Notre Dame Fire Revives Demand For Skilled Stone Carvers In France "With stone carving, we give life to an edifice and perpetuate history. We're also creating a link with the past and transmitting values that are important to conserve in society," one student says.

Notre Dame Fire Revives Demand For Skilled Stone Carvers In France

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It's been a little more than three months since Notre Dame burned. French officials say the 856-year-old cathedral is still being stabilized. When restoration work truly begins, there'll be a demand for people with the skills to rebuild the historic structure.

NPR's Eleanor Beardsley visited a class of aspiring stone carvers and sends this report.


ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: In an airy and light-filled workshop in the north of Paris, students chip and chisel away on heavy slabs of stone. Each works on his own piece, yet they are all sculpting the same project - the base of a Corinthian column. These young people are earning a professional degree in stone carving. France turns out about 30 stonemasons a year. Francois Menut will be one of them.

FRANCOIS MENUT: (Through interpreter) I've always been passionate about drawing and art history. But I also wanted a job that was physical. With stone carving, we give life to an edifice and perpetuate history. We're also creating a link with the past and transmitting values that are important to conserve.

BEARDSLEY: These students watched in horror as Notre Dame burned. Some now hope they will have the chance to help restore the cathedral, but no one thinks the job can be done in five years, as President Emmanuel Macron suggested. As Menut puts it, you can't be president and stone carver at the same time.

In medieval days, stone carving and masonry was a masculine profession. But today, there are women studying the trade. Marjorie Lebegue says her male classmates have always been supportive and welcoming.

MARJORIE LEBEGUE: (Through interpreter) In the beginning, it was my own parents who were surprised when I left my architecture studies to do this. But most everyone who finds out I'm studying to be a stone carver says, wow, what a beautiful profession.

BEARDSLEY: Professor Luc Leblond says there's no reason stone carving should be just for men.

LUC LEBLOND: (Through interpreter) Men have a little more physical force. But, as a professor, I see that women have a sharpened sensitivity for the more detailed work, so it's complementary.

ELIETTE COUTHERUT: (Speaking French).


BEARDSLEY: Eliette Coutherut is head of the school where the students are earning their degrees - the Saint Lambert Building Apprentice Institute.

COUTHERUT: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: While greeting the young people, she stresses the need for professionalism by making them remove caps and EarPods before shaking hands. Coutherut says their degree demands coursework in math, French, computer design, geography and art history.

COUTHERUT: (Through interpreter) Art history is extremely important. You can't work the stone without knowing its history and the different currents that influenced architecture.

BEARDSLEY: The students mix age-old techniques with cutting-edge technology. Marjorie Lebegue is bent over a 3D stone carving diagram on a computer, but she also has a drafting pad and compass on her desk.

LEBEGUE: (Through interpreter) The stone carving computer design programs - they help you gain in time and accuracy. But you still have to learn to represent things in space and have a 3D vision, and drawing by hand is the best way to acquire that skill.

BEARDSLEY: Each student has a part-time apprenticeship with one of the 100 or so companies that are qualified to work on historic buildings and monuments in France. Frederic Letoffe is president of their professional association.

FREDERIC LETOFFE: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "We are short of skilled labor in a dozen traditional professions," he says. His group of companies, together with the government, has just launched a campaign to revive young people's interest in professions like stone carving. Letoffe says the fire at Notre Dame woke the country up.

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.


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