A year or so ago, I chaperoned my son’s class field trip to Pierre to visit the South Dakota State Capital building.  One of the things that resonated the most with me was hearing the stories about the artisans hired directly from Italy to do the marble work on the staircases, balconies and the tiled floor.

Specifically 2 stories about their work amazed me:

1) First, weeks after the work was completed, someone noticed that near the top of the stairwell, one of the marble spokes of the stairwell railing was upside down.   (I took the below picture of this as the story intrigued me.  See it – third column down?)


Well anyway, after contacting the craftsmen, they were let in on a tradition of these world-class masters of their craft – that on every large job, a small flaw was always introduced in a less than obvious spot as a reminder that no one was perfect other than God and to prevent these masters from believing they had obtained perfection and to protect themselves from hubris.

2) Other interesting thing? On the upper floor, the artisans hand laying the small tiles had introduced (in random locations) small blue squares among the tens of thousands of all white tile squares, in a sea of white tiles all over the Capital building, they are hard to notice unless you are looking for them – in a whimsical plot, these added mystery and fun to a job that could not have been fun – hundreds of hours hunched over manually placing these.  I think our tour guide said that over the decades, they had discovered 20 or so of these blue tiles scattered around the capital building.  The mystery makes you wonder:  Did they plan this in advance?, Did the overseer know?  What is the significance with blue, or the number of them?  Its crazy, such an insignificant act that has tour guides talking about it decades later.

I have forgotten most other things about the field trip – but these 2 bits of lore have stayed with me.

Sure, the ability to blame all future computer bugs of mine as “intentional insertions to avoid perfection and the hubris that would follow” is appealing to me

But I think its more the dedication to their craft becoming world-masters while remaining humble is  the key thing that appeals to me in their story – they sound like they would have been cool people to meet (assuming I could understand Italian) and hang out with

And their whimsy in hiding the tiny blue tiles amongst the hundreds of thousands of white ones reveals a fun, quirky side probably allowing them to never get tired of what they did.  I can imagine them after a job gathering together at a waterhole retelling war stories of projects gone good, possibly some gone bad, tough clients and of course, the fun things they did over the years – just like we do as developers.



About bradosterloo

.NET Software Developer working for Innovative Systems, LLC in Mitchell, SD
This entry was posted in Geek, Software Development and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Artisans

  1. Alan Pretre says:

    This reminds me of Van Halen’s contract forbidding brown M&M’s to see if the venue was paying attention to details.

  2. bradosterloo says:

    Funny thing – my sister has seen alot of those riders for artists coming to Corn Palace and she said that she talked to some of the Beach Boys when they were in town last summer and they said they knew nothing about some of the specific requests in their contract and assume it was just favorite foods of their manager

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