Stonework and stories from Scotty Joe, outside A Terrible Beauty

Story and photos by Katie Meyer
Reporting for West Seattle Blog

Over the past few days, a corner of the West Seattle Junction has been transformed by the skills and charms of renowned contractor Joseph Peter Douglas (“call me Scotty Joe“). He’s applying Irish stonework by hand to the exterior walls at the northeast corner of California SW and SW Edmunds, where A Terrible Beauty Irish Pub and Restaurant expects to open next month, as reported here 3 weeks ago.

Stopping by to ask about his art, we discovered quite a story behind it.

Born and raised in Scotland, with two brothers who were stone masons, part of Scotty’s apprentice work after his training involved helping to rebuild castles in Scotland, he says, and working on stone walls originally built by Roman soldiers. “All the construction trades in Scotland – they teach you all the tricks of the trade, you know? That’s the kind of stuff you don’t mess around with. It’s not like a piece of wood you can take on and off. They just built to interlock, so that the wind could blow through them. They built dikes and big walls – we took them all apart and rebuilt them back, stone by stone. I lived and worked in a Scottish castle for a year as part of my training.”

Working and traveling through countries such as Norway, England, Germany, France, among others, Scotty landed in the U.S., first in New York, then on to the San Francisco, helping do stage lighting and construction for big-name musical acts. The “weather and the green” in the Pacific Northwest remind him a bit of his native Scotland.

During the five years he helped remodel and repair parts of the stonework in the Pike Place Market (including building the big stone fireplace at Kells Irish Pub), Scotty made the acquaintance of the venerable Seattle Times columnist Emmett Watson. In a 1987 column written about the world-traveling worker, artist and raconteur, Watson appreciated Scotty’s humor and talent, describing Scotty as “an all-purpose craftsman, the kind you find in what we used to call the Old Country, but very seldom is found here.”

The other day in West Seattle, as Scotty deftly applied carefully-selected stones to the surface that he’d prepared the day before, he was generous in sharing his stories with me – while singing, cracking jokes, teasing his “boss,” and patiently explaining his craft to passersby pausing to watch. In Scotty’s opinion, “Americans have got to start building with stronger materials! It’s more labor intensive, and might take a wee bit longer, but the effects will last for hundreds of years. Hundreds of years.”

(Scotty poses with West Seattleite “Jen” as she proudly points to a stone he helped her fasten to the wall)

So just how can one connect the Berlin Wall, actor Danny DeVito, and a thank-you-note from the Queen of Denmark? Lead an adventurous life, combined with creativity and an open nature: While in Germany, Scotty says, he was at the Berlin Wall as it came down, and met DeVito among the celebrants. On the spur of the moment, Scotty painted a big 50th birthday greeting to the Queen of Denmark amidst all the artwork on the wall. It caught the eye of a photographer, and Scotty’s work was carefully chiseled from the pieces of the downed wall and sent to Danish Queen Margrethe II – who sent him a thank-you note and an invitation to visit.

“I just started really painting in the last couple years, too. I’m teaching myself – it’s so much fun, it’s unbelievable!” Practicing and learning by creating his own versions of works by Picasso, Dali, Monet, Van Gogh, et al, Scotty said, “I didn’t realize how divine it was, to do that kind of artwork.”

Precisely trimming mortar around another stone, Scotty smiles, raises an eyebrow and starts to sing The Pretenders‘ “Back on the Chain Gang.”

(Scotty Joe’s Irish stonework in progress)

Oh, and his singing? He plays piano as well: “I’ve been playing Irish pubs, me and my band, we were called Celtic Renaissance, played all over the Northwest for more than 20 years. I’ve always sang, since I was five years old. I sing every Irish song in the book. All the great Scottish and Irish folk songs.”

Scotty said that he’ll be one of the featured artists performing live at A Terrible Beauty-West Seattle when it opens, and with a twinkling grin, declared that “I’m one of the funniest entertainers in the Pacific Northwest. I do a lot of comedy and a lot of fun.”

(We checked with A Terrible Beauty’s owners, by the way, and they’re still planning to be open next month.)

23 Replies to "Stonework and stories from Scotty Joe, outside A Terrible Beauty"

  • johnnyblegs April 15, 2011 (11:47 pm)

    So cool. Great looking rocks. Can’t wait for this place to open.

