There are a lot of rocks in the warehouse attached to the American Stonecraft workshop in Lowell, MA. Dusty, pale rocks organized into crates and piles according to which farm they were sourced from. But hidden in these rocks are unexpected slabs of geologic beauty. Gerald Croteau and his team work to cut the stones into slices, polish them and create tableware and home pieces that are truly one of a kind. Each rock is different, from its source (the farm it came from) to the color and patterns on the inside. The result is a beautiful and functional design that is 100% local.
On a recent visit to American Stonecraft, I had the chance to ask Gerald some questions...
What inspired you to see field stones so differently (something other than a rock in a field!) and ultimately create unique designs with them?
I saw them differently in that they were such a visible part of my view of New England. Growing up in north Middlesex County Massachusetts and being connected to southern New Hampshire, the field stone walls are a really visible way to identify that you’re in New England.
Those walls are the ones that Robert Frost wrote about. They are gray and weathered and have been tumbling around since the glaciers came through and they're really all over the place. But I just remember them as being gray and not particularly colorful. And so the first time I saw one of the stones cut open my jaw dropped and I realize that I had been looking at them from the outside in, and when you look at them in reverse, they have a much more interesting story to tell about New England's geological history.
The earth here in New England was impacted by these different plate tectonics that collided into North America and “roasted” the rocks and did all kinds of crazy stuff so you'll see really cool amazing colors. When I saw the whole perspective on the stones, not just the outside or the stone walls, but really from the inside out, I thought I wanted to share them and to do it in a way that really told that whole story, not just skip over the history but try to do it in a way that celebrated it.
What is the most challenging part of your production process? What part of the process do you enjoy most?
What I enjoy the most is seeing the final product - you can see the color and the finished culmination of all the different steps it took to get it there (selection of the stones, cutting into slabs, polishing the surface, finishing the edges).
The hardest part is the beginning when the stones are in the field dirty or huge and haven't been cut open. From that point forward however it gets easier because they're getting smaller as we select and work on them. But working with heavy large boulders is challenging.
Does it make you appreciate what early farmers had to do to clear their land?
Imagine a world where people are farming with oxen driven plows and trying to survive through a winter by their efforts at farming. I mean this is just such a whole different world now. It's a lot easier with tractors and forklifts so those things have radically improved the process. It’s nothing like to use be.
The rocks are a different density than the dirt so the rocks rise to surface each year. If you let a field go for a couple of seasons, nature takes over and the rocks just come back year after year. Farmers thought it was a cruel joke!
What do you think people respond to most about your pieces?
It’s neat to meet people who recognize the rarity of what we are doing. I think it is something innate that people are drawn to these stones. You watch people come up to a table and you know they'll gravitate towards that one weird stone among all the others and it just blows me away that the unusual stones have this really universal recognition. When you find something that is truly one of a kind, like a really weird rock in our case, there is a certain degree of pricelessness to that.
I think people also appreciate that our pieces have a functional use (coasters, food slabs, blowders, bird baths, etc). People aren't just collecting them for the sake of having them but can actually have fun and use them in their daily lives rather than just sitting in the closet. They are out on your table and when you have friends over this is the first thing they notice. The table is your community gathering place, with food and people and memories.
Your partnership with New England farms is an important part of your business - how do all these locations contribute to the final products?
They are our marketing partners as well as our source for stones. They are also the ones that help us put the product in front of customers that have never seen it before. We've done it in such a way that farms don't have to invest cash into our product line in exchange for the rocks - we give them product and hope that they sell that product and that they call us for more. So they benefit and we benefit by having “storefronts” all over New England through farm stands and farm stores.
In what ways do you feel handmade goods like yours are important to people today?
I think people can see the passion of what the maker is doing. They tell stories you can’t get from something that comes from a mold. There is a degree of unpredictability and uniqueness to the work. We live in a very abundant world today and in a way we have too much stuff and people want something different than what everyone else has. So when we can afford pretty much anything we want, the treasures are what become valuable. Handmade pieces like ours allow someone to be part of a story and for me it's a fun to be a part of it too.
Learn more and shop at
(978) 254-7625 or (978) 464-1858
Also available at Boston Public Market
Photos: Melissa DiPalma