Master craftsman passes down age-old skills

Kiwis have the chance to learn an age-old trade from a master craftsman by registering for New Zealand’s only full-time stonemasonry course.

Offered by Otago Polytechnic, the Cromwell-based one-year programme covers an extensive range of practical skills and work experience, producing specialist stonemasonry professionals with a high level of competence and the ability to work independently.

Lecturer and master stonemason Steve Holmes introduces students to many traditional and modern stonework styles and applications, in particular Central Otago schist.

Students learn core stonemasonry, dry-stone construction, paving, landscaping with stone, veneering, restoration and how to construct water features. A small business skills module is also included.

Work placement within the industry is an important part of the programme and students are given the chance to work on construction or restoration projects around the region.

Originally from England’s Lakes District, 48-year-old Steve has a background in construction but discovered his passion for stonemasonry while working alongside master stonemasons on stone barn conversions, renovating and remodelling stone houses, and landscaping with stone. He became a fully-fledged stonemason and landscaper working on a variety of structures including historic buildings and conservation projects.

Steve gets a great deal of satisfaction passing on what he’s learned to others.

“The knowledge and skills I was taught in the Lakes District have been developed over several generations. It’s very important to me to keep that age-old knowledge alive. I enjoy seeing my students develop a real pride in craftsmanship and a love of building for the sheer skill of it.”

Steve emigrated from England to Central Otago in 2007 because he was attracted to the region’s fine historic stone buildings and continuing demand for schist stone building and landscaping.

“For someone interested in stonework, Central Otago is an obvious place to be,” he says. “The region is renowned for its rich cultural heritage and historic stone buildings dating back 150 years to the gold mining era.

“As a stonemason it’s fascinating to see the legacy of the different regional styles that early European settlers brought with them from the other side of the world.”

Students can enrol now for the 16 February start date by contacting the Otago Polytechnic on 0800 765 9276. The course is Government subsidised and costs $5,173 for domestic students.

Entry does not require previous qualifications or experience but students need to be physically fit to cope with physical lifting and using manual equipment.

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