Caitriona Cartwright, 1989 SPAB Fellow, talks about the Fellowship and how she took her craft down an unexpected path.
I got into masonry after studying History of Art at Manchester University. I’d always wanted to use my hands, to be a craftsperson, and was inspired by the study of medieval art and architecture. At university we had a very charismatic lecturer, Dr Paul Crossley, whose enthusiasm was infectious, but it did begin to occur to me that I would rather repair old buildings than study them. Straight after university I started the year-long City and Guilds course in stonemasonry at Weymouth College.
The process of just using my hands is terribly satisfying. I enjoy becoming completely absorbed by the task and having the satisfaction of producing a piece of work. I enjoy carving headstones in particular as my aim is always to make something fitting and, hopefully, beautiful. I hope this plays a small part in the healing process of grief.
I first heard about the Fellowship when I was working as a stonemason at Salisbury Cathedral, a colleague had done it the year before. The most memorable time on the Fellowship for me was the block I spent with John Green, a stonemason based in Ipswich. I was very impressed by him, his quiet confidence and his autonomy. I wanted to learn about stone conservation from him, I didn’t expect to become interested in lettering, but he was working away on a headstone while I was in his workshop and it just turned my head. It was a wonderful opportunity, John Green showed me another way of working with stone.
I’d been quite resistant to lettercutting at Weymouth College because one of the lecturers has said to me early on that as a woman I would probably end up making headstones. That offended my feminist sensibilities as I wanted to work on cathedrals, on building sites.
There have been many favourite projects, memorials especially. I was honoured to be asked to carve several memorials by Richard Attenborough. I’ve also carved a few things for Sir Roy Strong for his garden, the Laskett .
The Fellowship shaped my career in a very unexpected way. As I said, by meeting John Green, I just discovered a new path. It gave me confidence. In a way I discovered my voice. We met so many interesting people and entered into so many discussions. In the end it equipped me with the skills and confidence to become self-employed, and to work on smaller projects that fitted around my children when they were small. Now they have grown up I’m quite happy to carry on as I am!