Updated: Nov 12, 2020
Louis Francis is a stonemason and a master letter carver who runs a successful business from his studio at Westbury. Louis carves by hand to produce high quality artwork and is the first deaf stone mason in the United Kingdom. By employing traditional craftsmanship methods, Louis provides his customers the chance to buy truly unique products.
I was fortunate enough to catch up with Louis before this second lockdown to find out a little more about his craft and his business.
Stonemasonry is an age old craft which is still performed today by skilled craftspeople. In fact it's one of the earliest crafts in civilization’s history. Dating right back to the Neolithic Revolution, the first stonemasons learned how to use fire to create quicklime, plasters, and mortars. These materials were then used to build homes with mud, straw, and stone. And, as they say, the rest is history – the profession of stonemasonry was born.
From this point, stonemasonry has continued to play a major role throughout human civilization. The Egyptians built their pyramids, Central American civilizations built their step pyramids, the Greeks built their temples…virtually every civilization in existence has their own iconic symbols and structures, the vast majority of which were crafted by the stonemasons of the time.
During the medieval times masons tended to live nomadic lives travelling to where the work was. A mason who was at the top of his trade was a Master Mason, a highly skilled professional, many if not all masons learnt their craft through an informal apprenticeship system. The Master Mason would train an apprentice for a period of 7 years with no pay! Once the apprenticeship was completed the newly qualified mason became a "Journeyman" and they were free to travel or "journey" to where the work was.
Masons in medieval England were highly skilled, the testimony to their work stands today in the numerous cathedrals and castles that still exist.
HOW DID YOU LEARN THE ART OF STONEMASONRY AND WHY STONEMASONRY?
I was always good at art and after school went onto do a Foundation Diploma at Central St Martins Art School in London, followed by a 3 year City & Guilds Diploma in Historic Architectural Stone Carving.
Whilst doing the Foundation course I found I was good at sculpting and making things so it was at this point I developed my 3D work as well as my 2D work. I called this my "experiment" year!
I'm profoundly deaf and I would often have an interpreter with me - during my Foundation course I remember having a chat with my interpreter, who also happened to have worked in lots of art schools. He thought that my skills lay in sculpting and stone carving so encouraged me to apply for a sculpting course, which is how I ended up doing the 3 year City & Guilds Diploma in Stone Carving.