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BELLINGHAM, Wash. – Dennis Mowry is a virtuoso in flat stone, an artist in tile.
The owner of Mowry Tile & Stone Inc. actually prefers the word “craftsman” because he believes each person is an artist in his or her own way. His niche happens to be tile, though, and with 35 years of experience under his belt, he’s able to focus on the niche he likes best – doing high-end jobs for people who are looking for a quality product.
A big part of Mowry’s success is, well, unplanned. As he was getting into his career, a couple of experiences gave him an appreciation for the underpinnings of his work.
Click photo to enlargeMowry grew up in Southern California and didn’t immediately gravitate toward tilesetting. His first job was doing carpet and furniture cleaning in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles.
After about six years he decided to move on. Not knowing what to do next, he volunteered to help build a church, which let him check out several trades. including landscaping, plumbing and framing. He had the idea of becoming a carpenter, but friends in that trade thought his eye for detail made him more suited for tile.
“I did some tile work there,” he says. “We did like four large bathrooms and then six or seven smaller bathrooms, and I enjoyed the work. They had people there who would teach you what to do. If you didn’t know anything, you were supposed to ask; it was a good learning experience.”
However, at that point, he wasn’t struck by it enough to continue, opting instead to go into pool maintenance. He built a substantial pool-maintenance route for himself, but by that time he considered relocating to Bellingham, Wash., where he had lived briefly in the early 1970s.
Given the different climate, however, Mowry needed to yet another career. “I couldn’t do pools in Washington,” he says.Click photo to enlarge
A pool customer who did sheet-rocking suggested he take a class in that skill at a Southern California technical college. Mowry passed the test – on corners, field joints and taping nails – with flying colors, and was offered a journeyman’s card in the local union.
However, while taking the course, he’d gotten a part-time job doing tile work for a termite company. He’d inspect houses and find termite infestations where the showers had been leaking.
“After I was all done with the class, I could get the union card or continue to do the tile work, and I decided to do the tile work.” Mowry says. “They’d set me up on a job, explain how to do it and then I was on my own.”
Mowry found the work fascinating. Often times, the problem might well go beyond termites and leaking showers to wet-rot. Figuring out what was wrong was only half the job.
“Then, I’d have to fix it,” he says. “I might have to replace all the dry-rotted floor joists or wall joists or put in the proper waterproofing and then put it back together, because it was a repair job – rather than a brand new job. We were salvaging the existing tile.”
Within a couple years, Mowry was getting tile jobs outside the company and eventually he started his own business in Orange County. However, even as he moved on, he still used the same approach. Someone would explain what was needed, and he would do the best job he possibly could.
And, because his training was somewhat informal, he says he always asked a lot of questions.