Stonemason Dan Reinhart has built a life one rock at a time
“I just decided mosaic work was too L.A. I just sort of kept it low key.”
– Dan Reinhart,
by Laura brown
For 30 years, stone mason Dan Reinhart’s work has been a staple of downtown Nevada City, from the stone foundation of the South Pine Street bridge to the amphitheater in Pioneer Park to the walls of Nevada City Winery.
He was first inspired by the Buddhist temples of Vietnam.
This year, Reinhart reflected on that era of his life 40 years ago when he was a 19-year-old draftee into the U.S. Army, splicing telephone cables in the Signal Corps.
“I was kind of having a spiritual awakening at the time. I was intrigued by the Orient,” Reinhart said.
During his time there, the young man escaped his anxiety about the war by reading Lao Tzu and exploring temples built inside caverns, places he would later see photographs of in magazines including National Geographic.
Men and women living in a small village he visited at the foot of Marble Mountain all were working in stone.
“It was almost like a dream when I went there,” Reinhart said. “It kind of settled me down. It felt like a different journey.”
Inside the temples, Reinhart collected shards of pottery he found on the ground.
“A lot of them were very old with little crackles,” Reinhart said. He sent boxes of them home and decided if he made it out of Vietnam alive he would follow his creative path.
When he returned to his hometown, Topanga Canyon in the coastal foothills of Southern California, he found an arts and crafts renaissance going strong.
“It was the 60’s. Art, music and all forms of creative expression through construction was happening, from hippie-style handmade houses to large scale, well-financed endeavors being built by rock musicians and actors who’d migrated to Topanga and Malibu in great numbers,” Reinhart said.
Reinhart enrolled in his local community college, where he took classes in art, sculpture, Asian religions and philosophy. He began experimenting with stone, cement and mosaics and studying the work of Antonio Gaudi from Barcelona.
“I sort of watched and got books. I kind of apprenticed myself,” Reinhart said.
Soon, a number of clients sought Reinhart’s colorful designs, including film actor Burgess Meredith, Larry Hagman of the television show “Bewitched” and later “Dallas,” The Doors drummer John Densmore and actor Jack Nicholson.
“At the time, I was working for peanuts for people. It was kind of experimental,” Reinhart said.
A ‘Zen’ trade
After a colorful string of work in Southern California, Reinhart moved with his family to settle in Nevada County for a slower lifestyle in the country.
With the move came a change in his craft and he shifted from the almost psychedelic mosaics to his trademark earthy stonework using Sierra Nevada granite.
“I just decided mosaic work was too L.A. I just sort of kept it low key,” Reinhart said.
Much of the fundamentals Reinhart learned when working with tiles are still applied to his stonework. “I still look for colors, shapes and texture,” he said.
At 61, an adult lifetime of manual labor has had mixed effects on the body.
“I have some twinge going on in the middle of my shoulder now. It’s all heavy lifting. Everyday I have to move two tons of rock,” Reinhart said. He figures masonry is about 90 percent labor and 10 percent art.
But the craft has also kept him young and fit and Reinhart says he knows a number of masons still doing their craft well into their 80’s, he said.
While masons run into the danger of dropping a rock on a toe or putting their backs out, they also have the stillness and slower pace that comes with what he calls a Zen trade, Reinhart said.
“You have to be very concentrated. Every rock is a decision,” Reinhart said.
These days, his masonry project for the moment is his own: A rough-hewn, post-and-beam stoneman’s cottage on his property adjacent to Pioneer Park in Nevada City.
On a recent sunny morning, Reinhart braced his feet on the roof of the cottage as he applied mortar and stacked stone for the chimney.
His daughter and her family have moved into the big house, and she is expecting another child. Withering herbs and vegetables shoot up from the end of the summer garden growing in raised beds held together with carefully placed granite.
“We’re trying to make a little in-town farm here,” Reinhart said as he hoisted another bucket load of rock up to the roof.
To contact Staff Writer Laura Brown, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 477-4231.
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