Master furniture maker, Geoffrey Hannah, and stonemason, Keith Smith share their skills and experience at The Beckinsales Monumental Masons workshop in North Lismore.
Master furniture maker, Geoffrey Hannah, and stonemason, Keith Smith share their skills and experience at The Beckinsales Monumental Masons workshop in North Lismore. Sophie Moeller

The furniture maker and the stonemason

GEOFF Hannah needed some advice about a piece of slate for his latest creation so he went to see Keith Smith at Beckinsales monumental masons.

It is fair to say a master tradesmans' bromance became set in stone.

Truth is, our local fine furniture maker - and the creator of the famous Hannah Cabinet that has pride of place in our new Regional Gallery - has been curious about the work done by Beckinsales in Lismore since he was a young boy.

Beckinsales came to Lismore from Bangalow where it began in 1933.

Geoff still remembers the masons cutting their monuments on the curbside next to Browns Creek on Keen Street.

Smith, who began his career as a plasterer and went on to work terrazzo tiling, has had a passion for cemeteries his whole life.

He bought Beckinsales, now on the corner of Ballina and Bridge streets in North Lismore, back in 89.

Apart from countless cemetery monuments, Keith takes credit for many of the altars and lecterns in the region's churches.

"I've always been on the arty side, even as a cement renderer, and never liked modern buildings. It has always been the Edwardian era that has appealed to me,” says Keith.

Tintenbar Cemetery is one of his favourites. The tombstones provide insight into the wealth and local history, of the region, in a way that the concrete headstones with bronze plates of today, just can't.

So when Geoff came in to the workshop to discuss the Georgian Doll's House he is currently working on, Keith "took an instant shine to the job”.

"I went and saw what he was up to and he got me thinking about a few materials,” he says. "I love what Geoff does.”

"I don't have the patience he does, to do that kind of work, but I was able to show him a few stones and we came up with something that could work.”

After countless hours of trial and error and the jettisoning of over 500 tiles that made the doll's house look a "bit bushy”, the duo came up with a material that had "hardly any faults in it”.

"It's not a profitable process in terms of time taken, but there is always a good lesson in your mistakes,” says Geoff, "and it's never wasted.”

"Keith has a different way of cutting to me but his advice has been great. I say something and he knows what I am thinking. The knowledge that goes with that experience and working with certain materials for all those years, it is just priceless,” says Geoff.

The two are soon laughing and waxing lyrical about how the artistry - that once existed in classical art, tombstones and fine furniture - is now a fading discipline.

They trade comments about each other with characteristic old school humility.

"If I can do it, anybody can,” says Geoff.

"No one can do what you do mate,” says Keith.

What they definitely agree on is, that to succeed in your craft, you need to share your knowledge.

"You get people who are too proud to ask questions. The fact is, you can ask anybody anything and they will never know everything but together you will always know enough, " says Keith.

"If you don't share your knowledge people miss out and that is a shame,”says Geoff. "If you give away what you got, you will always get back double. And that is with everything in life.”

Geoff's Doll's House will be made of precious stones, metals and woods. He has been working on it for the past 20 months and hopes to have it complete by November.