Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A wall is some of the part of the holes.

We completed the two day Redwood City workshop last Sunday at Lyngso Garden Materials. Sean Adcock, John Scott and I instructed a large group of enthusiastic students showing them how to build a free-standing wall using this rather wavy, not-as-flat-as-it-looks material known as Cold Water Canyon Stone that is found locally in California.

The new 40 foot section of wall, which included a wooden garden gate entrance way (framed with two authentic limestone fence posts imported from Kansas) was completed well on time and looked quite beautiful yesterday in the morning sunlight, when we took some more pictures.

It occurs to me that though there are things about the finished wall that could be improved on and there were holes in one or two places where you could see through, the wall we built as a group consists of more than just stones. It is the spaces too. The places where people stop and chat and get to know each other, the pauses when you think 'wow', this is so great to be working with stone, and the gaps in time and space when you are lost in the wonder and satisfaction that comes with building something with your hands.

I read a quote today online about some very early native American walls.

"The native Americans of Martha’s Vineyard say that they built the stone rows with openings between the rocks so that the wind could blow through. They are referring to one of the many images of the breath of life. The stones must breathe, the animals must breathe and the plants must breathe. This unification of the spirit and the flesh is at the core of native American harmony of thought and feeling and makes the stone rows sacred." --James Mavor, from his booklet A Line of Stones to the Sun  Celebrating the Ceremonial Stone Landscapes of Eastern North America

Monday, January 30, 2012

Dry Stone Magic

We keep telling students that walling is simple physics and common sense and then John Scott goes and does something like this. Sheesh!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Stretching exercises.

At the dry stone walling workshop in Redwood City yesterday students were taught the importance of warming up and stretching before attempting to move a lot of rocks all day. John Scott showed us an exercise that helped loosen up the back muscles and enable people to stay flexible. 
Throughstones are added every four feet along the wall at knee height.

In just the same way way stone walls are built to be able to yield to different natural forces, people need to ensure that their joints can flex and move during periods of stress.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Photos of walling progress

 Here are some shots from two weeks ago of the progress we were making on the Gothic greenhouse before the California rains came.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Remembering how it all comes together.

It was one year and one week ago today that we began assembling an unusual pyramid shaped structure that I had designed two years previously involving two triangular dry stone walls with stones laid 'on the bias' and leaning diagonally away from two  Gothic arches

Sean Adcock was invited to join us back then too to assist with many of the measurements and the setting up the guide poles and string lines as well as helping in the first week of construction. The two larger boxy red sandstone bases at the ends of the triangle had to be set in the earth at a forty-five degree angle in order to lay all our slanted stones on.

David Claman was also there that year working hard and seeing to it that the original north wall was completed over the two weeks we were there in California.

David and Sean joined me this year again to build the second wall and create the cobble-pitched inner courtyard area.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Stone Pillows

 Robert Milhollin came by yesterday to install the two limestone pillows he sculpted for a dry stone bench on the property. Robert is a full time sculptor in the Mendocino area and a good friend of John Fishers another excellent sculptor who I wrote about last year in an earlier post. Hands of Stone


To put the finishing touch on the pillows and give them a darker hue and water resistant luster, Robert painted the pillows with a 50:50 solution of boiled linseed oil and paint thinner.

Then I helped carry one of the soft, light-looking pillows down the path to the bench. 

In their new setting they seem almost comfortable enough to recline against. The clever thing about pillows (and walls) is they will last much longer when they are made out of stone.

You might like to check out Roberts website.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Working with real stone all day building dry stone walls you'd think we'd know the real thing when we see it. Last night we went out to dinner at a friends house in Sea Ranch and stared at a fireplace discussing whether the stone was fake. We kept looking for clues , concentrating on the pattern, tapping the material, looking at the inside surfaces and studying for phony looking pieces. It was fairly well done work and there was no evidence of any duplicate shaped pieces. In the end I spotted it. Can you see the pair?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Crevice Gardens

Crevice gardens are a variant of the rock garden.  I don't know a lot about them but I do know they look beautiful. 

