Oberlin, OH, February 17, 2022—John Cierech (Tennessee Marble Company) has been named 2021 Natural Stone Craftsman of the Year.
John was 30 years old when he began his career in the stone industry. After serving in the military, he spent a short time in electronics before accepting his first full-time work with stone at Gawet Marble and Granite in Vermont. Gawet had just acquired some accounts from Vermont Marble Company after they closed their doors. He explained: “There was a huge demand for craftsmen to service these accounts. Fortunately for me, there were a number of skilled craftsmen in the area, who would circulate through the company and I was able to pick up on their skills to develop my own.”
John would spend the next 32 years honing his stone skills, passion, and craft, eventually advancing to more detailed work, including V-sunk lettering and intricate carving, especially on memorials. He attributes his interest in this work to an appreciation of the stone carving history of the area’s memorial art. His favorite work was done on the old headstones of New England, especially the artwork that was done on the gray stones: “I think it started with a religious outfit that wasn’t permitted to draw on paper any kind of artwork, but they could carve it on headstones. A lot of the carvers would develop their own and would just pass it down.”
John also enjoyed making residential granite and marble countertops, putting them into homes and getting good satisfaction from how the customers reacted, including their realization of what it did for their home.
In 2011 John left Vermont for the warmer climate of the South, and through his work at Cutting Edge Stone in Alpharetta, GA, gained experience in limestone carving for Old World style residential projects. There he honed his ability to create his own designs and layouts, sometimes based on pictures, and other times just from someone’s verbal description. He soon brought that experience back to the Gawet family. “I feel so fortunate that John reconnected with us at our factory in Tennessee,” Monica Gawet, president of Tennessee Marble Company remarked. “To remember him when he first started his career working with my father in Vermont, and then to work with him 40 years later at Tennessee Marble was very special for us as a family.”
At Tennessee Marble Company, John began working on projects together with other craftsmen from different departments, collaborating and applying individual skills from start to finish. This approach created a huge interest in the project itself because all departments got to see what needed to be done and how the craftsmen in each department went about their work, sharing this sense of concern for all efforts from the beginning to the end of the project. It created a cohesive workforce and positive impact.
John explained further how working with apprentices enriched his work experience. “Just to have these young people come in to learn the skills and develop their own skills. It’s very rewarding to a company and the industry,” he said. “I personally enjoyed watching apprentices develop their own style and method of carving techniques. It was rewarding for me to just work alongside someone that possessed the confidence and interest in developing this skill in the craft.”
Emma Levitz was an apprentice at Tennessee Marble under John’s mentoring who is grateful to have had the opportunity to work with him. She expressed that while she had experience in carving stone, she had no experience in architectural carving, but John was an excellent teacher. “It was helpful to just watch him work,” Emma said. “John always made stone carving look easy and natural, even when doing challenging work. He is truly a master of his craft.”
Phillip Gibbs apprenticed with John for a year and shared that “he exemplifies the character needed to be a true stone craftsman, and the natural ability to see something beautiful and bring it to life out of solid stone.” Colleague Ryan Cole agreed, saying: “John has a way to see a carved piece inside a solid block, and most times, he could carve pieces faster than I could program them on the CNC.”
When asked what receiving this award meant to him, John replied: “It means a great deal to me. Knowing that there’s a huge interest in the work that an individual does in the industry is a great incentive for the craftsmen to strive to achieve their finest work.”
Nominations for the 2022 Craftsman of the Year Award are being accepted until May 20. Learn more at www.naturalstoneinstitute.org/craftsman.
About the Natural Stone Institute
The Natural Stone Institute is a trade association representing every aspect of the natural stone industry. The current membership exceeds 2,000 members in over 50 nations. The association offers a wide array of technical and training resources, professional development opportunities, regulatory advocacy, and networking events. Two prominent publications—the Dimension Stone Design Manual and Building Stone Magazine—raise awareness within the natural stone industry and in the design community for best practices and uses of natural stone. Learn more at www.naturalstoneinstitute.org.