Business

Set in stone

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Jackson Monument Works’ Matt Double wants to give customers exactly what they hoped for

 

By Marta K. Dodd

Special writer

Some lessons learned early on seem to be absorbed into the psyche. Parma resident Matt Double’s father told him, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right,” and that became Double’s work philosophy. It serves him well at Jackson Monument Works, where he is the firm’s shop foreman. He makes memorials (grave markers) and supervises two other employees’ work, doing the same.

“You don’t look at something and say, ‘Oh, that’s good enough,’” he said. “If it’s not what it should be, you keep working on it. That’s what you should do because you are memorializing someone’s loved one. When they purchase that stone, they’re giving their best, and I need to do that, too.”

Double joined the company 22 years ago, at first setting finished memorials onto cemetery plots, doing maintenance, and “whatever they needed me to do.” Eventually, they asked him to learn how to make memorials and he has made hundreds over the years.

He was understandably proud of his first completed stone, until his boss, then-Jackson Monument Works owner Elwood St. John, Jr., took a look. (St. John’s son, Chris, is the current owner, and the fourth generation in his family to operate the business.)

Once an existing grave marker design has been transferred to the rubber stencil, Double compares the new design with the original grave maker rubbing (in his left hand) to be sure everything is correct before cutting the stencil.

 

“I had spelled ‘John’ wrong,” Double said, even after two decades shaking his head over the memory.“I hadn’t caught my mistake because I was green. I shrank to my shoes. I had put all kinds of effort into the thing, and I did it wrong.”

For some time, that memorial served as a physical reminder that “When you are writing something in stone, it has to be right. Wite-Out does nothing for us around here,” Double said.

Not too surprisingly, he said that the two most important things about his work are “spelling and dates because the possibility of human error is always in this room. But, I don’t have an extraordinary amount of misspellings going; I’ve had a pretty good run. I want everything that goes out of here to be a fine memorial, just like the company slogan, ‘Fine memorials since 1910,’”

Jackson Monument Works uses only granite for memorials, and although they do purchase internationally, they prefer to buy granite from American sources. Granite is among the hardest natural stones (after diamonds, rubies, and sapphires). Double said some sources predict a granite marker’s life expectancy is 10,000 years.

 

Matt Double pulls letters from a stencil in preparation for incising “Loving Father and Grandfather” into a grave marker.

“The people we are making a memorial for should be able to view it the way we made it,” for many generations, Double said. “That’s part of why you do a good job on it. If you can’t take it out there and be proud of it, what will it look like to someone else? I want to give the customer exactly what they hoped for.”

Jackson Monument Works currently purchases at least 20 different colors of granite.  Each color has a name that is uniform throughout the industry, such as Georgia Grey, a traditional cemetery marker material. Other colors include morning rose, Canadian Green, and Missouri Red. Each color has its own characteristics, Double said. Black granite, for example, is “stubbornly hard,” with the tightest particles within the stone. It weighs substantially more per cubic foot than other colors.

“The color on the outside determines what you deal with on the inside,” Double said. “Hard as a rock” would seem to apply, but he explained that granite is porous. They bring a piece into the shop to warm up and dry out at least overnight before they work on it.

 

Technology has changed the memorial-making business; computers and other equipment make it easier to do some things that formerly were done by hand. For example, “axing,” or removing the polished surface from the section of stone (the “panel”) where a person’s name, other information and perhaps a design, will be, is no longer a laborious process of beating on the stone with a hammer and chisel.

Jackson Monument Works removes the polish in a small “steel room,” where thousands of tiny steel BB-like pellets blasting at up to 300 miles per hour against the stone do the job. The amount of time for that process varies from one color of granite to another, something Double said a person learns with experience. Removing the polish whitens that section of stone surface and makes it somewhat concave, which reflects light. All of that makes it easier to see the information and design on the stone when it is in place.

Many memorial designs today are worked out on a computer, and another piece of equipment creates a rubber stencil with holes cut out, which is applied to the stone so the lettering, images, etc., can be sandblasted (incised) into the stone.

However, if a customer wants to duplicate a design from a marker that already is in a cemetery, such as in a family plot with several matching stones if that image is not in the computer’s design catalog, Double starts with a rubbing and a photograph of the existing design out in the cemetery. The design gets traced in pencil (in reverse) onto a piece of tracing paper, and the design is rubbed from the tracing paper onto the rubber stencil.

Matt Double

“When you are duplicating one like that, you have to look at the existing stone and figure out how they made it, so you can make it look the same,” Double said. “You have to do it in the same fashion as the person who made it, or you won’t come up with the same look.

“You have to look it over pretty good in advance, to have an idea of how you will approach it before you start. You have to learn what to look for in the rubbing to know how it was manufactured. It takes years to learn that. But it’s important because the process and tools you use determine what it looks like at the end of the day.”

A memorial without a lot of detail can be wrapped up in a relatively short amount of time.  However, Double recalled one that he worked on full-time for more than two weeks. It had a “massive” replica of a painting on the back, with several deer, turkeys, a turtle, and several birds. He typically works on the shop’s more intricate memorial designs.

Once a memorial is completed and delivered to the cemetery, Double lets it go.

“If we satisfied the customer, I don’t need to worry about that piece of rock anymore,” he said. “If someone else makes a memorial that is going to sit next to one I made, they better pay attention to what they are doing because I’m going to make sure mine looks good,” he laughed. “I started out here 22 years ago in a job, but now’s it a career. I wear it on my sleeve.”

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