Stanstead: where granite, steam power and history converge

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Third generation sculptor Slavoljub Marjanovic moved from Sarajevo to Canada during the war that tore apart the former Yugoslavia. Wearing a breathing aparatus, he applied the finishing touches to the capstone of a clock tower that will honor Henry Seth Taylor, a Stanstead resident who built and drove a steam-powered automobile in 1867. Photos by Joseph Gresser

by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle 9-5-2012

STANSTEAD, Quebec — Stanstead is a granite town, one that lays claim to the title of granite capital of Canada.  It is a community with pride in its history.

These two characteristics combine at a small plaza near the Stanstead border station.  There, a fountain plays as a backdrop to two granite markers:  one honoring the town’s main industry, the other paying tribute to a little known automotive pioneer, Henry Seth Taylor.

Later this month a 14-foot-tall clock tower will be added to the plaza to commemorate Mr. Taylor’s achievement.

The tower, almost entirely composed of Stanstead Gray granite, was designed by Guy Cloutier.  On Saturday morning Mr. Cloutier stood in the parking lot in front of the Granite Exhibit and Museum of Stanstead.

Around him were piled blocks of granite donated by local businesses and a number of craftsmen, all hard at work.

Dave Dubois stood before one of the stone blocks, which rested on a pair of low metal trestles, and with a seeming lack of effort, tapped line in the stone with a broad chisel and small sledge.  After he went over the line a couple of times a chunk of stone an inch or two think separated itself from the rest of the block and fell to the ground.

Mr. Dubois, having done the coarse portion of his work, proceeded to chip off flakes of granite as he whittled the stone to its proper dimensions.

Eventually he pulled out a tape measure and laid it across each diagonal.

“See that, 36 and one sixteenth, 36 and one sixteenth.  How’s that for square?”  He asked no one in particular before working his way down the vertical edges, squaring them off too.

Not far away stood Rock McCutcheon, a man whose name accurately suggests a family connection to the granite business.  He and his brother and sister actually run the stone cutting  firm that his father founded — Granit J. McCutcheon, Inc.

Mr. McCutcheon used a pneumatic chisel to cut the name of Stanstead’s three villages, Stanstead, Rock Island and Beebe, into a piece of stone that will sit near the base of the tower.

The speed with which Mr. McCutcheon does his precise carving presents a strong contrast to the length of time that his work is likely to survive.

Slavoljub Marjanovic is another who was raised into the stone trade.  A third-generation sculptor originally from Sarajevo, Mr. Marjanovic now plies his trade in the U.S. as well as Canada.

For the memorial clock, Mr. Marjanovic was given the assignment of creating what Mr. Cloutier calls the hat, a granite pyramid with a stone sphere balanced atop it.

Mr. Cloutier said he got the design from the ornamentation of one of Stanstead’s public building, an old Customs house on the Canadian side of Maple Street.

He translated Mr. Marjanovic’s French as the sculptor spoke of his early education.

Mr. Marjanovic said his father used to take him to the quarries in the former Yugoslavia to show him the qualities granite from different areas of the quarry have.

That from the lower reaches of the quarry, Mr. Marjanovic explained, is denser that the stone that lays closer to the surface.

In those days, Mr. Marjanovic said, his father would pick the block of stone he wanted to carve.

“He would hit it with a hammer.  When it rings like a bell, good.  When not, he won’t touch it.” Mr. Marjanovic recalled.

Today, he said, one must work with the stone that is provided and make the best of it.

Mr. Marjanovic’s skill with granite and marble has brought him some interesting assignments.

He said he has done work on the Massachusetts State House and carved columns and the piece above the column for one of the libraries at Harvard University.

When a the façade of a building near the World Trade Center in New York City was gouged by a falling girder on September 11, 2001, Mr. Marjanovic said his skills were called on to marry the new and old stone work.

Mr. Marjanovic has a 26-year-old son who he is training to work in stone.  But the sculptor said he is not sure yet if his son will follow the family trade.

Like Mr. Marjanovic, Mr. Cloutier has been affected by changes in the granite business.  He said he started out drawing designs for monuments, a job that has largely been taken over by computers.

Today he does some design work, but also spends a couple of days a week working as a substitute teacher for the Derby Elementary School in Derby Line.  The monument project has been in the works for 15 years, for a while it was put on the shelf but it was recently revived.

He pulled out a folder and turned to his rendering of the column.  A stack of 11 granite blocks stand on a base that includes the stone carved by Mr. McCutcheon.  Seven of the blocks are rough cut, while four have smooth faces into which are sandblasted the words “Place Henry Seth Taylor.”

The sandblasting was done by Mr. Dubois’ cousin, Reg Dubois, who worked in a shorts and a T-shirt.  He began by taking pieces of rubber backed with a sticky substance and carefully adhering it to the stone.

Letters were cut into the rubber, and Mr. Dubois gently removed the area that was to be cut into the stone.  Once that was done he filled a tank with about 35 pounds of fine, white sand.

Mr. Dubois connected the tank to the air compressor that also ran Mr. McCutcheon’s chisel and donned a canvas hood with thick plastic windows.  Pointing his sandblasting tool at the stone he quickly cut into the stone as a miniature sand dune gathered at his feet.

When all the letters were finished to his satisfaction, Mr. Dubois took spray paint and, without removing the mask, blackened the newly cut inscription.

At least one portion of the project was completed before Saturday.  Mr. Cloutier pointed out a hollow box made of black African marble.  The clock face, he said, would be mounted inside the box.

Mr. Cloutier said he had hoped to make the entire monument using local stone, but found that he would need darker granite to contrast with the white clock face.

He said that the town will spend only $5,000 or $6,000 on the monument, which he estimated would cost $80,000 if everything had to be paid for.

Mr. Cloutier also explained what made Henry Seth Taylor worth memorializing.  The Stanstead resident invented a steam-powered car in 1867 and drove it around the area.

“Unfortunately, he didn’t invent brakes,” Mr. Cloutier said, and the car went out of control on the hill near his fountain and crashed into a building.  According to the inscription on that monument it may have been the first automobile accident in Canadian history.

Mr. Taylor jumped and survived, but he gave up his automotive ambitions and consigned the wreck to his barn.  Rediscovered in the 1960s, the pioneering automobile today has a place of honor in the National Museum of Science and Technology in Ottawa, Ontario.

Not all those working Saturday were there to pay tribute to Mr. Taylor.  Andre Parent was occupied in engraving a forest scene into a monument-size block of granite.

Mr. Parent used a power tool to cut through the polished surface of the stone, using his own drawing as a guide.

He had a simple explanation as to how he came into his occupation.  “I was born in town here, and I’m naturally artistic.  I just fell into it.”

Michel Bornais, on the other hand, is trying to move a little out of his current occupation.

The chef-owner of Resto-Crêperie Le Tomifobia in Beebe, is also a part-time sculptor.

He offered to work in public, Mr. Cloutier said, and was provided with space and a piece of stone.

His hair covered in a red bandana and wearing a large set of ear protectors, Mr. Bornais alternated between a power saw and hammer and chisel as he cut away at his stone.

“I’ve been a chef for 30 years.  I’m trying to quit to do something else.  Something I like.”

contact Joseph Gresser at [email protected]

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