What Makes You Sweat

Mark Arrow: Chiseling Stone, Building Coffins & Meeting the Pope

Mark Arrow is a 5th generation stonemason and is one of the only ones in the world that does Byzantine stone work. His artistic sensibility and craftsmanship is unrivaled; everything he creates is of the utmost highest quality. Whether designing and laying custom brick patterns on multi-million dollar homes for the rich and famous, handcrafting furniture, delicately carving wood or building churches in foreign lands, his creations are built to last. When he’s not moving and carving stone for work, he can be found climbing on it in the mountains as a guide for Rock & Road.

Talk about your clientele.

With my job I have direct contact with top end clients (people who own multi-million dollar homes), but I’m also the guy that fashions the stone. During the day I’m out there working, out in the hot sun or the cold weather. Pounding on stone, getting dirty and sweaty, with no idea if and when the client is going to just show up. I never know if the Greek Orthodox Pope, the Archbishop or some multi-million dollar bank client is going to come to the jobsite, talk to me and stand next to me. Other general contractors can hire out all of the work, I really can’t hire out my stone carving technique because I’m one of two stone mansions in the world that does this type of work (the other is in Russia). I have to talk to them in my work clothes, so I have to always make sure I do not have an offensive or foul odor – that I look presentable and that I smell good.

With some of the clients, I develop a long term relationship with them. One of my clients gives me Port Wine; $700 dollar bottles of wine gifted to me for the past 10 years. One church project took me 12 years, so I share meals and wine with my clients. I might have to go from the job site to their homes – even if I am hot and sticky, I have to make sure I don’t stink.

How do you approach your work?

When people hire me, they are hiring an artist. All of these designs are my own designs

How many times do you think you swing a hammer in a day?

I probably swing the hammer over a thousand times a day.sweatsw

You worked on the Parthenon, tell us about that experience.

Going to Greece and working on the Parthenon was a beautiful experience. I worked on a stone for one day so it fit in the top right corner of the Parthenon.

What are some projects you have worked on recently?

I have been working with a couple since June on stone walls for their driveway. They are big, beautiful, elaborate curing stone walls on each side of the driveway entrance. They are pieces of art. Absolutely gorgeous.

Top of a chimney showing intricate brick work by Mark Arrow

Do you travel a lot for your work?

Yes, I travel the world doing my stone work. For example for most of December I am getting sent to the Bahamas for three weeks to work on a church.

Do you find that the work changes as you get to know the people?

No. before I start any job, I have a pretty good idea about what I want to give them, where I want to go, what look I want. We have that pretty much ironed out. When I start the job it is planned in my head. We can make some minor changes and some design changes. For example, I build a brick chimney but I did not actually know where it was going to go. As it grew up out of the ground, it evolved. It took me too months to do that one brick chimney. Right at the end, it was all coming out of my head. I would just look at it and say, “Now it needs to flow this way.” I had a small crowd towards the end to see what kind of a top I was going to give it. Some things, you really can’t draw on paper. This beautiful brick chimneys was one of those things.

What is your favorite material to work with?

I believe my favorite stone to work with is granite because it is hard and it takes a fair amount of effort to fashion to stone (it is worn by heat and pressure), but once I’m finished, I know the stone will be this way for a thousand years. Where If I work with a limestone or something like that, over a thousand years it will wither away and it won’t be. Granite will always be true to its form. This church I’m building, the original one has been on Earth for over a thousand years. Modern man cannot grasp this time.

A Greek Orthodox church built by stone mason Mark Arrow

What other types of work do you do?

I have a woodshop and it’s open to those that want to come in to do a woodworking project. They think they are going to come in the morning with a pile of wood and walk out at 4 pm with a bookcase. We might spend the first day just joining the wood, making sure it is all straight and prepped. I like to remind them that the bookcases they are making will be passed down from generation to generation, so does it matter if it takes a week or two weeks to make? I have to get the modern mind to just slow down and do it right.

Is woodworking your hobby?

No. During the wintertime when it’s too cold to lay stone, I go into my woodshop. I’m booked solid. I make coffins and help people craft their own coffins. They can build, design, cut and carve the wood and pick the emblem. I just finished one last week for someone who is dying. I have about seven in the ground right now.

What do you do in your free time?

My job allows me to take one week off each month. So when I am not working with clients, I take a trip someplace. I really do have a good, blessed life. In my spare time I’m a rock climber and an AMGA guide. I have to smell good and be presentable when I’m out there on the wall too.

Stone mason Mark Arrow on horseback

Do you get distracted by the stone when you are climbing?

Yes, quite often do I look at the stone and admire stones that fell off the cliff face and they are nice square pieces. I think, this is so beautiful, what I could build with them or what can I cut out of them.

Do you try to use native materials?

That one church I did for Saint Maximus has over 20 different kinds of stone, but if you look at the church it looks like it’s all one type of stone. It’s the way I blended it, 20 different kinds of some from all over the world. 20 years ago they had to work with the native stone; they had to be “more true”. When I build the churches, I try to use as much local product as I can to keep it true. But in some cases the stone is not just brought out of the earth anymore, they use big saw blocks and it is cut against the grain. It’s not the same product that it was 30 years ago. I might not be able to use locally sourced stone if it is inferior and it won’t last. I want my work to last one thousand years, not matter what I am building. So after a lifetime, it’s still there, because it was done right.

Did you build your own house?

Yes I did. Not only did I build my own house, but I build every piece of furniture in it. Everything, the bowls, the chairs, all the picture frames. You go into my house, I’ve wired it, I plastered it, I’ve plumbed it. I made it all.

Hand crafted wood chess set by Mark Arrow

Do you have a stone toilet?

[Laughs] No, I don’t have a stone toilet. I did buy the toilet but I installed it. No one ever quizzed me on that one. I guess I could just put a hole in the ground [laughing].

What would be your dream job?

My dream job would be building the Hagia Sophia that was built in 532 AD. I am doing an exact replica of it. This is the first time in a thousand years that man has attempted to build a church exactly like this. And I’m building it in true byzantine stone fashion techniques.

Freshness Score

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Power Facts

  • The Hagia Sophia Church was the cathedral of Constantinople during the days of the Eastern Roman Empire.
  • Stone masons need the right tools to get the job done including: trowels, mason hammers, blocking chisels, mashing hammers, masonry saws, levels, mason and chalk lines, brushes and mixing tools.
  • The average length of a wood coffin is 83 inches long, 28 inches wide and 23 inches in height and are typically made using hardwoods.
  • Granite was one of the most popular materials for building monuments. The Great Pyramids and Stonehenge are comprised of granite.
  • Stone toilets are available, onyx or marble being the most common. Don’t even ask how much they cost!