pleased to know that the
stone carver’s art is alive and well in Austin,
“Serendipity is a vine” someone once said (me). I went on to say that
“if allowed to flourish, its far-reaching tendrils will eventually
bear sweet fruit.”
On a sweltering August morning when the vine of serendipity was in
severe wilt, a spur-of-the-moment trip to a Federal bureaucracy in
Austin went suspiciously
well. Disappointed at not receiving even a single roll of red tape,
I was determined to push my luck.
I looked at my notebook for things the editor wanted me to do in Austin
and found an entry from 2003. I held the faded page up to the light
and under a residue of condiments long-ago consumed, I made out a
faint penciled entry: “Ph-tog—ph Lit-lefield h-use Austin.
the University of Texas by Confederate soldier, cattle baron, banker,
university regent and philanthropist George
W. Littlefield, this home should be on anyone’s short list of
Texas’ most beautiful residences.
|Since I wasn’t
far from the University of Texas. I decided that today was the day
to retire that once-urgent request. I entered the university grounds
near the Littlefield
House and pulled up to a kiosk to ask where I might park. The
attendant, reluctant to lose his air-conditioning, stuck a hand out
the door and pointed to a woman walking briskly toward a car on the
very corner I needed. “She’s just leaving,” his disembodied voice
announced. But her brisk walk was just to the passenger-side door
of her car to find her purse to feed the parking meter.
This caused me to drive further down the block, past a sidewalk construction
site I would’ve missed had I gotten that corner space. I fed the meter
and walked back to photograph the house.
Midway down the sidewalk a portable screen concealed two workmen who
were hunkered-down, looking at a scarred and flaking cube of Pecos
concealed two “workmen” who were looking at a scarred and flaking
cube of Pecos sandstone."
|The stone was
shimmed in place by a metal bar sandwiched between two pieces of modern
insulation. The “workmen” were attired in compulsory hard hats and
safety vests and you can bet the ranch that their footwear was steel-toed.
They seemed bemused by the puzzle that confronted them – namely, balancing
this post and matching its size with its mate – which sat squat, smug
and recently-sand-blasted just a gate’s breadth away.
Their friendly demeanor of the two begged a conversation. I placed
my hand on the rough/ smooth surface of the round finial of the finished
stone – and as the words “nice job” were forming on my tongue, they
anticipated my complement and said in unison: “That’s not our work.”
| Although their
disguise was clever, it was soon revealed that these workmen impostors
were stone artisans. Both are members-in-good-standing of the Stone
Carvers Guild. I know. Who knew?
UT knows. The damaged sidewalk gateway of this august property called
for professional expertise and the people at UT knew exactly whom
Although both men have their own separate companies, it was obvious
that they were enjoying working on the same project.
at describing the exquisite carvings of these two would be woefully
inadequate, so links to their respective websites follow their names.
Stuart Simpson (left) is the owner of Austin Stone Carving.
His website is www.AustinStoneCarving.com
Matthew Johnson (left) is the
owner of the Bartlett Stone Company.
His site is www.BartlettStone.com
The men are old
enough to have sizable portfolios and young enough to be taking
care of Texas’
detailed stonework for years to come. From the whimsical to the
practical, they are the best artisans this side of Florence,
Texas – where they both studied under the same mentor.
Matthew has been known to pause between Florence and Texas when
mentioning his apprenticeship – but with an “unspoken wink.”
Long after this particular job is completed and Matthew and Stuart
have been recognized far and wide for their art, most people passing
the Littlefield House
will forget the gate had ever been damaged. But Matthew will remember
and Stuart will remember – and TE will remember and now, you, the
reader will remember.
September 23, 2010
© John Troesser
Photo Courtesy Bettie Cross
| "This is a picture
of me working on a sculpture in our shop. The stone is West Texas
Cream. The piece was eventually completed at an annual carving festival
held at the Vineyard at Florence which is (as the name suggests) a
vineyard in Florence, Texas." - Matthew Johnson
is the name of a Japanese friend who was visiting at the time. Her
name means "Resting Place". The material is West Texas Cream, a limestone
quarried in Garden
City, Texas." - Matthew Johnson
Courtesy Terry Raven
|"This is a picture
of a piece titled, "Mercury". The material is Acrylic and Oil on Lueders
Limestone. Lueders Limestone is quarried in Lueders,
This piece represents a new direction for me as an artist that I am
very excited about. It is part of a series titled, "Mercury, Nike,
and a boat". - Matthew Johnson
The website address of the Stone Carver's Guild is: http://stonecarversguild.com
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