They are literally vertical rock gardens and often mimic the look (and accommodate the flora) of naturally fissured and cracked bedrock outcroppings. Flagstone sandstone and limestone (or split layered granite) is bedded on edge at least two feet deep buried in and back filled with sandy loam or pit run.  The rock edge faces are set flush to the ground and placed in groupings to create narrow crevices and veins of soil. Crevice plants don't thrive in good soil. There are many dwarf cushion plants that prefer this environment, including some of the most beautiful alpines. Sedum is also very fond of this type of dry rocky terrain.

Apparently cracks and crevices in cliffs and mountain peaks give protection to many plant species. Alpine plants grow happily in sun warmed natural crevice gardens in a summer that may last only a few weeks. The solar heat absorbed by the stone adds a few extra days to the growing season as well.

A crevice garden can be a great alternative solution to a typical stone retaining wall for accommodating the change in grades of a hilly garden while also providing an environment for some more unusual species of hardy plants. Just remember to plant things that don't need much water, grow slowly and stay small. You don't want to hide the stonework.

After all, a crevice garden is basically a dry stone wall laying on its side, buried flush to the ground.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Big Flags

Big flagstones weighing over several hundred pounds can be moved by one person, even up hill, in the rain and mud. I had the opportunity to do some of this kind of grunt work yesterday as there was no machine operator available. The heavy 'square-ish' chunks of  flag move surprisingly easy while long rectangles and huge triangles are almost impossible to roll alone. I brought up this one for setting in the courtyard area of the dry stone greenhouse. The more easily moved square and roundish shapes could take on a more dominant role in the floor design if it depended on just me getting the flagstone to where it was needed.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Feature Article

Nice article written by freelance writer and photographer Liz Szekeres  (eszekeres53@gmail.com 416 220 5278 ) recently wrote about the old dry stone walls in the Caledon area as well as the walls we built at our very successful DSWAC Rocktoberfest held there in 2011 
The quarterly journal is called..

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Building Double

Last year we built a pyramid shape dry stone wall with a Gothic arch entrance. The sides were battered and the stones were slanted at 45 degrees to the vertical quoin stones of the opening. It was to be one of two triangular gable ends of a 24 foot by 20 foot greenhouse folly. It looked quite stunning when it was done. See  Lending A Hand 

We came back this winter to add the second wall. 

While the first wall was a unique design and difficult to imagine how to tackle the structural elements ( including the setup of workable batter boards and string lines, learning the parameters of building 'on the bias' and working with the layered schisty material) it was even more challenging to build the second wall. 

The duplicate wall (unlike the original) had to be aligned accurately to the other wall. The dimensions had to be copied, not just dreamt up, as with the first. We had to follow the placement and symmetry of every quoin stone, keep the uniformity of the original proportions and come up with a similar look using some remaining material that we hadn't used previously, in order to make it look the same.

The end result is looking pretty satisfying. The reward for our efforts is that the visual impact of the structure is more than the sum of two walls, even though the first wall looked quite impressive standing on its own.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Stones with new purpose and function.

Several years ago Northumberland County asked for submissions of designs for a sculpture installation for the front entrance way to the newly completed Headquarters Building. 

A dry stone sheepfold idea of mine incorporating large boulders was awarded the pubic commission. We used local granite fieldstone. 

A new housing development company had amassed a pile of native stones from the property they had been grading and digging on. They looked as if they had been herded up and were waiting to be shipped to a reservation somewhere. I was pleased to be able to give them a home in the new 'sedumfold' installation and thought it was appropriate that the site was close to where the stones had lived for the last couple million years. 

The finished sculpture was very well received and it has stood up quite well considering it is situated near the busy public concourse.  It does leave some people wondering what it's function is. I figure it's a good to wonder about the meaning of art and stone's function and purpose both in the landscape and landscape applications. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Rows of Stones.

Straight bands of parallel bedrock emerge from the sand and disappear under the ocean bed at Bowling Ball Beach near Mendocino California.

It doesn't take an Andy Goldsworthy to see the artistic potential of these unusual outcroppings. The lines  are calling out to be continued/added to, and then photographed.
However briefly these newcomer stones stay in these elongated configurations doesn't really matter. It is merely a gesture drawing us closer to some other function of existence. A reference has been made to something almost inexplicable. 

