Ironton cofounder Russ Beardsley on the art, or craft of stoneworking

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Artists, by virtue of being trained in aesthetic representation, usually have interesting jobs. Russ Beardsley, for example, takes his skills as a sculptor and applies them to his job as a stone worker. Beardsley, who is also a co-owner of Ironton Studios, took some time from lifting rock to talk to us about the dying art of masonry, his projects and his collaborative vision for Ironton.

What exactly is stone working? What do you do?

I'm a dry stone waller, which is a technique of building stone walls without mortar. We have a handful of rules that we build to. It's culture, too. Whether you're a New Yorker or Iowan, you work with the stones you have in that area, and each culture has a different way that they approach it.

I went to school in Lexington and that's where I got my certification. There's under 100 certified dry stone mounters in North America. We're facing the death of masonry. People are going to forget how to work with masonry and then we're doomed.

You got a sculpting degree from CU Denver. Does that play into what you do now?

Hugely. I never really worked much in stone until I got to Washington and I didn't have a relationship with art until lived in Colorado. Doing research, I had to figure out, what is the best I can offer? So I took every workshop I could take. I have pursued it every since, and taught it every year at StoneFest.

Do you think there's an element of art to what you do?

I know there is. It's pretty interesting when you say, "Is there an element of art?" You know it when you see it, or you feel you see it. There is a reverence and humility in the material. How could you not bring those elements of art into the stone? How could you not have art present?

When you figure it from an art point of view, it's very much a collaboration of the landscape. Everything that I do as an artist is the same in the landscape. I am able to build structures that are very unique. It's not 100 percent pure art; it actually almost falls under craft. But, I'm a hard core minimalist, and I'm inspired by nature, so now I'm using the materials found in nature. My artistic background helps me move forward in a way that makes me very successful.

You're a co-founder of Ironton Studios -- what are you guys up to?

At this point I'm just kind of a partner. Mike has run the building for 13 or 14 years. We're still really true to our original goal, which is to provide long-term studio space for artists. We're not running it for profit, and that's one of the reasons we're more successful, in my personal opinion.

I like to be able to be a part of something with Mike and Jill, where we help build communities. It's a privilege for me -- that was really our goal when we started and it's still our goal today.

What are you up to now that you finished your last project in Washington?

I've got a lot of projects in the works, which is why I'm in Massachusetts right now. I'm also looking at other ideas, too. For me, there's something I love about my relationship with this material, that I want with my life and landscape. Why would you want a relationship with concrete? For me, life is all about quality. That's kind of me in a nut shell.

For more information, visit Beardsley's web page.

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