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


A.J. "Pete" Tucker (Brick Mason)

I was born and raised in New Orleans, and lived here all my life. I was always interested in construction. I'd always stop by as a kid and visit job sites. I went to high school, finished high school, went to college for a couple of years, and decided I had no real direction as to what I wanted to be. I was dating a girl whose father was a brick mason, and he asked me if I'd be interested in learning the trade, so I started into brick masonry as an apprentice. I went through a four-year apprentice program and enjoyed it. It was really interesting work, and it's more than just a trade; I think it's an art. I worked for some very, very artistic people in the masonry field. . . . These old guys really were craftsmen and they loved their work. They lived their work. They lived masonry. It was interesting, learning under these people.

[My jobs] are all interesting in one way or another. I always thought of my line of work as very interesting. It is always a different challenge, especially in renovations, because you never know exactly what you're going to get into. You may think it may be a small job and it may develop into something humongous. When you start demolishing a section of a house, thinking you are going to make a small patch, there may be termite infestation, there may be rot, or the wall may not be structurally sound. Any number of things can happen in a renovation that is unforeseen, and through the years you just have to develop a knack for feeling these things out before you estimate these jobs, and kind of expect some of these things instead of being surprised by them. I learned the trade and I'm still using the same techniques that I learned and like I said, I learned from some very, very good journeymen and some very good business people. I've just carried on the tradition of masonry.

The trades are suffering. I just relate it to when I was coming up; you had to work and you may as well learn something that is interesting to you and stick with it and be good at what you do. But it seems that young kids today, the manual [aspects] of construction or any field, they are just not interested. They don't want to do physical work anymore. It's a good trade but it is physical. It's hard. It's hard on your back and you're out in the sun and you're in the weather. It's not easy but I always found it rewarding because when I did a piece of work and I stepped back and I looked at it, I was proud of it, to be a brick mason. Like I say, it's not just a trade; it's an art as far as I'm concerned. . . . They seem to miss the artistic end of it, and I enjoyed that.

When a lot of guys came out of the service after World War II, the trade schools paid them to go to school, and a lot of them got interested and became excellent mechanics or journeymen. I know a lot of them. They were all older than I am. They became good brick masons. . . . Yeah, a lot of people had no skills coming out from the service. They were boys when they went in. When they came out they had no skills or trade. Some went into electrical, some went into brick masonry, some went into concrete work, some went into plastering and a lot of them made excellent mechanics.

It's a fact that the Seventh Ward has a lot of generations of masons in all crafts. I think a lot of them were Creole people and back then, three or four generations ago, these people didn't want outsiders coming in. They hoarded their trade and they kept it within a group, a certain group. I know a lot of the Creole people in New Orleans were really heavy on that. Even when I became a brick mason it wasn't easy to get into the union; they wouldn't accept you.

A.J. "Pete" Tucker 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.