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Drystone mason’s avocation is carving vintage grave markers

Stuart Joynt concentrates as he leans over the smooth white marble, carving the dates and letters into the stone with a hammer and chisel, careful not to fracture the brittle rock.

“The energy from the chisel dissipates into the stone at an angle,” the artist said. “If you just hit straight down, it’s going to shatter and go crazy places, really bad.”

“If I rush this and chunk out a great big piece, I’ve got to buy a new stone,” he said.

Joynt is hand-making headstones for the first wife and a son and daughter of Kentucky Gov. James Clark (1779-1839) of Winchester, who are buried with him beside his tall monument in front of the Clark mansion, Holly Rood.

They were interred near the old Winchester High School football field, but when their remains were moved, their headstones were not because they were too badly damaged.

The Clark County-Winchester Heritage Commission is employing Joynt to carve the stones. On a cold Saturday, recently, he was working inside an old garage on Broadway, putting finishing touches on the stone for the little girl, Sarah Ann, who died in October 1822 at 4.

“Isn’t that pretty the way the light hits it?” Joynt asked, marveling at the medium and the chattermarks.

“It’s like glass, but with a sandy grain to it almost,” he said. “It’s really crisp when you carve it. It’s really amazing material.”

White marble is pressurized calcium carbonate — basically a refined version of Indiana limestone.

He gets the stones from the same company where Arlington National Cemetery gets its famous white headstones.

Everything about the headstones is “period-correct,” Joynt said. The stone is the same as that used in the 1820s. The serif fonts are the same. The artwork is similar. He was making a compass/flower based on a drawing that was on the original.

Joynt can finish one of the stones during a long weekend. But hand-carved tombstones are no more expensive than the mass-produced, sandblasted, imported stones that mark people’s graves these days, and the hand-made ones look nicer, he said.

“A monument should be meaningful, right?” he asked.

“It’s the craftsmanship in these old cemeteries that just makes everything phenomenal to look at,” he said.

Joynt has done headstones for six old cemeteries in Clark County and has earned the Heritage Commission’s Preservation Craftsman award for his work. But it’s not what he does for a living.

He is a certified master drystone mason who builds and restores rock fences like those throughout the Bluegrass countryside.

The 39-year-old former factory worker with a bachelor’s degree in business learned the craft of shaping limestone and building durable walls without using mortar when he was doing some landscaping at home. Then, when he was laid off from work, he was hired to build a rock fence at Stoney Brook, and a photograph of him in The Winchester Sun resulted in more jobs, and now it has become his career.

He would eventually like to make headstone carving a business.

“I love everything about this,” he said.

He noted that another Clark County stonemason, Joel Tanner Hart, progressed from shaping stone blocks to becoming a renowned sculptor in Italy. He doesn’t foresee himself becoming a sculptor, but he is happy with how far he has progressed as a craftsman.

Steve Justice, who chairs the Heritage Commission, is pleased with Joynt’s work.

“This has been such a good thing that he’s doing,” he said. “His talent is just great.”

About Randy Patrick

Randy Patrick is a reporter for Bluegrass Newsmedia, which includes The Jessamine Journal. He may be reached at 859-759-0015 or by email at randy.patrick@bluegrassnewsmedia.com.

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