Tenino stone carvers to use state funding to teach future generations


If the quarry walls could talk, they’d have a story to tell, one the Tenino Carvers Guild wants the next generation to hear.

The story also caught the ear of Rep. Peter Abbarno, R-Centralia, who secured funds for a new workshop in the city.

“I’m just really impressed that they have this, kind of, larger vision, this macro vision about how they want to make and keep Tenino on the map,” Abbarno said. “There’s so many different layers to this, right? There’s the artistic portion of it, there’s the educational portion of it.”

Abbarno secured $160,000 in funds during the 2023 legislative session for the guild to construct a workshop and classroom near the Tenino quarry to help train the area’s future stone carvers.

“Our classes at the shop can create the passion in others to pass it down,” said Keith Phillips, a master stonecutter with the guild.

On Friday, Abbarno toured the future site of the classroom to see how the investment will help train the next generation of stone carvers. The trip brought Abbarno to the stone carvers’ shed in downtown Tenino to see completed works of art and a quarry on the outskirts of town.

“It’s not only legacy and next generation, but think of all of the kids and folks who just have a passion for this but have never had the opportunity to use stone,” Abbarno said.

Dan Miller, a stone mason with the guild, said the craft takes patience. When operational, the new workshop will give the carvers a space in town to learn.

“It’s skilled work, and it takes time to get to that level,” Miller said. “You can’t just give someone a stone and tell them you carve. You’ve got to learn.”

Abbarno said the funds will help area students who want to explore the trades as a future career path.

“There’s so many students who are not collegebound. They may be career ready, they may have a passion for art and this medium that they’ve never really explored before,” he said. “I like that it’s a good investment in the future, not only in our state and this trade, but in education. Especially here in Tenino.”

The history of the Tenino sandstone is deep.

The sedimentary rock, part of the McIntosh Formation, was formed between 41 to 47 million years ago from layers of oceanic sand. In the late 1800s, the stone was used in construction across the West Coast and increased in popularity after a building made from the material was one of the few to survive the San Francisco earthquake, according to the state Department of Natural Resources.

In 1914, the Hercules company used Tenino sandstone to carve the stone representing the state at the Washington Monument in the nation’s capital.

The stone was used to construct buildings across the state, including portions of the state Capitol. When the building was damaged during the 2001 Nisqually earthquake, Phillips was one of the carvers tasked with its repair.

With so much history, the Stone Carvers Guild had another ask for Abbarno: the designation of Tenino sandstone as the official state rock.

It’s a recognition local lawmakers have repeatedly tried and failed to pass through the Legislature. An attempt in 2011, brought by former Sen. Dan Swecker, died in committee without a vote.

Whether the Legislature considers such a proposal in January or not, Abbarno said he hopes the increased awareness and visibility of the stone will inspire lawmakers to take a closer look at it for future construction projects.

Abbarno said the workshop will also be critical to teach the next wave of carvers to maintain the stone structures and monuments that dot the state.

“The more people who get to know the stone carvers here, I do think there’s a better chance that when you’re building a public building, and there’s a requirement for a certain amount of art, it’s not just thrown on a wall,” Abbarno said. 

In Washington, .5% of the construction cost of a public building must go toward art acquisition. 

“That you people become one of the people who are default in there because a certain percentage of it has to be art-related,” Abbarno said.