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SEATTLE – For many people, being a success in one thing in life is enough. Richard Rhodes isn’t one of them.
The founder and owner of Rhodes Architectural Stone (RAS) started his life in the industry as a skilled craftsman; he’s the only foreigner ever admitted to the stonemasons’ guild in Siena, Italy.
Click Photo to EnlargeBack in United States, he felt the call to create what he labels “expressive” stonework. To do that, RAS became a different sort of stone-fabrication operation, buying and fabricating stone internationally and acting as a consultant on high-end projects.
The latest step in his development: In 2009, he turned the operation of the company over to managers and followed his muse into a sculpture practice that’s part figures and part forms.
FALLING IN LOVE
The greatest irony of Rhodes’ career in stone is that he arrived in Italy to study something else entirely: acting.
As a graduate student at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, he began to study ritualized male behaviors in medieval drama. To get a better sense of those behaviors close-up, he decided to view them firsthand by seeking to join – undercover – one of the few remaining organizations dating back to the Middle Ages.
After four months of hauling material 14 hours a day, he was accepted as an apprentice in the Siena, Italy, Freemasons’ Guild.
“There are two sides to the Freemasons,” he says. “One is the sort of mystical political organization. But there is also the ‘operative branch.’ These are the people who are the real masons who still work with the tools.
“My 15 minutes of fame is that I’m the first foreigner in 726 years to be formally initiated into the operative branch of the Freemasons, the guild that is heir to the cathedral builders of Europe.”
Rhodes spent 18 months with the masons, learning ancient principals governing geometric relations and proportions (Sacred Geometry), core attributes (Sacred Rules of Bondwork), and the expressive qualities of building stone. He departed his Italian apprenticeship as a journeyman mason.
Rhodes finished his graduate degree, came back to the United States, and worked in the theater for a couple years. His interest, though, turned back to stone masonry.Click Photo to Enlarge
“I never intended to be a stone mason,” he says. “I was trying to relate it back to medieval drama, but I ended up falling in love with what they were doing. It was a funny twist of fate.”
After three years, he utilized $1,200 from a credit card and opened his first business, Rhodes Masonry, in the San Francisco area. He says he never thought of going to work for someone else.
“It was important to have my own business because the work being done at that time was not expressive work,” Rhodes says. “I had come from a tradition in Italy where stone masonry is a medium and you’re trying to express something; you’re trying to make something beautiful and something expressive in a material that lasts thousands of years.
“I thought by creating my own firm, I could bring something different to it,” he adds. “That’s turned out to be a very successful strategy.”
In 1986, Rhodes relocated his business to Seattle and renamed it to better fit the company’s goals.
“I have always wanted to show people what’s possible and aspire to bring some imagination to my projects,” he says.
Later, Rhodes reached the point where he could pick and choose the jobs on which he wanted to work, with many of them being what he saw as the most-interesting projects being built in the country.
He also built his reputation by careful marketing. A regular speaker at the annual meetings of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), he’s also lectured at the Institute of Classical Architecture & Classical America in New York and at San Francisco’s Classical Institute.
Rhodes Architectural Stone also has employees in the United States, China and Australia who call on top design firms.