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Set in Stone

Memorial business celebrates 125th anniversary

July 21, 2013
By AMANDA MAY METZGER , The Leader Herald

GLOVERSVILLE - The yellow brick building is a familiar fixture on East Fulton Street next to Prospect Hill Cemetery.

Inside the Pickett Memorial Company's structure, with its handsome brownstone features, it's like a portal to the past.

The showroom at 158 E. Fulton St. has had some modifications since it was erected in the late 1800s, but for the most part its white wooden walls and arched doorways remain the same.

Article Photos


Richard Alric works on a design in his design room Tuesday at Pickett Memorial. (The Leader-Herald/Amanda May Metzger)

Two doors open up into an elongated wooden structure with an office, a design room, and a large area where Richard J. Alric now practices his art of carving names, dates and intricate designs into stone.

In the very back section, now used for storage, the old railroad tracks peek up from the floor. This is where a railroad cart was transported to the property to bring giant slabs of granite that were ground and cut on site.

Now the granite stones come made in different shapes and sizes, and designs are done on site.

The business long ago gravitated away from marble, which weathered easily, when mining technology improved.

The walls are peppered with memorabilia of the past. The business, celebrating its 125 anniversary this year, is like a museum.

"It's one of the first businesses visible [coming into] Gloversville," Alric said. "We're proud to be in Gloversville. There's a lot of good people here."

A grinding machine Alric estimates dates back to the early 20th century, complete with leather belt mechanics, is folded into a corner, still in tact.

"It's resting. It's been years since it was used," smiles Richard's brother Pierre L. Alric, who bought the business in 1977 from Wallace D. Pickett.

On the wall hangs a photograph of three workers, one on the machine used to grind giant slabs of granite. There are several old photographs with clearly identifiable markers of a business that has lasted through the ages, just like the memorials it produces.

Richard has hosted school tours on the property before to give kids a working-history lesson. The skills he has developed in handcrafted design work are handed down through decades. He still uses a giant loud air compressor from 1919 to power the sand blasting tool used to carve letters.

Now Richard does all the carvings, and once in a while he has part-time help.

People often ask when the brothers will open a museum, and that's a project they're steadily working on, Pierre said.

The business has changed hands a few times since its 1888 establishment. It was a memorial business well before the brick building, too, when George L. Wood first started his Marble and Granite Works, which he owned from 1870 to 1888.

"Anyone over 70 probably still remembers it as Hunter Granite Works," Pierre said. Adam Hunter established the business in 1888 and ran it 37 years until his son took over in 1925. In 1946 it was incorporated as Hunter Granite Works. Then in 1951, Wallace D. Pickett bought the business and changed its name to Pickett Memorial.

Pierre said he and his brother weren't necessarily looking to get into the memorial business. Pierre was working in Albany and Richard had graduated, so their father told Pierre about the opportunity to buy the business from Pickett.

"I was working in Albany and I came home for Thanksgiving and my dad said, 'Want to buy a business?'" Pierre said. "

Apparently the word spread through a letter carrier that Pickett was looking to sell. It looked like a good opportunity, and Richard was working at Price Chopper at the time, so he decided to work with Pickett to learn what would become his lifelong art form.

Though he wasn't an artist before, he quickly excelled.

"He wanted to sell to someone who would keep his [good] reputation," Pierre said. He approved, and the business was sold.

Pickett came in a few times a week and continued to work until his death in 2007.

Continuing into the 21st century, Richard uses time-tested techniques to produce a hand-crafted product. No two are the same.

"He has developed a lot of designs," Pierre said. People can bring in pictures and Richard will draw them on a rubber stencil that affixes to the stone. He uses a fine-edged knife to cut every intricate detail in his designs. The process begins in a tiny room with a soft sun-soaked glow illuminating sheets of sheer paper with thousands of designs tacked to the walls.

"That's one of my favorites," Richard says as he points to a prayer-positioned angel. Another he points out is a cowboy playing a steel banjo.

He's always sure to double check everything with the families commissioning the stones, too. Errors are out of the question.

After he fastens the stencil to the stone and cuts out a design, it's rolled to a little room in the back. He fires up the 1919 Curtis air compressor (Pierre says Texas-based Curtis told him it's the company's oldest operating air compressor) with its loud mechanical beat. With a bang it's ready to power the sand-blasting machine.

Dressed in his protective gear and hat Richard goes to work with the sand blasting tool standing behind a curtain that opens up a window into the little room where the stone sits.

Quickly moving back and forth he blasts the v-indented letters into the stone with water and sand packing 110 pounds of pressure.

He also has a steel shot setup where he can use tiny ball bearings to indent designs like flowers to make them seem more real and give them texture.

"You could probably do it all with a computer," Richard says, but that removes the novelty of a hand-crafted one-of-a-kind work.

"It's a lot of fun. I really enjoy it. This way I keep my hand on it, you know, and here, people can come in and check spelling and everything," Richard said.

They transport the stones -Pierre points to one that weighs 650 pounds - to sites for the people who order them, and that's been from as far away as Lake Placid and Binghamton. They use wooden rollers and pullies to transport them.

Richard estimated he does 80 to 90 stones a year, and he's done countless memorials. Over the years the business has crafted memorials like the monument in the center square of Broadalbin and another in Mayfield. Richard made the memorial to Cynthia Marguerite Nickloy, which sits in Prospect Hill Cemetery. Nickloy starred as one of the munchkins in "The Wizard of Oz." She died 51 years ago.

In keeping with their historical feel, the business has excellent records with leather-bound order books for every year dating back to 1887. The books features drawings of designs of monuments and pricing.

"We still write them in an order book," Pierre said.

They also have a large collection of maps for Prospect Hill Cemetery. The brothers said people, especially when vacationing in the Adirondacks during the summer, come to them to try to find their ancestors gravesites, adding to their seemingly dual roles of historian and monument craftsmen.

But the best part of the business is bringing solace to a family that lost a loved one and helping them remember and celebrate that person's life.

"It's not just names and dates. It's something very special," Pierre said. Richard added, "When someone looks at it and says, 'That's exactly what I wanted." He paused. "Boy, that makes me feel good."

 
 

 

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