Whether it's a simple name and date or an intricate custom etching, monument engraver Jim Shoaf creates a piece of art that reflects the life of those who have passed on and helps preserve their memory.
Shoaf always was interested in art, but after returning home from a stint in the Navy, he took a job at a cemetery while occasionally doing some art work on the side.
Little did he know his cemetery job, his interest in art and his skills would come together and lead him to become a monument engraver at St. Charles Memorial Works.
For the past 30 years, he's been etching and engraving images and words in stone that reflect the life of the departed for eternity.
"Being a craftsman is one thing, but the work is gratifying," he says.
When people show up at his door, they've usually lost someone close to them. "We can help them through the grieving process," Shoaf says, "by producing a monument or marker that reflects their life."
Over his nearly three decades on the job, Shoaf says things have changed quite a bit.
When he started, most of the engraving work was done by hand. He would draw the design, cut the stencils and then sandblast his creation into stone.
These days, most of that work has been replaced with some degree of automation. The designs are done on a computer and sent to an automated stencil cutter before being placed on the stone by hand.
The various layers of stencils still are removed and replaced by hand to fit the desired look, but with only rare exceptions, the sandblasting of the words and images into the stone is done by an automated machine.
While most of the work is done with the help of technology, Shoaf still does hand etching of intricate scenes on black granite for customers who want something truly personal.
He shares the story of a woman whose husband built bridges. The widow wanted that reflected in the monument marking her late husband's grave.
Using a photograph of a bridge the man had built, Shoaf worked by hand to design and etch a striking scene of the bridge crossing a small stream leading into the natural setting of a forest.
Shoaf says customers come in with so many different, and sometimes unique, requests that "there are too many things to talk about."