By Sarah E. Caouette

David Oliver is of the tenth generation to live in the shadow of the Ossipee Mountains, on his father’s side. His mother’s side immigrated from Quebec and Maine, naming him a true born and bred New Englander. There is pride in this title, coming from a long line of men and women who have adapted their work and livelihoods to the four-season environment this Eastern region is known for enduring year in and year out. “But wait until you experience a winter here,” is always a favorite saying in these parts, to outsiders drawn to the quaint towns and blue-collar cities scattered up the North Atlantic coast.

“I come from a modest lifestyle, where hard work and education are two important factors in one’s life,” says David about his upbringing in Central New Hampshire. His academic background is in Painting and Art History, having studied at the Savannah College of Art and Design, and then Plymouth State University. However, when asked why he chose the trade of masonry to support himself, his explanation is simple, “I’m an artist, who just so happens to be an artisan. What really defines the two? Nothing but the media used and applied. I get to form earth, instead of paint. I get to sculpt with rock instead of clay, or steel. It is all the same. Like anything, there are those preconceived notions and standards, but the challenge comes with the complexity of using the stone in its three-dimensionality. It is a jig saw, and it keeps me moving. I have never been one to sit still for too long. I love my painting, but hours in the studio doesn’t get the blood flowing as well as moving rockbed.”

I was fortunate to meet David as an undergraduate, while attending college and also studying art in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I was barely twenty-one, with my energies all over the map, fancying myself with silly and romantic ideas of being a trendier, female version of Indiana Jones. David on-the-other-hand was just at the beginning of flexing his strength as a mason, and had a quiet stoicism that always seemed before our time. Why a young, talented man would choose such an arcane profession, was precisely what separated David from all the others of our generation. While our peers were striving for careers in business, communications, foreign policy, and graphic design, David was literally laying his own foundation, based on an ingrained belief system and spirit that had been passed down to him from his forefathers. “I have never been one to jump on the technologically-driven anything,” he admits unabashedly, “I am not unaware, nor untrained in their uses, I’ve just chosen not to get caught up in the new media. I do hold these mediums in high regard. However, I have always been pretty traditional in my approach to application and technique, especially in my painting, and in masonry. Masonry is one of those trades that really hasn’t changed too much in the last three thousand years. The tools have gotten mechanized and there are new building products coming out all the time, but the use of a chisel and a three-pound hammer are still the most important tools a mason can have. (And a good Mason’s hammer, at that). There is nothing like forming a stone by the blunt trauma of a hammer upon a chisel.”

Over the years, I’ve learned through David what a legacy in masonry entails, which is, “hard, back-breaking, frustrating, and addictive work. Falling into a routine of numerous hard-scrapes during spring and summer months, and then historical renovations, chimneys, stone veneers, and custom work into the winter months.” Some of his projects include a nine-month restoration of an 1852 farmhouse, and a stone and copper observatory built for a doctor who loved the stars, as a birthday gift from his wife. Preserving what has already been built is largely a part of David’s skill as a tradesman, but it is also a part of his character too. Recently, with his earned reputation in the Lakes Region, he was rewarded in collaboration with the Castle Preservation Society and Berard Preservation company, the coveted contract of working on the iconic Castle in the Clouds overlooking Lake Winnipissaukee.  Right now, they are in the early stages of outlining an approach of action for the stone estate, but the timeline projection is that it will take a few years to complete.

So, what inspires this purist to dream? The breathtaking view from the top, when he has overcome a challenge or a mountain. God. His family and the people he can call his friends and carry him through his days. Everything. “How many people do you run into that have given up hope and trudge along, spouting that they have no purpose? That they have a natural right to the fruits of others’ labors? It is more common than any time in history. Society has emasculated our men. Maybe I am biased from my own experience, but I am from a place where self-preservation is not just a matter of making oneself comfortable, but it is a means of reassuring those—a man’s natural rights and liberties—are planted in our soils and continue to run deep in our waters.” He cites Daumier, Sargent, the Wyeths, and Diego Riviera as influences in his painting, and the Scots and Dan Snow (of Vermont), for their stonework.

And while society demands the need for men and women who can navigate the many channels and evolutions of the tech-world, never experiencing the calluses that come from building with their own two hands, there is something very rewarding in taking the rawest resources and creating the tangible and the functional. Ayn Rand, perhaps said it best, “A building has integrity just like a man. (And just as seldom),” but, “Civilization is the process of setting a man free from men.” David Oliver is one of those freed men.