Cold hard stone? Not in the hands of master mason Mark Mendel and his crew at Monterey Masonry. When you talk to Mendel you realize that his business has a lot more to do with warmth than you might anticipate. In fact, Mendel’s “bread and butter” since he founded Monterey Masonry in 1982 has been in building fireplaces. Mendel specializes in building energy-efficient “Rumford” fireplaces, designed by Count Rumford in the 1790s. But Count Rumford hasn’t had his hands in the mortar for a while now, and over the course of more than 40 years as a mason Mendel has learned “a few tricks to modify and tweak Rumford’s design.” Monterey Masonry can build a fireplace that throws a lot of heat.
But man cannot live on bread and butter alone. Mendel designed and built the wall in front of Guido’s Marketplace in Great Barrington, the stonewalls at the entrance to Berkshire School, and the see-through fireplace at the Route 7 Grill. Monterey Masonry also carries two lines of woodstoves, Morsø and Wittus, as well as Primo Grills, which are American-made ceramic grills that burn real wood. He is currently building an outdoor bake oven and grill at Gedney Farm in New Marlborough.
Mendel is also working with a quarry in southern New York State to produce and market “New Copley Sidewalks,” paving stones that have the same weight, thickness, and longevity (150 years, plus) as the highly desirable old bluestone sidewalks. The new product, compared to reclaimed stone, is available on demand, in whatever size needed, and at a lower price. The New Copley Sidewalks will be on display at Ward’s Nursery from April 18th until May 12th, and Mendel will be giving a presentation at Ward’s on Saturday, April 26th at 10:00 am.
Mendel says that he became a mason because he liked the way the stone “grounded him.” “Stone is heavy!” he laughs. After 32 years here, Mendel is very much grounded in the hills and fields of the Berkshires, and interested in an economy that grows out of our landscape. Quarries in Alford, Sheffield, West Stockbridge and Egremont used to produce beautiful marble, and Mendel argues for reopening some of these quarries at an “artisanal” scale. They would employ local people, produce high quality stone, and would only have a positive impact on the community. To allow for this, “laws should reflect that there is a big difference between different scale operations, because otherwise the Mom and Pop shops just get crushed by regulatory requirements.” He is adamant that healthy Mom and Pop shops of all sorts are essential to the well being of our community. “The corporate strip mall culture is an invasive monoculture, and we know from biology that monoculture is not good.” Mendel likes BerkShares because they “can promote and sustain local businesses and show people that there’s a huge economic value to doing things locally.”
Mendel is doing his part to show people the value of a small-scale masonry business, and also to transmit the trade to the next generation. “The old fashioned way of teaching my trade is apprenticeship, and I’ve always had apprentices. I tell my guys, ‘if you work for me for three years you’ll think you know everything. If you work for me for five years you really will know everything.’” He explains, “It is a long apprenticeship because it’s like playing the violin, you can read a book about playing the violin, but to really learn, you have to practice it.”