  • Mookie April 16, 2011 (12:41 am)

    I look forward to hearing Scotty Joe singing those Scottish and Irish folk songs!

  • Caduceus April 16, 2011 (3:12 am)

    This is amazing.

  • Rhonda Porter April 16, 2011 (7:31 am)

    He is an amazing man. My sisters and I planned my Dad’s services at Terrible Beauty in Renton. He was doing some stonework inside and stopped to chat with us. What he had to say and his charming voice really soothed us (we weren’t crying or anything like that…he just struck up a conversation). Very charming man AND they have the WORLDS BEST REUBENS…serious!

    Check them out in Yelp.

    I am so thrilled to hear their coming to West Seattle :)

  • ile April 16, 2011 (7:38 am)

    I really enjoyed this piece. These are the people that help make West Seattle the place I love. Thanks for sharing. :)

  • stephanie April 16, 2011 (7:45 am)

    Great story! Looking forward to checking out the pub!

  • brian April 16, 2011 (7:47 am)

    I’m so looking forward to seeing this place. Hiring a guy like Scotty tells you the owners are dedicated to making a REAL pub.

  • RG April 16, 2011 (8:12 am)

    Thanks for the great story Ms Meyer. Now I really can’t wait to check out this pub! Scotty sounds like a hoot!

  • cjboffoli April 16, 2011 (8:26 am)

    Nice piece Katie!

  • Lindsey April 16, 2011 (8:46 am)

    I love that sweater!

  • brian April 16, 2011 (9:07 am)

    Instead of real pub I should have said PROPER pub

  • ttt April 16, 2011 (9:09 am)

    I can’t wait for this place to open! The transformation of the corner will be a nice change!

  • Kari Kopnick April 16, 2011 (9:59 am)

    ATB broke a the curse of a corner that could never keep a restaurant in Renton, maybe that’ll work in WS, too! Love the story, can’t wait for the opening. (But if you’re reading this ATB owners, I think you should add a bigger wine list to the location in West Seattle!!)

  • Andy April 16, 2011 (10:51 am)

    We have visited the Renton ATB a couple of times since learning one was opening in WS. We really enjoy it – food is good, decently priced, great beer selection, and yes, the Reubens are incredible! Easily the best I’ve ever had. Don’t miss the Irish nachos either!

    We’re looking forward to the WS location opening and are hopeful it will be as good as the Renton one has been to us so far.

  • Deanie Schwarz April 16, 2011 (11:21 am)

    Very cool!

    Great story Katie!

  • Chris A Altwegg April 16, 2011 (1:27 pm)

    Nice article, Katie! Hope to see your by-line often!

  • PamL April 16, 2011 (4:00 pm)

    It’s good to see local stones being used so beautifully. Nice story and well done, Katie.

    • WSB April 17, 2011 (12:20 pm)

      Because two people have mentioned the stones – Katie clarifies that they are manufactured, not harvested/collected/whatever the proper term would be. “Cultured stone” was the term, which is actually a trademarked name, though I don’t know if this is the exact type he used:

  • John M April 16, 2011 (8:58 pm)

    Nice stonework Scotty. Looks just like that “fake” cement stick-on stuff.

  • sun*e April 17, 2011 (8:37 am)

    The stones looks great! “the effects will last for hundreds of years. Hundreds of years.” Now let’s just hope this is an indication that a restaurant might actually stick around for a long time on this ill-fated corner. Maybe it’ll have the luck of the Irish! ;-)

  • Mookie April 17, 2011 (1:49 pm)

    They look beautiful, regardless; they’re probably a lot lighter in weight than traditional stone. I watched him putting them up – it was like creating a jigsaw puzzle, and took a bit more finesse than just “stick-on” work.

  • cj April 17, 2011 (9:51 pm)

    I think that’s amazing. What difference does it make what the stones are made of, you can see the care in how he’s putting them together and I cant wait to see it finished up. I have a feeling that the beauty is going to be a very busy lady. :)

  • Jenn April 19, 2011 (1:41 pm)

    Scotty Joe definitely brightened up the dreary, rainy corner of California & Edmunds for a few days. I felt lucky to have a chance to chat with him (I’m the Jenn in the orange jacket in the photo above). Great stories, great sense of humor…looking forward to his performances at the Beauty!

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