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


Teddy Pierre (Brick Mason)

[I learned my craft] from my father. It was osmosis. I discovered that there was so much regard for my dad among the craftsmen, among the architects, among the owners, that this was something that I wanted to do. . . . I became familiar with the notion or concept of the Renaissance man and I didn't take Thomas Jefferson as my model because some things were unsettling about him regarding slavery. But as with anybody else, filter out parts of any human being, I really liked the part about him being a musician and an inventor and a cabinet maker and a statesman and a bricklayer. It was documented that he made bricks on a certain portion of a wall—a serpentine brick wall at his estate. Once I heard that, it was confirmed for me that brick masonry would be a part of my life because this would be that manual skill part of my [development as a] Renaissance man.

The day I graduated from Tulane University, graduation was at maybe two o'clock in the afternoon. That morning we went to work at seven and we worked until noon. That was plenty enough time to get dressed and go to graduation. I didn't have any problem with that. Then for the next three years after I graduated from architecture school, I went to work for my dad and loved it every day. I was learning so much.

One day I asked my daddy, "Man, why are you so hard on me?" Listen, I'm working, I'm going brick for brick with my dad, doing a little competition with him on a stretch of line and I'd meet him at the center. That's when hell would break loose. If he set up a brick in the middle of the line . . . two things happen. One, you make sure that the line is going to be pleasing to the eye, but it also gives you an indication as to that other guy on the other end, if he is lagging. Well I got to the point, I got skilled enough, fast enough, and for a man like my dad, who really knew what he was doing, you've got to become extremely efficient in every move. . . . I got to the point where I could catch him and if I laid one brick on the other side of that center brick in his territory, he would come down and he would have to inspect what I was doing and make sure that he was criticizing, but he never made me tear any of it down. It was "the worst brick work he had ever seen," and on and on. . . . Of course it was his way of instilling excellence and he was proud of me. I didn't know it; he wouldn't tell me, but he would tell my mother.

I was listening to a radio gospel [minister]. He said God has put us in our profession not solely to become the best neurosurgeon or lawyer, but so that through your life you can minister to others. I believe I am here to minister. My ministry is not complete until I have an apprentice.

I have been thinking about this for quite a while. My thesis to come out of Tulane University, in the School of Architecture, was a proposal for a center in Armstrong Park. I called it the Center for the Preservation and Propagation of Quality Craftsmanship and Louisiana Architecture. It was a series of buildings in which elderly craftsmen would be paid to come and literally teach, give lectures and talk and there would be fees collected from tourists that would come and listen to a lecture on how to build a bulls—eye window in a wall. You have to lay out how all those bricks to fit around it. Or how to build a fireplace. You could build a fireplace right on site. If you are doing metal work or plastering, there could be classes actually taught, and the center was supposed to be set up as an answer to questions that tourists would have after touring the French Quarter. There would be films and a source of information on the craft and the craftsmen themselves.

Teddy Pierre 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.