She started her career studying visual arts at university in the UK, but always knew she wanted to work with stone.
After graduation, she enrolled in a City and Guilds degree at Weymouth College to train as a stonecutter.
“Stonemasons are skilled craftsmen, like wood cabinet makers, trained to work with an exact set of dimensions that require millimeter precision,” she said.
“It can take a good five years of work to become proficient with the tools and skills and to be able to take on a rich and challenging job.
“After Weymouth College, I had the chance to work on some wonderful projects, both modern and historical, notably for the National Trust.
“I then moved to Sydney, Australia, as a stonemason before coming to France.
Ms. Kentish Barnes used her skills as a stonecutter to start her own business, creating commissions for clients using letter-cutting, relief carving and sculpting techniques.
This allows her to focus on the creative and decorative aspects of stoneworking and she says she enjoys the challenge of coming up with designs that match the wishes of different clients.
His work can vary from a geometric design, like a Celtic cross, to delicate flowers around a gravestone, to the sensitive interpretation of Francis of Assisi with a bird in his hand.
“First, I discuss the project with the client. I make drawings and then together we decide on the final design.
“I order the stone from a quarry and I prefer to go and find it myself to see and touch the stone and even take a chisel from there if it is a stone that I have not yet used, to make sure that it is is the right quality for the project. I mainly work with limestone and sandstone, and love using slate for lettering as the cut out letters will always stay paler over time.
She then resumed her tools: “To write letters, I use a small half-zinc half-lead hammer to damp any vibrations, and fine tungsten scissors, which is very resistant and does not often need be sharp. I also use tungsten tools for larger scale jobs and instead of a traditional wooden mallet I use a nylon one. I have the same since I started my career in stone.
It is impossible to say how long a job will take. She said: “Nothing in stoneworking is fast, and there are so many variables.
“A letter can take an average of 20 minutes, plus 10 minutes for the design, but it depends on the size, stone and choice of letter.
She thinks there is a common misconception that a custom made tombstone will be more expensive than a tombstone in a funeral home catalog.
“I did some research and found the prices to be more or less the same. One of my tombstones with embossed and writing clematis flowers costs the customer around € 2,900. Stone is not an expensive material and I can adjust a design to work within the client’s budget.
In France, Ms. Kentish Barnes says that the art of letter cutting and relief sculpture almost disappeared when cement and modern materials became very popular.
Traditional skills such as letter cutting and stone carving went out of fashion in the 1970s and early 1980s, but they made a comeback.
She leads courses that are very popular with professionals and the public.
“It’s a pleasure to teach a skill that people think is difficult, but really it’s about learning a technique. Once they figure this out, they can do something they can be proud of. I often have students at a student school who might be late in school and they still love it because they are so engrossed in the process.
“One difficulty to overcome is to learn to carry to reveal the desired effect, rather than building to do something, as we do if we work the land for example.
She said that it takes patience and creativity to work with stone.
You must also like physical labor, and it helps to know something about the history of art and architecture and how to draw.
“Working in stone like I do, where I can be creative and make a living, was a good career choice and I love it. “
To become a stonemason in France, you can study for two years CAP stonemason, a period of three years Bac pro, either with a crafts and crafts option stone arts, Where heritage intervention frame, stone option.
There is also Professional certificate, a two-year BP stone crafts, and one Technical certificate for higher professions, following a BP (tinyurl.com/47rma46c)
The highest qualification is to study with the Compagnons du Devoir.
There is also a two-year period Patent of crafts become a stone engraver.
“We are proud to perpetuate the craftsmanship of traditional straw brooms”