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


Henry "Hank" Gueringer (Carpenter/Wild Fowl Carver)

My father, Henry Edward Gueringer, did many, many things. My father was a trap man during the Depression; he trapped muskrats, wild animals for an income. He fished. He became a barber. And he was a carpenter. . . . After high school I became a bricklayer with my father's relatives. They were the Raymonds.

My mother is a Barthé. And she is the daughter of Peter Barthé, who is a founder of the plasterers union here in New Orleans. . . . I kinda feel the sculpturing abilities that I have came from the Barthé side, because they did the more ornate plastering around the city. They were known for all of their moldings, and Lawrence Barthé was a sculptor and a plasterer who worked for Lachin on architectural stones. And he made statues and various things for the Catholic churches down here in New Orleans.

It [craftsmanship] wasn't something that you did today and forgot about tomorrow, because you grew up with it. Most of your people were in the crafts. And that was conversation at the house; that was conversation on the job. And in most cases you were working with someone that you knew was in that craft. It wasn't like going out and get a job with somebody at a firm or something like that where you didn't know anyone. Most of the time you were working for a relative. And that's how most of that was passed on from one to another.

Corpus Christi was the largest black parish or Creole parish, whatever you want to call it, at one time in New Orleans—maybe in the country; I don't know. But that's where I attended grammar school and I attended church there. My first marriage was there. I was christened there. And everything to do with the church was done right at Corpus Christi. My grandfather did the plastering on the church, you see, and most of the craftsmen built Corpus Christi church from that area. This was such a combined area at one time that the priest was just like part of the family. During the Depression, I remember him telling me about him going out to Bayou Thomas, renting land—that's where my dad was doing the trapping. And every man in the parish had the opportunity to go there and fish and trap to make a living during the Depression. And this was sponsored by the Church.

I'm proud of my family. Both ways. And something that I've accomplished in life is that I've helped so many people build homes. And I was always able to provide my family a home suitable for occupation, rather than just renting. I never as a child lived in a rented house. . . . We've always owned our property. And I think that's indicative of most of the people that came out of my area. They owned their property. And we have always been providers. We never depended on welfare and things like that. We always had a way to get a job, make a living for our families and provide for our families. And as far as my craft's concerned, I'm really proud of the fact that I'm listed in so many publications for what I do and I'm recognized for what I do. . . . And it gives a sense of pride just to know you can do certain things. . . . And it's not to bring notoriety or anything like that, but it's another avenue for financial support. It's another avenue to leave something for your offspring in history, you know. I have a young daughter here; she's 13 years old. Now maybe somewhere along the line she'll pick up a book and say, "Oh look at my name in there." And that's because of me, you see. And that gives a sense of pride.

Henry "Hank" Gueringer 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.