26 November 2014
Story by Julia Benton
Edited by Zach Dundas
Nathan Hunt's career as a stonecutter began when misery ran headlong into fascination."They had apprentices doing horrible work a lot of the time, cleaning the building, working with nasty chemicals," Hunt says of his days as a stone masonry apprentice at the renowned Exeter Cathedral in England, 20 years ago. "But then there were the days when I would get to sit there in a church in the middle of nowhere and carve a little piece of stone that would fit right into the building. Looking at that at the end of the day - you kind of fall in love with it and then you're stuck with it."
Today, Nathan Hunt Studios keeps the ancient art of stone carving alive and modern, carving away in their industrial warehouse space along the shoreline of San Francisco's Bayshore area. Hunt and his five-person crew specialize in architectural carving, restoration, and ornamental modeling, and are branching out into more contemporary work as well. Recent projects range from private commissions to large-scale public works to a new line of modern wall tiles that are sold commercially.
Most projects are commissioned from the South San Francisco Bay Area and Napa Valley, but many larger projects are from elsewhere. One recent sculpture that three people in the team worked on over the course of eight months, was the massive fountain in front of the Santa Barbara County Courthouse. Nearly 35 tons of stone were hammered and chiseled away to create the stunning Spirit of the Ocean fountain. "It was a job of a lifetime in a way because it was on such a grand scale," Hunt says. "It was an iconic sculpture in the city and it meant a lot to the people there."
The team works mainly with limestone, sandstone, marble, and granite sourced from within the United States. They work with traditional tools that have been used in the trade for hundreds of years, but they'll also use 3D modeling and a CGC machine to cut things out. "We embrace modern technology when we need to," Hunt says. "We'll use machinery and then at the end we'll make the piece more organic with a human touch."
It's working with your hands that Hunt sees as the most rewarding and calming part of carving. "It can get pretty intense in the workshop, a lot of machinery, dust, dirt, it's hard on your body and sometimes that's difficult to deal with," Hunt says. "But it is incredibly satisfying and we are very lucky to be part of an ancient tradition, seeing how things were built, understanding them and having a connection to them."
Hunt Studios is based in San Francisco and Los Angeles and online here.