Stihl Dealer Days

Rural Missouri Magazine
A new Stone Age
Tom Schrauth turns marble and limestone into enduring works of art

by Jeff Joiner

Tom Schrauth stands before a huge jumble of limestone blocks and picks out the next one to cut. Slight in height and weight, Tom doesn’t look like someone who spends his days hefting huge slabs of marble and limestone, by himself. But the stonemason has spent 27 years of his life creating works of beauty from cold, hard rock. And business has never been better.

Stonemason Tom Schrauth of Cape Fair sorts through limestone blocks while working on a large fountain in a housing development near Springfield. Tom has worked with stone for more than 27 years in Colorado, Kansas and now Missouri. The use of stone in landscaping and home decor is on the increase and so is Tom’s business.

Drive into nearly any new, “executive” housing development in Kansas City, Springfield or even Columbia and you will likely find lots of stone — walls, fountains, arches, walkways, sculptures. Many developers of high-end commercial and residential properties have gone native. They’re using native stone to enhance their developments and much of it is being done by artists like Tom.

Tom picks out a limestone slab from his pile and measures and cuts it with a saw. He’s working on a large fountain just inside the entrance of a new housing development south of Springfield called Lion’s Gate, which will feature homes priced at $300,000 and up. Tom designed and is building the fountain, which will circulate 2,000 gallons of water a minute.

He’s also building the Lion’s Gate itself, a large stone and brick entrance to the development that will feature an archway containing a metal sculpture of a lion’s face. Tom isn’t making the metal sculpture, but he’s making the rest of the complicated stone arch which will contain hidden lighting fixtures to illuminate the lion.

Tom Schrauth and Julie Hand with their stone mailbox.

The work is slow and meticulous and it’s what Tom does best.

“I do the work that machines can’t do, or can’t do affordably,” says Tom, a native of upstate New York who’s worked out of his Cape Fair shop for a little over a year. “You can bring in a machine to cast something in concrete and make a lot of it cheaper than I can do it. But if you want just a few of something and if you need something special, like carved stone, then I can do it cheaper.”

Tom makes everything from small items like carved stone bookends to marble countertops weighing 350 pounds or more to entire carved limestone fireplaces. And, unbelievably, Tom does most of the work alone. He’s had partners in the past, but he prefers to work by himself. There’s less chance of getting hurt, he says, when you don’t have to worry about someone dropping 100-pound slabs of stone on your fingers.

Tom began working with his brother building “dry laid” stone walls, or walls built without mortar, in Colorado during summers off while going to college at the University of Oregon. When he graduated he considered going on to law school, but the thought of several more years of college didn’t appeal to him. And besides, he was making a good living as a stonemason in the summers and working in ski resort bars and restaurants in the winter. “I was your typical young ski bum,” he says, laughing.

Tom chips away pieces of stone while making a decorative set of book ends in his shop.

Several years ago Tom moved to the growing city of Wichita where tons of stone work could be done. With each job his reputation grew and he began doing larger and larger jobs. He built huge stone walls and cap stones for the Wichita Botanical Gardens. The gardens needed a carved stone fountain and he designed and built it.

He built the stone bases supporting bronze figures for the 12 Stations of the Cross at the Catholic Diocese of Wichita’s Spiritual Life Center. Tom also built the cobblestone walkways connecting each of the stations, which meant laying 32,000 cobbles covering 8,000 square feet of walkway. “I know how many there were because I cut each and every one of them,” he says.

One of Tom’s specialties is designing and building fountains and water gardens featuring thermostats that turn off water flow when the temperature drops and fill sensors that warn when water levels in underground storage tanks get too low.

“Developers like my fountains because I design them so they don’t have to be winterized. The tanks, plumbing and pumps are all hidden underground where they’re insulated,” Tom says.

A fountain he designed in Wichita features water pouring from a stone sculpture and disappearing into cobblestones beneath the sculpture’s base and collects in a hidden tank. The water is then recirculated up through the fountain.

Julie Hand takes Tom’s castoff pieces of stone he can’t use in larger projects and makes home décor items like bowls and small signs.

What Tom loves to build the most are carved stone fireplaces, usually massive and ornately worked limestone that he buys from a quarry in Windfield, Kan., just across the border from Missouri. It was his fireplace work that brought him to Missouri when prominent Wichita landscape architect Bill Young moved his business to Branson and invited Tom to build four stone fireplaces in his new home.

Another opportunity that brought Tom to Missouri was the Phoenix marble quarry north of Springfield. The old quarry had been shut down when Tom and several partners bought stone quarry machinery, including a 6-foot radial saw, and began cutting and selling marble slabs. Much of the stone went into Tom’s projects including one job he did in Wichita that required 450 tons of marble, all cut, hauled and installed by Tom. He lived in a trailer in the quarry for a time while working constantly. Tom no longer is involved in the quarry, though all of the marble for his many projects is still cut there.

Though Tom likes to work his projects alone, he does have a new partner of sorts. Tom has taught his fiancé, Julie Hand, to make bowls, cutting boards, bird baths and other home décor items all made from marble, slate and limestone. She uses much of Tom’s cast off material not large enough for his major projects. Julie and her daughter also make small stone signs by carving and chiseling names and addresses into flat marble or limestone tablets, which are used as decorative address markers for homes and businesses and even larger signs for developments.

Tom carved a stone flower fountain for a friend’s garden.

“I never thought I could make things like this out of stone until Tom showed me,” Julie says. “Tom makes it look so easy. He’s such an artist and his work is so beautiful.”

Tom stops by a friend’s house near Cape Fair and asks how a landscaping project is going. The centerpiece of the project is a large stone flower fountain Tom painstakingly carved from a single piece of limestone. Each individual flower petal was crafted by hand and a hole coming up through the center will direct water out onto the flower petals.

“People can’t believe you can make something like this out of stone,” says Tom. “It’s really not hard. You just have to have an eye for it, and patience.”

For information about Tom’s business, Medusa Stone Co., call (417) 849-3154. Julie’s home décor business, It’s Nature’s Way, can be reached by calling (417) 272-0144.

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