The Story Behind the "Tracery" Name
Many, many years ago, my wife and I were in France for our honeymoon. During our travels, I saw something that stopped me in my footsteps. I was standing in front of a structure that was hundreds of years old, and as I looked, my attention was drawn to one specific element: a dramatic, twenty-foot long support. Not only was it hand-carved and beautifully wrought in elegant detail, it was an integral part of the structural framing system.
The designers and craftsmen had created a beautiful structural element by layering simplicity: they had used only a few basic geometric patterns (namely circles and straight lines) and combined them using a limited set of operations (intersection, offsetting, and extrusions). The result was a breathtaking and amazingly detailed facade.
This marriage of beauty and function stayed with me, and my appreciation of tracery deepened as I researched it further. I discovered that as the complexity of tracery increased, so did the need for masons to draw out their designs in advance. This documentation step was necessary both as a way of experimenting with patterns and as a way of communicating those designs to other craftsmen and the customer. To get around the size limitations of parchment sheets, these designs would often be etched into a whitewashed board or a conveniently placed section of wall; in the latter case, the wall would be covered with a thin layer of plaster so the design would show more clearly. This, too, stayed with me, and much like the masons of old, I have a reputation with coworkers and friends for drawing design elements full scale on the sub-floor or a handy wall to think through all the details of a design before we build it.
As a licensed Professional Engineer, that moment of awe in the face of overwhelming, handcrafted detail, and long-lasting workmanship meant that there was really only one possible name for my company: Tracery Professional Builders, Inc.
-Mark Macdonald, President and Professional Engineer
To learn more about tracery, we suggest a book by Mr. Stephen Hart: Medieval Church Window Tracery in England.
To learn more about the Strasbourg Minster Cathedral:
For an amazing light display at Strasbourg Minster Cathedral, we think you’ll enjoy the following presentation: