Randy Bollinger has built whole houses out of stone and restored other historical properties throughout New England.Randy Bollinger works on one of the sidewalls at the front of the Church, resetting stones. (Jeb Sharp)


If you stop by St. Peter’s by the Sea Episcopal Church on Lincoln Street this month you might catch stonemason Randy Bollinger working outside. He is restoring some of the stonework on the exterior of the 125-year-old building.

“I identify as a craftsman,” Bollinger said on a recent morning as he reset stones on one of the sidewalls on the front steps. “I like imagining, creating, restoring old things, building new things, just for the joy of the materials you’re working with.”

Bollinger is based in Pennsylvania but travels to do restoration work.

“The issue here is the salt air, salt water gets absorbed into the old mortar and corrodes it,” Bollinger said. “Rots it. Makes it soft. And then the stones just get loose. So we’re tearing all this loose stone out and replacing it, putting new mortar in and they’ll have to do it again in 125 years.”

Bollinger is salvaging some of the old stone but also adding new stone. The new material comes from a local quarry that was blasted with dynamite so he has to check carefully for fractures. The mortar he’s using contains lime which has been processed the same way it would have been 150 years ago. He also got permission to add a glue-like bonding agent that will help ward off water damage.

So why bring someone all the way from Pennsylvania to do this work? It turns out Bollinger is a gifted stonemason with deep experience. He grew up around craftspeople who found joy in making things. His dad had a woodshop; his uncle built beautiful furniture.

“And growing up in south central Pennsylvania, stone walls are everywhere,” he said. “Stone structures, buildings, farm buildings. So it’s as common as breathing to look at and see some pretty incredible things.”

In his early twenties, Bollinger became an apprentice to a craftsman with a woodshop whose wife also had a pottery studio.

“They lived in a 300-year-old mill, a stone mill. Three stories of just immaculate stonework. As as a young person I hired on with him and we cut through walls to make doorways and windows. And it felt very, very comfortable.”

Since then Bollinger has built whole houses out of stone and restored other historical properties throughout New England. He’s expert in stone but has made a point of working in a variety of construction trades.

“The more you know about someone else’s trade, the more you can work with them,” he said. “I feel like I’ve created a niche where I work for people who are very interested in doing exceptional work. And the more you know about each other the better you can work together.”

Bollinger was an old friend of the late artist Eric Bealer, whose Sea Pony Farm property near Pelican is now run by the Sitka Conservation Society as a retreat and field station. Bollinger did a residency there last year and is thrilled to be back in Sitka this summer working on the church.

“I like the challenge. I like the ability to enhance a situation. The place needed help.”

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