Treasures Await the Curious at Pete the Miner’s Sunrise Mine Enterprises
Pete the Miner | Natural Stone Sculptures
In 1993, Pete Incardona, after concluding a movie role with Steven Seagal, first imagined a gallery that featured hand-carved stone and historic mining artifacts. By 1994, that vision would finally take shape as Sunrise Mine Enterprises. You see, Pete (known as Pete the Miner), like many artists, was destined at birth to carve stone. “I was a miner my whole life,” said Pete, “but my family was always into artwork. My dad and grandfather both worked marble in New York and Chicago.”
It took a series of interesting events for Pete to accomplish his dream to work stone. “In the old days, I did a lot of bit work in Western movies that most people never saw. Like in the old television days with Burt Reynolds and Spanky Stanger, I dressed like those guys all the time, with my big boots and Carhartts. I always looked that way. So I was up in Alaska around 1993 looking for stone. My girlfriend was working at a gold mine in Fairbanks, and they were filming Steven Seagal’s On Deadly Ground when I walked onto the set looking the way I looked. They didn’t know I had a background in that kind of stuff, and they said, ‘Hey, we want you in the movie!’ And I just said, ‘Okay, fine!’
“We did cutting scenes, table scenes and we blew up oil wells. One of the props didn’t work, and I held onto a steel beam 15 feet in the air for five minutes until everybody got out of the way. I then let it go. They couldn’t believe that, but I’m a working guy. My leg did hurt, though. So that’s how I wound up with Mr. Seagal making $300 dollars a day. That was pretty good money, back in ’93.” On Deadly Ground was Pete’s last movie. His love for working stone has served to discourage him from taking other acting jobs, even turning down an offered role in a Mel Gibson movie. “Rock is my love. It’s gotten me out of troubles my whole life, and it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.”
Returning to Arizona, Pete traded a building for an old mining claim in Aguila, Arizona — a gold mine dating back to the late 1800s. “I had enough of what I was doing, and I was going to go there and just play with rocks and dig gold. My girlfriend and I were living out there in a cabin and driving a 1947 Chevy truck. When, lo and behold, we discovered sculpture-grade black marble in the mine.”
Arizona, Here We Come
About the time that Pete discovered the black marble, he also passed on a chance to do a Kevin Costner movie (Wyatt Earp) and moved to Wickenburg. “I was cutting everything with a 36-inch drop saw, and we just got busier and busier and busier. I then realized I needed a bigger saw.
“In those days, one of my mentors was Bob Byler. Bob had designed the rotary lawnmower. Jean was his wife, and her maiden name was Borg. Jean was related to the Borg family, as in Borg-Warner, the transmission people.
“So being an old, gray-haired guy like he was, I hung out with him for six or seven years, during which time we built our own 5-foot saw powered by an old UPS truck with a Chevy engine. It could cut 26 inches deep and 5 feet long, and it was portable. I could then do my own custom cutting of fountains, tabletops and wine racks — you name it! To this day, everybody gets a kick out of it.”
Roughly 10 years ago, ABC (American Broadcasting Company) saw Pete at an art show and he wound-up doing eight seasons on Extreme Home Makeover as a rock artist. “Home Makeover would give me a week’s notice, and we’d go all over the place. It was great helping everybody, plus people would see my stone on national television. That was pretty cool, and it was go, go, go!”
That go, go, go translated into go find a bigger place.
Theme Park, Studio, Art Gallery and Museum
Pete’s new, larger workshop was all of the above. Pete continued: “We moved north to Yarnell, Arizona about four years ago. Yarnell is where those 19 firefighters were killed a few years ago. I bought a 1940s gas station and made it look like a mining camp. It’s all timber walled with a museum section, plus all my stones. I use a lot of the old mining steel with my artwork. Very few people do that. I’ll take the old mine rails and make legs for my tables, or old crushers, flywheels, jaws, nuts and bolts from the 1800s and 1900s and include them in my artwork. People just love that, because they are unique and can’t be duplicated. So we do a lot of that kind of stuff.”
Scattered about the property are mining ore buckets, mine cars and rails, and walking in the front door of the 65 x 50 x 14-foot tall building is like walking into a mining site, said Pete.
