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As we come to understand the story of a piece of heritage, particularly things that are architectural, the answer to ‘who made it?’ tends to fall into one of two categories. The first is a distinct (and arguably incorrect) credit to a single mastermind, that naturally comes with the implication of this person’s contribution being the most relevant and valuable, thus pulling focus to the individual. The alternative is that we associate the making of it with a broader collective entity, but often the sense of authorship is no more specific than that. If we were to consider the latter, the scale and complexity of these constructions is a rough indicator of how many hands and the duration of the effort it took to make it. This begins to feel like detective work, as usually we go no further than this point in our thought towards the author(s). The reality is that the people involved in building – cathedrals for instance – didn’t just contribute their manpower and skill, but their entire lives – and crucially, the lives of those that followed. The essence of trans-generational labour is in the passing down of both skill and a sense of responsibility to fulfil a life’s purpose. There is a combination here, of the collective, anonymous identity that creates things and the hundreds of individuals at its root. ‘The Stone Carvers’, a book by Marjorie Hunt, that chronicles the experiences and lives of the master craftsmen of Washington Cathedral, illustrates this particularly well by describing ‘a work community knit together’ … ‘[by an] "ethos of mutuality rooted in shared experience and long-standing pride in craft traditions." (Hunt, 2007, p.23). Much of the book highlights this ‘ethos of mutuality’ as it not only forms the basis of interactions between those in the present, but the past and future too.


'You've got to be proud,' [said Vincent, one of the craftsmen] because, first thing, it's your heritage.

It's been transmitted from the great-grandfather to the son and grandson'…'It's a part of you.' (Hunt, 2007 p. 23).

Looking up one of Washington National Cathedral's towers.


Photo by Brian Erickson (2020) on Unsplash.

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