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



On Carpentry:

You've got different carpenters. You've got trim carpenters, you got the framing carpenters, and interior trimmers. There are so many phases to a house. When you can do them all you get a title of Master Carpenter. Now, in order to be a contractor you definitely have to know every phase of carpentry, trim work, interior trim, exterior trim, sheet rock hanging, installation of cabinets and counters, roofing, plumbing, electrical. You have to have knowledge of every phase of a house to be a contractor. A carpenter just needs to know the basic fundamentals of carpentry, cutting, measuring, where things go, door heights, window openings, standard height on window headers, and door headers. Contractors definitely have to be able to master them all.

--Kevin Sinceno, Carpenter

Well, I've been working in construction all my life. You have to pick up some things as you're going along if you're going to survive in the crafts. You can't just say, "Well, I'm going to learn this and don't think about the other crafts," because they're all related to one another. And in the process of doing one craft, you have to learn the other ones, because they all support one another. If you built a house and you had a wooden structure, which we call a frame structure, and it was veneered by bricks, the association between the brick and wood structure has to be considered. We have to know what they intend to do with their brickwork, and in turn they have to know what we're doing with our woodwork in order to make it conform.

--Henry Gueringer, Carpenter

I attended the carpentry program at Booker T. Washington High School. You couldn't take it until the sophomore year, and I went through the carpentry program in three years and finished at the top of the class in my senior year. I thank God for Mr. Thornton, because when I learned in the local [carpenters union], and from the guy that was apprenticing me, I had the fundamentals from that class. That old man was so hard, and he was about discipline and constructive criticism. Teach me how to accept it and not get angry when someone criticize something, but to make yourself better and improve. I thank God I went to Booker T. Washington High School. It was a great program, and it was a dream of mine, and my instructors, to go back one day and open up that carpentry shop. To pass it on. Kids today need role models. Ninety percent of kids now, they want to be rappers. They are looking at Master P with all those millions of dollars. But they don't understand, just like when I was younger playing basketball-and God knows I was good-but that's a long shot. You're talking about 50 states in the United States, and you ain't got but 27 teams, and each team don't hold no more than 12 men? There's millions of basketball players being "played" out here.

--Kevin Sinceno, Carpenter, about Evins Thornton

The gentleman that I bought my lot from was a tinsmith. Where my shop is now was his shop. He made all the stuff that you can buy now at Home Depot and all these places. He used to make roofs, gutterings, vents, and all that stuff. He also done roof work. Down here [in the Seventh Ward] you had a lot of carpenters. Not only just carpenters, but bricklayers and sheet metal workers and anything you needed. The construction trade changes. Years ago when we first started, on the interior of the home you used lathes. Most of the houses was upright boards. The ones that wasn't plastered was upright boards. That went along for a while, and then they started changing again. Right after the war, they come in with drywall. You didn't have the plaster and the white coat that you see. You had different methods, so you had to change with it. A lot of the old craftsmen couldn't change as fast as the construction was going. A lot of them fell by the wayside, but the ones that could, they hung in there.

--Rudy Hutchison, Carpenter

Carpenters were 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.