GRACEFUL GOODBYE A headstone from the John Stevens Shop. [Photo courtesy the John Stevens Shop.]
WHAT CAN TODAY'S COLLEGE GRADS LEARN FROM MAKING REAL-LIFE, PHYSICAL THINGS? When I was down working on the World War II Memorial, everyone on a very, very large project like that [held] a very specific position. You have project managers, you have foremen, you have sub-contractors, you have laborers, and everything in between. And rarely do [any of the jobs] mix. You don't get people who are hyphenates. And when I was on that job, I was on the design team, which is the top of the top . . . I am with the architect of the job, as a peer . . . then I'm a project manager, which is the next step down; I'm a foreman, which is the next step down; and I'm a laborer. So, it was a really strange thing for other workers to see when I would be talking to either the architect . . . or some of the really big brass and I'd be having intense conversations with them, and then I'd turn around and I'd grab a broom and I'd be sweeping up. They couldn't understand the idea that I was involved with every piece of the process. So, in learning how to make something, you understand the whole, which is something that's really, really valuable today . . . Specialization has whittled everyone down to these bizarre little myopic channels of understanding.
YOU'VE CARVED MANY QUOTATIONS INTO STONE. ANY FAVORITES? Absolutely. One of the ones that I really, really love down on the Martin Luther King Memorial was, "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."
WILL THERE BE A REALITY SHOW IN YOUR FUTURE? I've been approached twice by [a production company] to do reality shows. Absolutely not. No, it's ridiculous — the idea of a reality show. They're all so ridiculously orchestrated. And of course the relationship that I have with my clients is sacrosanct. There's no way in hell I would have anybody standing over my shoulder with a camera filming, you know, me and Mrs. Van Alen having a deep conversation. So many of my clients [for headstones] are the relations of the robber barons who were here in . . . the Gilded Age. We tie into that world quite heavily because, honestly, they're the folks who can afford our work. The work is expensive because, as you hear the tap-tap-tapping, it takes forever to do. And also [many of those people are] great friends of mine. And a reality show is just throwing all of that right in the trash.