As artists and workers in stone we long to be contributors to that which is beautiful. Rather than ignore it or try to destroy it, we explore it more and intuitively redefine the order we see in nature,  particularly geological formations.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Point of View

It is conceivable that the relevance of a person’s own point of view is proportional to the relevance of the view he allows himself to appreciate. 

Granted, there may not always be vistas to inspire us within walking distance, like the spectacular scenery one can see in parts of Yorkshire, but we can pause and breath in the beauty, if only from a photograph like this. The patchwork pattern of stone walls and pasture spreading out beyond our vantage point suggests that perfection may well come in packages or clusters. 

The particular scene we are enjoying, seems for the moment like it could not be improved upon and yet we know just a few more paces down the hill, or a further amble along the path, there will be another splendid moment. How can something so perfect as the particular stone wall we see before us be not depreciated, or conversely, become even more distinguished, as a result of its own rugged structural elegance appearing to be commonly reproduced throughout the countryside. 

Why is it so expansively satisfying instead of boring or exhausting? If it were just an abundance of natural wonders like mountains or lakes, or endless stretches of shoreline, the majesty would be no less spectacular, but when we see (something so rare as) nature, seemingly improved upon by mankind, and on such a large scale, we can only be amazed and a bit humbled, that the universe should let us participate in its propensity for enrichment rather than exploitation.

Monday, January 16, 2012

See Walls

We discovered this lovely dry stone wall in California yesterday. Actually it was a pattern formed by the cracks in the rocky shore bedrock exposed at low tide near Mendocino.

There are many similar patterns along the mile or so of beach we walked. I can't help but think that the structural configurations of proper dry stone walls built in a seemingly random way are to some degree as inevitable and as predictable as these kind of crack designs in rocks, which like the varied intricate designs of living plants can be generated and reproduced merely by applying the proper fractal functions.

I added small pebbles for coping. 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Another Walking Tour of Walls June 01-12, 2012

Just thought I'd post this formal invitation today for you to think about joining me for a walk in the Lake District (Cumbria), and Yorkshire, England, and then hike the Aran Islands, Ireland, through an archeological and ecological legacy of stone landscape.  

This event is hosted by Dry Stone Walling Across Canada 

Along with about a dozen or so other enthusiasts you will enjoy seeing historic dry stone structures, hear the legends and the history of the castles, music and the traditions of the regions we visit .  We will be trying our hands at building a traditional Irish "Feidin" wall in the Aran Islands.  After a day of hiking the Viking walls amongst the flowering Lupins,we will  gather at the end of the day to the warmth and charm
of a small hotel for dinner and traditional music.

Our  schedule is to depart Pearson Airport, Toronto, on the evening of May 31 arriving the following morning, June 01 in Manchester, Great Britain.
From there we make our way to Cumbria in the heart of England's Lake District to join host Gavin Rose at the New Dungeon Ghyll Hotel.  The stone establishment is surrounded by stone wall enclosures for the sheep and lambs, at the end of the road in the Great Langdale Valley, in  the National Trust Lake District Park, Cumbria.

Gavin is employed by the National Trust as a trail builder.  The best way to see the area is on foot and as he describes the valley..."the beauty of the place is, that it is literally surrounded by dry stone structures", including a superb Andy Goldsworthy installation. We can amble to Ambleside on the shore of Lake Windemere, visit Brantwood, the home of John Ruskin, or Hilltop, the home of Beatrix Potter.

We will also travel to Yorkshire,  the area where walling goes back to the first farmers who cleared their land for animal enclosures and property demarcation and walk the unchanged countryside that inspired the great English landscape painters of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

On June 06, we depart from Manchester and fly to Shannon, Ireland and board the ferry to Inis Oirr, the smallest of the Aran Islands, to meet our host Patrick McAfee.  Pat was our host last year for our wonderful stay on Inis Oirr and we are happy to have him back this year.  Pat has conducted workshops worldwide on the traditional Feidenwalls of the Aran Islands .The isolation of these islands has preserved the native Gaelic/Irish  language and the traditional practices of farming, fishing and walling. This year we will be treated to a traditional meal - Dublin Coddle and Irish soda bread, cooked on a peat fire in a cast iron "bastible".We will hike or bike the island's miles of stonewalls and holy wells, and absorb the geology, history, local language, Guinness and music, always within sight of the sea.

