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


Jerry Reynolds (Brick Mason)

Mr. Duplessis [who taught masonry at George Washington Carver Senior High School and the bricklayers union hall] was a nice guy, but he was firm. If I missed school one day, he would call my house and talk to my momma and daddy. He was wondering if I was cutting class or didn't go to school. He was very nice, and very disciplined with me. He knew my uncle was a bricklayer. Mr. Duplessis knew my dad, too, and my mom. He was one of the best teachers I had in high school. . . . I used to tell him I was going to take his job one day. What happened, I got out of the service and I didn't have anything to do, so I went and asked him could he get me into the apprenticeship program. He told me if I really wanted to do it he would give me an application and I would bring it to the bricklayers union hall. I was in an interview with about maybe forty students and they selected me to be an apprentice. I was an apprentice at the bricklayers union hall for four years. At the apprenticeship hall you learn different phases of bricklaying—cutting block, striking joints, different phases of masonry. After four years of training, they gave me a journeyman's certificate. Now I was a bricklayer; I could go anywhere in the United States and one time I was working in Norfolk, Virginia, and Mr. Duplessis called my wife and told her that he wanted to see me. He asked if I really wanted his job. I told him yes. So I went to Southern University and took some vocational education classes to get certified. They give you five years in the Orleans Parish Schools to do that. Once I was qualified, I got my job. I've been here ever since at Carver High School.

Less motion. If you use your motions efficient, you wouldn't be so tired. You can imagine picking up enough mortar just to lay one brick, but that one time you put your trowel in that mortar that one time to lay one brick, think of that person that is putting that trowel in there one time and spreading the mortar for three bricks. That person that is picking up mortar for one is going to be hurting. It's very important to me and I teach that in the classroom. It's in our construction books we use.

I would like to see the masonry craft get back to where it was before, with a union hall and an apprenticeship program, the way it was twenty-five years ago. Everybody had a chance to learn this trade. Right now, if you don't attend Carver High School or Booker T. Washington High School, you won't know anything about bricklaying, or if your uncle is a bricklayer, that is the only people who is going to know anything about bricklaying. If they continue a secondary education program, like a vo-tech school that teaches masonry and building arts, you can continue education, because bricklaying is not a skill you just do for two years and you are a master craftsman. You have to continue. Maybe if they had a school, a two or three year secondary education school, that would teach you even more. Also, if you get it back to where we had it in the apprenticeship program, where you work on the job forty hours a week and you are going to school at night for two hours a week, that would really help.

That's what really motivates them [craftsmen] to do even better. They don't want to hear that they are not like their father or grandfather. If you want to really get on their nerves, tell them something like that. Just being part of a family tradition and working under some craftsman, especially good craftsman, if you take that trade up, you have a responsibility because of your last name. Not because of your personality or your skills. They look at it like that.

Jerry Reynolds 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.