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Roots etched in stone

THE DALLES -- Mark Gunter just couldn’t get away from his roots.

The Georgia native came to the Columbia Gorge in the 1990s to work with the Army Corps of Engineer as a limnologist – a scientist that studies fresh water, or inland waterways. He focused his research on water quality.

At the time, he wanted very little to do with granite. And it is easy to understand why. Gunther grew up in the granite capital on the world, Elberton, Ga., and many of the people he knew worked in, with and on granite.

“I moved 3,000 miles to escape granite work,” Gunter said.

He worked with the corps until the early 2000s. The change came when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and the Army Corps of Engineers’ priorities shifted and along with that change meant research dollars went to other locations. For Gunter, it meant a change.

The corps offered him new assignments, but they were all in the south -- like Mississippi or South Carolina. He wasn’t interested. He had fallen in love with the Columbia Gorge.

So what to do? Gunter continued working as a limnologist – just as a contractor. It was in 2006 that he was approached to do granite work in three townhouses. One job lead to another and then to another. Gorge Granite Works was born.

Workflow is steady at Gorge Granite Works. It keeps crews busy, but it also allows Gunter to keep his operation the size that he wants – small and in the family. His crew is about four people. His wife works with him and another relative does the bookwork.

The small crew means he can work with team members and ensure quality craftsmanship and that the stonework will last. For instance, weak spots can happen when sinks are cut out of the stone. Gunter and his crew reinforce the spots with steel.

Gunter and his crews also stay up on current trends and know how to incorporate them into their customers’ homes. In homes that have a modern look, some customers want an effect called waterfalling. When this is done, the craftsmen install the granite counter top and then side piece. It is mitered where the edges meet, and the pattern is matched – creating this constant flow of granite.

For Gunter, working with granite is more than just installing. It is about the customers and material.

Many people don’t always think that granite – or stone – is doable. Gunter said the material is affordable and is low maintenance. He gets to help them find the right stone for them and their budget.

When the finished product is done, Gunter gets to watch the reactions. The best reactions come when Gunter and his crew are part of a remodel project. In these cases, the customers are overcome. Many didn’t think their kitchens – or bathroom – could look a certain way.

Finding the stone for projects is fun too. Gunter’s granite and marble come from all over the world. Some from South American, some from Italy. In his shop on Crates Way, there are two large slabs of Italian marble.

Where it comes from is part of the adventure. The colors and variety are something spectacular. He recently sourced a piece of stone called Van Gogh. The stone offer vibrant colors and swirls and is very unique. It is also very expensive, Gunter said.

Offering beautiful stone to change a room is one thing Gunter can do with granite. He can also help a customer remember a loved one that has died. Gorge Granite Works can source granite that is ideal for monument stones. His crew then uses specialty software to design the headstone.

While granite has allowed Gunter to make a living and offer something special to customers, it has given him something more. Through the work, Gunter has a new appreciation for granite and home.

When most us visit larger cities – even just Portland – we enjoy the monuments made of granite or note how beautiful buildings that feature granite cornerstones or floors, or other features are. Gunter sees something more.

He knows the work that went into getting the stone and working the stone to fit a space or become art.

He also feels a little closer to his father, who was a granite architect and helped put some of those stones in place.

When Gunter sees those stones, he is home.


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