Latin American Stoneworkers – The Value of Cultural Experience

Stonework is an age-old craft that is displayed in the ruins of buildings, canals, walls, and other ancient structures that have endured time. The art has been around since man created the tools needed to make it. Many of the former structures, which can be found on nearly every continent, show us the remarkable talent and skill that ancient stoneworkers possessed. The great pyramids of Egypt, the Inca temples in South America, Roman and Greek architecture, and the medieval cathedrals of Western Europe are all beautiful and creative examples of that talent and skill.

But ancient stonework was more than simply a craft used to create beautiful works of art, it was innovative technology of its day – and it has stood the test of time. In Latin America, they have maintained the water capture techniques of ancient peoples going back tens of thousands of years. You can just look at Mexico City, they used an intricate system of canals that would be flooded half the year and then drained when it was first discovered. The stone structures there are absolutely incredible, and they date back to ancient times.

Experience That is Passed Down Generation to Generation

As a natural stone landscaping business owner, I am fortunate to work with some amazing Latin American stoneworkers. They come from a tradition of stonework, a guild system where the craft is passed down through the generations, as a consequence, the craftmanship is never lost. This type of system is how certain crafts like those of painters, metalsmiths, blacksmiths, bakers, butchers, stoneworkers, of course, and many other crafts have endured over time.

To give you an example of how artisan guilds work, there is some Indian flute music that I just love. You’ll see that many of the musicians say, “I’m a 7th-generation flute player, or a 9th-generation flute player, or a 12th-generation flute player,” or something like that. The art of making Indian flute music is one that has been passed down through the generations as a family talent.

While we don’t really consider it so much in this country, there are many societies that do have a long family tradition in the same skill or craft. And that has most definitely continued on in the Americas with stone working. As a matter of fact, when my Latin American stoneworkers began working with me in the mid-nineties, there was a running joke that they had already been doing the job for a decade and that it took about that long to even get decent at it. That actually is true – stonework is extremely intricate, and the experience of the craftsmen who create it plays a huge role in how it looks and functions.

What I’ve Learned from Ancient Latin American Stonework

Aside from the beauty of the ancient Latin American stonework and the skill of the stoneworkers, I’ve been able to learn about the craft’s functionality. As I’ve studied landscaping, there have been an endless number of farming classes to take. In nearly all of the classes, the success of farming boils down to the quality and environment of the soil – and soil is all about the daily maintenance of water levels and capture. That’s why stonework is the most substantial and long-lasting thing we can use to build water capture systems.

Building the water capture systems of Latin America is a skill that has been passed down to stoneworkers through the generations. The tradition is one that has continued in Latin America as well as many other people groups in various places. However, it really hasn’t been carried on in our own country, probably due to the fact that in North America there is usually ample rain and therefore, ample water supply. There simply wasn’t a need to keep up with intricate water capture systems and techniques.

As a consequence, the techniques, technology, and the stonework required to build those systems fizzled out because it wasn’t necessary. But now, as people in the U.S. have become more eco-friendly and more concerned about water conservation, these old techniques are coming back into the collective consciousness of environmentalists.

What I have learned from the stonework of the Latin people, and from my own Latin American stoneworkers, is that the tradition of using stonework for water capture is still alive. Rainwater is a free resource that we can all capitalize on when we know how to collect and use it properly – and the right type of stonework can do just that.