Brian Fairfield on Stonework that Lasts a Lifetime
Brian Fairfield has come a long way since he was a kid, when he used to smash rocks at his school bus stop searching for “diamonds.” He now owns Maine Stonework, a company that specializes in properly-built drystone walls and custom fireplaces. In his interview with MH+D Inside Out, he explains why he views himself as a craftsman first and an artist second.
Q. What do you like about working with stone?
A. Stonework is both mental and physical. At the end of the day you’re sweaty. You’re dirty. But you took something that’s been on the earth longer than anything else has, and you’ve transformed it into something that respects the stone as a medium.
Q. How do you respect the stone?
A. My stonework always looks comfortable. I incorporate the rules of proper drystone walling, and the end product just looks like it’s going to stay there forever. A lot of stone walls and fireplaces look like a chaos of stones with mortar joints in between them. If there weren’t those mortar joints and mortar behind it, it wouldn’t ever stay. My stone walls are always dry, constructed without mortar, and because the stones fit together properly, they’re built in a way that lasts. If my clients let me build a wall the way I want to build it, it’s guaranteed for as long as I live. And even though my fireplaces must use mortar, I follow the same rules of drystone walling so that they have the appearance of something that would stand forever using just the laws of physics.
Q. What’s your dream project if you could work on anything?
A. Right now I’m getting into these artistic pieces, like a 12-foot-square, drystone fairy house we made for this year’s Boston flower show. My dream project might be coming up really soon at an estate where the client wants arched drystone bridges on his pond.
Q. Do you see the work you do as a type of art?
A. I’ve struggled with that for a lot of years. I’ve never called myself an artist because I’ve always considered myself a craftsman. The line between art and craft is very thin, and I’m starting to step over it a little bit. Every time we do the flower show or another fireplace, someone will tell me, “You’re an artist. Just accept it.” For me, the craftsmanship comes first. Whatever art twist I put on it still needs to follow the rules of the craft. Art for its own sake doesn’t need to last; it can be ephemeral. My work will last.