Tenino Stone Carvers to Become Nonprofit While Looking to Preserve Stone City’s Legacy

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For the Tenino Stone Carvers, being between a rock and a hard place is something to stride toward, not avoid.

To facilitate more folks anchoring themselves behind the city’s stones, the Tenino Stone Carvers are in the process of starting a nonprofit organization for the development of stone carvers in the region.

The Tenino Stone Carvers group was founded by area resident Keith Phillips, who has been carving stone out of a quarry in Tenino since the 80s.

Phillips has done stone restorations and artwork with stone all over the state of Washington. He has become known in the region by his work. As recently as last year, Phillips offered stone-carving workshops for people in and around Tenino, something the stone carvers nonprofit group will continue at some point in the future, said group member Daniel Miller.

Miller, a stone mason from the United Kingdom who has been trained to do restoration work on the stones of churches and cathedrals, found a video of Phillips creating an architectural sundial for a client on YouTube. After viewing it, he knew then and there he wanted to leave his occupation of doing stone masonry on patios and walls to help Phillips with his stone artwork and restorations in the region.

Since Phillips and Miller teamed up, the Tenino Stone Carvers have acquired a building they call “The Shed” in downtown Tenino at 147 Olympia St., and the group has grown to a total of seven stone carvers, with about three others helping the group create a stronger foothold in the region as a nonprofit.

“I’m not the leader of the group, but I feel I’m trying … to encourage them that there really is something in this,” Miller told The Chronicle. “And there’s a vision that’s beyond me and Keith. That’s pretty much what I do. I have a good experience in masonry, so I can help develop some of the beginning people that want some help.”

At The Shed, the group runs a showroom where they make artwork for sale.

The nonprofit would work as an economic development piece to ensure the stone carvers would have a place to possibly make a living off of their work.

To make the nonprofit arm of the stone carvers a reality, the group is teaming up with Thurston County’s Parks, Arts, Recreation, & Culture (PARC) Foundation to facilitate the nonprofit’s admin work and grant acquisitions.

“What we’re looking at doing is basically keeping alive the tradition of stone carving in Tenino, because obviously there’s a history with the quarries and the stone industry there,” Miller said. “We want to help the community — provide training and access through the community workshop so that we can train people in the craft.”

The group also wants to be a sort of living history exhibit in the city.

“There's other things we want to tie into the history of Tenino, and maybe have correct historical information so we can give that to the public about the stone carving trade, the quarries,” Miller said. “We’re going to be like a history exhibit so people can come down and see what an old-time stone mason — a stone cutter — would look like, what kind of work they would have been doing.”

The group would also serve as a place for U.S veterans of military service to come and reap the benefits of the therapeutic qualities found in the carving of stones, he said.

“Not only that, but we want to provide training for people who want to do historical restoration, to ensure that it's done correctly, to really good standards,” Miller said.

To get involved, folks can send a message to the group on Facebook by searching “The Tenino Stone Carvers.”

Yet the group is still in the process of reaching the 501 (c)3 nonprofit status with the state.

“We’re not official yet, but we’ve had a meeting that this is the road we’re going to head down,” Miller said. “It should happen within the next four to six weeks, I would imagine.”

Ultimately, Miller said the group is essential for Tenino’s identity.

“I think it’s huge for Tenino, actually, because … they call themselves Stone City,’ and without a group of active carvers, it kind of loses a little bit of its pizazz” he said.