Keystone gives sculptor a thrill

keystone-clipBy Josephine Kneipp

BRISBANE: American sculptor, Mr Mark Parsons, was thrilled to be able to contribute to the completion of St John’s Cathedral while he was visiting Brisbane as part of a round the world journey.

Mr Parsons, who is from Marion, Massachusetts, carved a keystone for the cathedral.

“For me it’s terrifically symbolic.” Mr Parsons said. “just to add something would have been wonderful, but the fact that I got to select a keystone… to me I was beyond belief thrilled that it could be a keystone. The key something that supports weights, something that other stones rely on”

“Something about old architecture gives me this wonderful feeling like I’m digging all kinds of history. I imagine walking the same places and can see where the stones have been worn in the middle and the steps have been worn in.” he said.

“and you think of the souls that have passed. Soles of the feet and souls of the people as well – especially the churches.”

“Structures are so attached to dreams.” He said. “We call church the house of God, and it is. It’s the house of ideas.”

“Any house, any structure, contains its history and contains so many people who have passed through. People who have slept in the building, people who have fought in the building, people who have conceived children in the building. There’s a lot going on there, and there’s a lot of feeling attached.”

Mr Parsons said that building, especially religious building is about humanity creating a general conversation with reality. “But it’s not a fixed reality, it’s a created reality.” He said.

An animated art historian, Mr Parsons indicated the changes in religion which accompanied changes in religion which accompanied changes in architecture.

“With the groined vault ceiling [such as the one in St John’s], the entire structure is in beautiful clusters of columns in which the absent opens up to the nave.” He said. “All of the sudden, you have all kinds of bays happening, tons of windows going up, and all the light coming in.”

“So instead of the fire and brimstone, the lord will crush you if you don’t repent, it became a much more human view toward religion, and god was the savior and the light.”


Carving the stone started by making rubbings of existing keystones in order to make a tracing from which a pattern could be. Then an appropriate piece of stone was chosen.

Once this had been achieved, Mr Parsons makes the creative process sound deceptively simple.

“You start with a base pattern and scribe it on, then you flip the stone over and scribe it on the other side,” he said. “And then you carve down.”

“That gives you the 90 degree angle.”

“Then you slap on the ends your section pattern. This gives it the ‘gigs/ and the ‘jogs/ that make it an ornate piece.”

“Basically, that square base pattern is enough for it to disperse weight the way that it wants to and fit into the stonework.”

“But then you do the fancy stuff that makes it look in gothic tradition and that’s what the section pattern is for,” he said “In that way, the section pattern makes it fit the piece that’s next to it as well. That section will be continued on to the next part of the curve.”

Blisters and callouses on his hands show that this really is hard manual labour, however.

“Usually, when I’ve worked stone in the past, I used an angle grinder or a diamond saw which is a power tool which makes thing happen very quickly,” Mr Parsons said.

“This was all done with chisels and hammers,” he said, “just the way an apprentice would learn, so that you learn what the stone is like, what carving stone is like. More importantly, symbolically to me it was the way to do it.”

Mr Parsons’s is currently half-way through a journey circumnavigating the globe with four friends.

The five young men, aged between 23 and 25, restored a damaged yacht, and then solicited and received sponsorship from the local community to enable them to make their dream trip. They also write a newsletter, the subscriptions of which help to finance their journey.

Mr Parson’s contribution of time and skill to St John’s Cathedral was donated.

“Are you kidding?” he said. “I didn’t make as much of a contribution to the cathedral as the cathedral made to me.”

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