A Master Bricklayer Preserves His Craft

Expert bricklayer Melvin Moore, 75. i

Expert bricklayer Melvin Moore, 75, teaches students the craft at the International Masonry Institute's training center in Bowie, Md. Tina Tennessen/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Tina Tennessen/NPR
Expert bricklayer Melvin Moore, 75.

Expert bricklayer Melvin Moore, 75, teaches students the craft at the International Masonry Institute's training center in Bowie, Md.

Tina Tennessen/NPR
Beginners, or "brickies," practice laying bricks in a classroom that resembles an airport hangar. i

Beginners, or "brickies," practice laying bricks in a classroom that resembles an airport hangar. Moore's students are apprentices in the Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Union. Tina Tennessen/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Tina Tennessen/NPR
Beginners, or "brickies," practice laying bricks in a classroom that resembles an airport hangar.

Beginners, or "brickies," practice laying bricks in a classroom that resembles an airport hangar. Moore's students are apprentices in the Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Union.

Tina Tennessen/NPR
Wade Grove, 38, has laid brick for three years but started taking classes five months ago. i

Wade Grove, 38, has laid brick for three years but started taking classes five months ago. He's busy learning such fundamentals as how to "butter" a brick with mortar. Tina Tennessen/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Tina Tennessen/NPR
Wade Grove, 38, has laid brick for three years but started taking classes five months ago.

Wade Grove, 38, has laid brick for three years but started taking classes five months ago. He's busy learning such fundamentals as how to "butter" a brick with mortar.

Tina Tennessen/NPR

Melvin Moore can look at a crew of bricklayers and spot the novices within seconds.

They have clumps of mortar on their boots, one of many hallmarks of a beginner "brickie." Moore's trained eye seeks them out when he scans a classroom of students at the International Masonry Institute's training center in Bowie, Md.

This isn't a typical classroom. It resembles an airport hangar, and students are spread out across the floor, building temporary walls out of brick, stone, tile and other masonry materials. Moore's students focus on brick — they are apprentices in the Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Union. And they all hope to be part of the next generation of master bricklayers.

Moore, 75, tells NPR's Andrea Seabrook that he was born into the bricklaying craft. His father, brother and son were bricklayers, and Moore estimates his family has about 175 years of bricklaying experience. Moore's masonry work can be seen at the Kennedy Center, the Library of Congress and buildings at nearly all the major universities in Washington, D.C.

Bricklaying students such as Wade Grove know they are learning from the best. Grove, 38, has laid brick for three years but started taking classes five months ago. He hopes to start his own company someday. But for now, he's still learning the fundamentals — such as how to "butter" a brick with mortar. On a job site, Grove says he can identify the experts by how they move. He describes them as fluid and artful.

Moore gets philosophical when he thinks about teaching this age-old craft to the next generation. Ambitious novices, he says, come to class thinking they have a "better idea" of how to do brickwork.

He smiles, gently shakes his head and says, "It's been proven what works and what doesn't work, over and over, years before we got here." With a ruler, trowel, level and some patience, his students will learn this craft brick by brick.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.