By Janna Lopez
Santa Fe is a dynamic blend of eclectic artists and creators. One such artist is John T. Morris, a highly-skilled, creative stone mason whose impeccable work has graced sophisticated homes, beautiful gardens, and prominent public space for close to 50 years.
Over the decades, Morris’s reputation has prompted numerous stories written about his skills, and about his passion for stonework. There’s even a gorgeous coffee table book about him and his work, “Stone Designs for the Home,” which was published in 2008. Page after page boasts glossy images of stunning bathrooms, fireplaces, and entryways which showcase how inviting and alive stones become at the hands of a master.
Morris’s New Mexico Stone headquarters blends into the scenery along San Mateo Road. Once off the main street, a new world appears. The main reception area is a small office with walls covered by photos of family, friends, customers, and landscape projects, all of which emanate a sense of welcoming. Most noteworthy are the dozens-of-feet of never-ending vines which originate from two lone plants propped high on a shelf, and crawl around the entirety of the square ceiling’s edges. In one corner of the office rests a blond acoustic guitar gently propped against the wall. These representational objects of memories, life, and expression reveal Morris’s down-to-earth spirit, which considering his life revolves around his connection to stone, make perfect sense.
Outside of the office is the stone yard, an extended corridor and vast collection of slabs, flagstone, boulders, moss rock, pebbles, limestone and granite, all waiting to become something more beautiful at the hands of Morris. It’s almost as if the stones have something to say or lessons to share.
When asked if the stones have something to say or teach, Morris smiles and genuinely pleased to reply, “Stones speak. They’re form, function, beauty. The help us remember. They commemorate. Every and any lesson there is to learn: how to be careful, how to see beauty, how to have patience, how to work. I can’t think of anything stones haven’t taught me. I can make poems while working with stones. At moments I can even taste or smell what’s in the stone,” Morris says.
While the versatility of rock might be for granted, it’s clear they have a presence in everyday life. They are part of buildings, walls, walkways, fountains, fireplaces, landscapes, and water features. Yet, pictures from his book of both residential and commercial projects reveal a unique magnificence and honesty to Morris work. A question is asked about his craft’s honesty.
Morris says, “The word sincerely comes from sinecera: sine equals ‘without,’ and cera equals ‘wax.’ Back during the Renaissance time, sculptors covered flaws using wax. If a stone sculpture was chipped, they’d melt wax into the marble to hide it. Therefore, an honest sculptor would present their work sinecera, or without wax,” Morris explains.
Adding to opportunity for working with, or around a stone’s flaws or characteristics, is that each and every stone is different. Morris shares, “No two stones are alike. Every project requires thinking about each stone, how they connect or fit, and about taking the time they need. There are many factors that every job requires, or what people want, or if the stones live inside or outside.”
Whether the projects are large, such as installations throughout the outdoor spaces of the Santa Fe Botanical Garden, or smaller, like his sculptural pedestals and residential water features, Morris takes pride in the way he creates. Hand-chiseling, his main craft-technique, requires precision and patience.
“People reach out because they want to buy stones to do a flagstone patio. What most do with blades and grinders, I can accomplish with hammers and chisels. They’re often surprised. I help them rethink what’s possible. Some people have a natural eye when it comes to stones. They can see,” Morris explains.
Morris is currently working on a collaborative project with Seeds of Wisdom, a landscape design company, for a stone memorial water-feature to be placed where a massive spruce tree blew down in front of Santa Fe’s St. Francis Cathedral. Based on the current de-sign, the stones will inter-connect and integrate with one another, retaining their original shapes, which intrigues him. One thing’s for certain, he allows the stones to have their say in what gets created.
“When it comes to projects or what needs to be accomplished, I have to take one stone at a time. I need to get to know the stones. The world may move fast, yet some crea-tions need more time.” Stone, of course, have plenty of time, and Morris’s expression through stone artistry have left enduring imprints upon many homes, gardens, and commercial spaces. Somehow Morris’s visions seem to defy time, and his highly-skilled craftsmanship and care ensure his rocks are sure to roll for many years to come.