“We are about 90 percent complete. There’s an old outbuilding that we’re making look like a mine. You’ll be able to walk out the back of the main building, though a timber-reinforced mining tunnel, into the mine. Onlookers, through two glass windows, can then see our saw actually working. It has a big derrick over the top of it that raises it up. You then release any air, turn the valve loose and it falls slowly while cutting. I got the idea for this from ABC, and got the idea to use glass from a shop in Alaska. A guy was making bowls by hand behind glass, so the people watching knew it was the real deal. He couldn’t make them fast enough. Everything these days is done by computer, so it’s pretty cool to see some old man busting his knuckles and fingers doing something. We use no computers or CNC machines for production — everything is done by hand and hand tools.
“So that’s what we’re trying to do. Make a functioning museum/art gallery with people watching the saw and the people who are actually doing the work.”
Life is Great, Business is Good, and People are Wonderful
“Every Tuesday we jump in the big truck and go get a load of rock,” said Pete. “We’ll dig the boulders right out of the ground with excavators. The best rock I have is the Seven Springs Cave Creek onyx out of the northern Arizona area. The old man that ran it died, and the Forest Service took the property back, and it will never be quarried again. I got the last 300 tons available of that stone.
“Then, they widened the road to Prescott through the original Mayer onyx quarry, which is very famous–the biggest deposit was 260 acres, 65 feet thick, sitting in a collapsed river bed. Fortunately, I was in the right position at the right time and managed to get 1,000 tons of that rock.
“I have all the official paperwork from the original owner Miss Mayer herself, dating back to 1879. People love that, because they’re getting a piece of history. I’ll make them block size or make anything you can imagine. Like I tell them on the phone, it’s my imagination and your checkbook — how crazy do you want to get?
“A lot of people buy my black marble so they can carve it themselves. It’s beautiful and rings like a bell. You should see the way it shines. We’ll polish it to 3,500 grit and it’s still saying, ‘Give me more!’ We only use the cream of the crop. If it’s flawed, I’ll sell it as a landscape boulder. So with these three stones, I pretty much have a lock on the Arizona rock that I use for all my projects.”
More Homemade Equipment and Recent Work
About seven or eight years ago, Pete decided to build a core drill, but not just any core drill. “I can spend a month carving lizards and dragons by hand, but functional art always wins. So once again, I employed Bob Byler’s brain (the machine genius), and we built the whole machine, including the hydraulic rams, which are powered by a Kubota street sweeper engine. It is 16 feet tall and will core 14-inch diameter holes 48 inches deep. It additionally has six feet of horizontal travel and four feet of sideways travel, so I can drill out stone ponds from one rock. It will also drill bathtubs, sinks, columns and pedestals. All the Italians that we know in the business looked at the drill and said, “Where did you get this?”
In the middle of his hard work with stone, Pete found himself working hard on another front.
Pete said, “I’ve been fighting prostate cancer for the last four years. It had kind of kicked my rear for the first year, but I only slowed down for seven days! I have gained a wonderful lady in my life now, too. She was a nurse in the emergency room, but she retired and now works with me.”
So what’s Pete’s secret for his recovery? “I don’t drink or smoke but do eat lots of olive oil, take lots of vitamins and work my butt off. So between those things and loving what I’m doing, I’m okay. If you keep your immune system strong, you can keep up with doing a lot of stuff, but if people are yanking and tugging on you mentally, that’s no good. I had a cancer doctor that said to me, ‘Keep working, Pete.’ Some cancer patients where I take my treatments are younger than me, and they can’t even move. I could carry most of them around the parking lot, even at my age of 67.
“There’s a lot to (beating) that cancer stuff, but you can’t let it throw you — you gotta keep moving. Luckily for me, I enjoy my work, and the work shows it. I’m not the best carver in the world, but I’m there, the stone is real and the people just love it.”
Pete was recently asked to carve a memorial honoring the Granite Mountain 19 (the 19 city of Prescott firefighters that died in 2013), but said that the memorial will probably be cast in bronze. He estimated that a stone project of this magnitude would take him about five years to complete.
Pete doesn’t work in bronze, but he has done hundreds of bases and pedestals for bronze artists.
“People show up, walk through the yard and select their stone. We then make it real. We give out lots of brochures at the art shows, and Yarnell is over 4,000 feet in the air and it is cool up here. So in the summer, they’ll come up. I’ll take them out the back door and give them the VIP treatment. I’ll talk just as long with the guy that pulls up with the ’47 Studebaker as the guy that pulls up with the Maserati. That’s just what you’re supposed to do, and people like real people.”
Photos provided by Pete Incardona.
This article was previously published in the June 2016 edition of The Slippery Rock Gazette.
For more information about Pete or Sunrise Mine Enterprises, Google or search YouTube for “Pete the Miner.”