George Criollo left his home country of Colombia at a young age to become a merchant marine. As a boy he had loved visiting his grandfather’s farm where he would help build stone walls and fences. After a few years of working out at sea, he decided to jump ship for dry land. He ended up in Connecticut where he has a full life volunteering as an EMT, spending time with his wife and five children, helping out with Hopkins Vineyard, and running his successful stone masonry business, Stonewalls by George.
At a young age you left Columbia to become a merchant marine which eventually led to your position as the maître d’hôtel on a Carnival cruise liner. How did you then end up in Litchfield County?
In 1991, I got a job at a restaurant in Danbury which is where I met my wife Hilary. Hilary’s family has owned a farm in Warren since 1787—which is now Hopkins Vineyard. We bought our first home in New Preston in 1996.
How did being a maitre d’ shift into you owning a stone masonry business?
In 1989, while I was working in the restaurant, I began doing stonework on the weekends and between lunch and dinner shifts. I would hire dishwashers from the restaurant to work with me. I now have very skilled master masons that have been working for me for over 20 years plus a lot more trucks and excavating equipment.
What types of rock do you typically work with?
I will work with whatever the client likes, but I prefer to work with the natural indigenous rocks from the area. It adds to the rural character and preserves 200 plus years of heritage in Connecticut. A lot of builders choose to bury them, but I prefer their natural beauty and believe they belong in the New England landscape.
Do you have a favorite stonework project?
There are many. I’m very proud of the stone wall I did in Bedford for Martha Stewart. It is one mile long and took six months and 15 masons to complete. I’ve traveled to Jamaica, Colorado, Martha’s Vineyard, Cape Cod, Vermont, New Jersey, and Maine for my clients. It pleases me that I’ve worked with some of my clients for the past 20 years.
You also are a volunteer EMT. What inspired you to become one?
When I was young, friends helped me so I strive to give back to society. I have been a volunteer EMT for 28 years. Just knowing that I can possibly save someone’s life or let them know they are not alone inspires me.
When you are not creating art with stones you do a lot to help the community. Will you share?
I am a director for the Washington Business Association. I have a national ski patrol certification and I volunteer as ski patrol up at Mohawk mountain. I’m an emergency medical technician with PALS certification (pediatric). I have CEVO: 3 Ambulance Driver Training. Which means I can drive an emergency vehicle at high speeds. I am also a member of the PAT Team in Washington where we assist the secondary patient in a critical accident. The secondary patient could be, but is not limited to, a spouse, partner, child, parent, caregiver, friend, teacher, coach, or colleague. And I am a scuba diver and have open-water diver training.