Friday, March 5, 2010

Handsome to me.

The word 'handsome' originally had something to do with hands. Something that was handsome was easy to 'handle' in the sense that your hands could 'work with it'. The word evolved to mean 'something of a fair size' and ample, as in 'a hand full' and then later the meaning extended to implying 'fine form'. Hands were the defining factor. Nowadays if something looks good we might say it is 'easy on the eyes'. Back then people placed more emphasis on holding and handling the particular commodity. They needed to 'grasp' it.

If we were to talk about a 'handsome' wall, looking back into its original etymological meaning and developing the idea, we would have to conclude that it had something to do with hands, and that the elements and materials in the wall would have to be handled and worked with properly and that it would have ample mass involving many handfuls of stone, in other words not lacking in form, structure or material. And presumably the end result was that the wall looked quite handsome.

Handsome stones on the other hand would be manageable stones, easily shaped and fitted, easy to work with and not too irregular.

Now in having built many walls myself and in studying many more walls too, it occurs to me that there exists an inherent problem with trying to make a handsome wall with handsome stones. The truth of this is born out by many examples I have seen of what appears to be much 'better looking' walls generally being made from a lot of very 'troublesome' stones. These are stones that not only look 'irksome' or 'cumbersome' to work with, but in my experience are often more 'gruesome' than 'handsome'.

A wall, on the other hand, made from stones that are 'fair-sized', easy to handle and handsome: those that are 'manageable' and easy to shape (say coming on pallets with modular or guillotined stones) - a wall made from this material, unless you are really really careful, will often end up looking quite plain and uninteresting and indeed not very handsome at all.

In short I have discovered that in general, the more awkward and challenging the stone looks to work with, the more impressive the wall looks. (as long as it is built well, of course) By contrast if a waller uses a less awkward stone, it is not likely to be as impressive. Unless you build it absolutely 'right', a wall can easily look 'bad' or unattractive when using and shaping regular squarish stone, where as a good honest attempt at building with awkward stone can often produce a good looking, handsome wall.


  1. John I do agree with you. However to use the more irregular rocks in a handsome way takes a greater degree of skill. You are lucky that you have the ability to do that , many of us are including myself are very happy to use flat regular stone but sadly I must admit that the wall looks less attractive.Norman

  2. Norman. Your walls are Beautiful and Handsome. You, better than most people I know, can take random irregular awkward round shapes and do magic with them. If one has to use the nice flat regular stone then all Im saying is that they will have to work even harder to bring a handsomeness to the final look of that wall, perhaps by introducing style and character, or variety or some other artistic element to the project, otherwise as we both very well know, and have seen sad examples of this, it will look bland and uninteresting.