On June 10 we will leave the island by ferry and travel to the medieval city of Galway for a two night stay.  On June 11 we will  receive an official welcome  to Galway and a tour of the city and a local castle generously sponsored Galway City Council's Heritage Office.We leave Galway on June 12 for a midday departure from Shannon airport.Cost and Dates:Great Britain and Ireland-May 31- June 12  Cost $2689.00 taxes included. (based on double occupancy)  

Costs cover all transport, ferries etc.  Breakfast is included with all accommodation.      

Space is limited, please book a.s.a.p.Flight from Toronto-Manchester, return from Shannon $740. dependent on booking time.The Walk the Walls portion of the tour  and the flight portion are priced separately so  those wishing to make their own travel plans to and from  our destination  may do so. Debbie at the Travel Broker can help you with your plans. We are designing this tour for the hikers, walkers or  wanderers. Our itinerary will be as casual as possible.Our goal is to introduce the culture, the history, the ecology and for many, to connect with the stones of our past! 

For travel information please contact Debbie Lloyd CTC, The Travel Broker, at deblloyd@thetravelbroker.ca or  613 389 7914 or 888 830 5324.  For general tour information contact:

Margot Miller, margotm@1000island.net or 613 659 3415 or  http://www.dswac.ca 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Natural Colours And Shapes

Dave Claman and Sean Smyth who work out of Missoula Montana were involved with an interesting dry stone wall project in their home town last summer. 

Dave who runs a buisiness in Montana called Stoneworks first met up with Sean a fellow waller in Ventura California who coincidently came from Missoula too.  Last January four international instructors including Sean Adcock and I were there in Ventura teaching a retaining wall workshop for the Stone Foundation which Dave and Sean both attended.

Back at Missoula Dave and Peter Mullins who came in from Gualala California began planning a special curved wall installation and together and with Sean's help they built a magnificent  80 foot long 6 foot high dry stone wall at Draftworks, a new brew pub that opened recently in town.

They used a beautiful coloured round glacial stone found locally. Dave and Sean spent many days procuring this material by pulling it out stone by stone from a nearby landfill 'deck' they arranged to pick material from. The wall, after it was sprayed down washed off to reveal some stunning  blues, greens, purples and pink colous all typical of this kind of argillite. The whole project took 8 weeks and has attracted alot of attention. 

Dave said he really enjoyed working with that kind of stone for a change because there was no way the stones could be shaped with tools, and so it became strictly a matter of finding the right shapes and fitting them together in order to build the wall.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Foam Fresh Walls

A good painter can trace the beauty of any landscape. A waller is just a different kind of landscape artist. They work with nothing but rocks and have bigger canvases. From above one can see they are creating more than just a random patchwork of fields. The large flowing contours they define are really the outlines of expediency; the lines made by clearing and hauling the stones to the closest and often curving perimeter, before committing to making something ‘continuous’ of them. Instead of the pasture shapes all merging into each other, there is an ordered gathering or ‘crystallization’ of stones along the farm field borders. 

Everything fits, because the walls, by definition, have dual functionality. They act as continuous borders on both sides of each field. The thin ribbons of stones between each field amount to nothing and yet they are everything. They are the decoration and the structure. All the interesting planes and surfaces of the land butt up to one another to become an organized and purposeful network. The fields ‘materialize’ out of necessity, almost like crowded bubbles forming in foam. 

Thursday, January 12, 2012


The thin lines between the stones in a wall are nothing and everything, in the same way a 'joint' can be defined as either a 'joining' or a 'separation'. This is the beauty of definition. This grasping of ‘definition’ is essential to our seeing anything at all. 

When any area of interest is carefully outlined, it often produces a pleasing aesthetic quality. 

Some of the paintings by the Group of Seven make use of this same principle. The shapes of trees and branches are often traced with thin ribbons of bright colour showing off the vibrancy of their contour, as if to suggest nature is perceived more perfectly when it is seen as being ‘held together’ by outlines. 

The shapes jump out of the canvas, while at the same time nestle into each other perfectly.

Is it the darker outlined pattern in a dry stone wall that we pay attention to or the stones themselves?