More Than Just a Trade: Master Craftsmen of the Building Arts


Raphael Perrault (Brick Mason)

My father was a brick mason. His name was Harman Perrault. My grandfather was a brick mason and his name was Chauffield Perrault. He founded the bricklayers union on Galvez Street, but it was really on Rampart when they founded it. [That union dates back] probably about a hundred years. His brother Arthur was the president of the local. My brother was also a brick mason, Ricardo.

[My brother] didn't talk too much about his style of work, but I used to see him when he come home, he'd be all tired and full of cement and sand and all that. It never did dawn on me about what he was doing or nothing. I was into something else. I used to work all kinds of little jobs up and down the highway, little fast food restaurants and things like that. I wasn't really interested in that type of work at all, until one day it just hit me that I didn't want to go to college and all my brothers and my sister went to college. I just started picking up the work. I was always a little hustler and I had a little truck and I used to go do these little jobs. Jobs that I seen that was going to give me trouble, I asked my daddy to come along. He'd come and show me how to do it right.

I've done all types of work. Before I was doing mechanic work and it was just something I didn't like. I could still do it, but I rather the brick work and I like to do the old type of work, with the old materials. Beautiful bricks.

It's mostly pride in your work. Taking pride in your work and doing a job. Really learning it depends on what kind of experience you had in different jobs and stuff. When you work, like the type of work that I was doing, restoration work, not a lot of bricklayers was doing that. In the cemeteries, you gain a lot of valuable experience by seeing the different types of work they did years ago. Altogether different.

Four years is the standard apprentice program, but since I knew some of the work already, they give you so many months and call you an advanced apprentice. You just go on if you do good. According to who you are working for, they will give you more money. Your skills might be low, but if you do good work [you can advance]; in my case that was all the time. I always did good work and neat work and paid attention and listened. That's the important thing. I did pretty good.

When I came in the union, they had white bricklayers and black bricklayers, but mostly it was a tight-knit community. Everybody was really close to each other. Everybody knew each other. We used to have meetings together. They'd have a couple hundred people at the meeting.

I'd like to pass it down to [my grandson] while I'm still young. I used to tell him all the time, "When you get a little older, poppa gonna take you on a couple jobs with him." Which I will take him, you know? We'll see what he do. He already know what I do, just by taking him to the fairs. He likes it. I'd like to pass it on to him, but in a way I don't want to, 'cause he's real smart; he's in the gifted classes and everything. I hate to get him into . . . if a smart kind want to get into technology and different things like that.

Raphael Perrault was interviewed as part of the New Orleans Building Arts Project. Laura Westbrook edited More than Just A Trade: Master Craftsmen of the Building Arts in 2004 for publication online.