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New film spotlights unsung artisans behind America's iconic buildings
Stone carver and letterer Nicholas Benson. Photo by Tom Pich.

WASHINGTON, DC.- In Good Work: Masters of the Building Arts, Academy Award-winning filmmakers Marjorie Hunt and Paul Wagner showcase the unheralded artisans of American architecture. Premiering on PBS Oct. 1 at 10 p.m. ET (dates and times vary by location, check local listings) and presented by the Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage in collaboration with WGBH Boston, Good Work celebrates American craftsmanship and documents the men and women working behind the scenes to bring enduring beauty to the built environment.

Viewers will meet the stone carvers, stained glass artisans, metalsmiths, plasterers, stone masons, decorative painters and adobe workers who create and preserve America’s iconic buildings.

Working in stone, metal, clay or in plaster, paint and glass, craftspeople in the building trades transform designs on paper into three-dimensional works of art through their deep understanding of raw materials and technique. With creativity and pride, they enrich the nation through the work of their hands and their dedication to excellence.

“Most people aren’t aware of the important role the craftsperson plays,” said co-director Marjorie Hunt, a folklife curator and filmmaker with the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. “They think of the architect or the building itself, but artisans bring a building to life through their skills, knowledge and quest for mastery. Our hope is that the film will inspire a new generation to learn these trades.”

“It’s a film about the integrity and the attitudes toward work and beauty and quality that these individuals, as humans, bring to that work,” said co-director Paul Wagner, an award-winning independent filmmaker.

Among the artisans highlighted in Good Work are John Canning and Jacqueline Canning-Riccio, decorative painters whose work is featured prominently in Grand Central Terminal, the National Building Museum and Trinity Church Boston.

The film also spotlights stone carver and letterer Nick Benson, whose elegant architectural inscriptions grace the National World War II Memorial and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C., and fifth-generation Creole plasterer Earl Barthé (1922–2010), whose family has been plastering in New Orleans since the 1850s.

The film grew out research, fieldwork and presentations for the “Masters of the Building Arts” program at the 2001 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. It is co-produced by the Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and American Focus Inc., with public outreach in collaboration with the American Institute of Architects, the Associated General Contractors of America, the National Building Museum and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Major funding for Good Work: Masters of the Building Arts was provided by the National Endowment for the Arts. Presentation of this program was made possible by NCCER (the National Center for Construction Education and Research), the American Institute of Architects and the Associated General Contractors of America.

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