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Stone Cutting and Carving


Article by Donna Zibley


Most of us are lucky if we can trace our ancestors back three or four generations.  Mac McFarlane is fortunate enough to be able to go back a whopping 10 generations.

Better yet, he knows he’s a 10th generation Master Stone Carver.  Just imagine, knowing you’re doing the same masterful work that your great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandpa did!  Better yet, Mac recently travelled to Scotland and found the actual stone church which that oldest known ancestor had built.

Mac, of Scottish heritage, has been carrying on the family tradition of “architectural” stone carving for 43 years.  His first “official” carving assignment was at the ripe old age of 12.  In that job, he carved the rope feature that encircled the 30 foot carving of the great seal of the City of Minneapolis on the Minneapolis Auditorium.  There are many public buildings and churches in Minneapolis and at the University of Minnesota that bear the magnificent stone carvings of the McFarlane family master stone carvers.

Stone Cutting and Carving


Mac taught us that, contrary to conventional thinking, stone is a renewable resource.  Due to the shifting of tectonic plates, volcanoes, etc, stone is being created each and every day.  And, he tells us that the carving tools (chisels and hammers) used by his ancestors are basically the same tools used today.  The only difference is that nowadays some of them may be carbide tipped or pneumatic or diamond grinding tools.  Unlike wood carving, there is no patching in stone carving.

As it turns out, there are only three master stone carvers left in Minnesota and one has recently retired.  This incredible art/skill is falling prey to CNC machines that mechanically mass produce stone carvings.  Another sad note is that when the old buildings, with the carvings in or on them, are torn down … the carvings are often also demolished.  Today’s stonework mostly consists of restoration, fireplaces and crosses.


Stone has been a signature building material through the ages because it lasts for thousands of years.  Like stone itself, stone carving and cutting is an ancient and honorable craft that has three divisions: Letter Carving, Architectural Carving and Sculptural Carving.  The North Star Scrollers are so honored and appreciative that we got a glimpse into the world of Master Stone Carver Mac McFarlane.  How cool that his incredible artistry, and that of his ancestors, will be appreciated infinitely longer than any of us will ever be alive!