Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Stretching a sketch

etch a sketch ipad case2 Turn your iPad into a sweet retro Etch A Sketch
As far as a drawing tool the iPad is not unlike its precursor the Etch-A- Sketch.

The advantage of the iPad is that it can actually be used like Etch-A-Sketch still.
It simulates the up-down left-right knobs quite convincingly.

To demonstrate this state of the art device I've drawn the dry stone rubble helix which I built two summers ago.

When I want to erase what I've drawn i just shake the iPad vigorously upside down.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

A Future Maze

This proposal by Dan Snow and the English Harbour Arts Council envisions a 280’ by 280’ dry stone wall maze to be built by Dan Snow and a team of local craftsmen in English Harbour Newfoundland. The renderings were done using AutoCAD, SketchUp, Shaderlight and finished with Photoshop.
“The maze would cover 7,300 sq. metres of ground and have 2.5 kilometers of walls and paths. While a number of routes would allow exploration of alternative destinations within the maze, only one route would lead to its center. Along the paths, and at large open areas, art works would be displayed. At the center destination of the maze there would be a collection of art works and an elevated platform accessed by a double helix staircase; one flight of steps for ascending and the other for descending. The platform would offer a view of the maze and surroundings.”
(text by Dan Snow)

Friday, January 25, 2013

Community Shared Agriculture

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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Minorca verses Mallorca

At one point on our special 2012 DSWAC walling tour we travelled from Mallorca to Minorca. As we toured Minorca it became apparent that the complex network of dry stone work criss-crossing the island was very different from the walls we had been investigating in Mallorca.   Minorca is nearly all free standing walls. Mallorca is mostly retaining walls.

Frédérique explained to me when we got there that Minorca has a very different walling culture than Mallorca

Minorca is the northern islands of the Balearics, in the Mediterranean Sea between Spain and Italy,

Ibiza and Mallorca are known worldwide but not Minorca where the landscape has nothing in common with Mallorcan high mountains. There everything is flat and full of standing walls to keep the cows controlled rather than terraced the way Mallorca is to facilitate the growing of olive trees. 

Every farmer on the island is able to wall properly. There are a lot of very good wallers among them, as can be seen when visiting the big "barraques" . While the tradition is still alive, there is no school or anything organized the way it has been established in England and France and there are certain problem now arising because of this.  The economic and unemployment crisis affecting all of Europe — and felt very acutely throughout Spain — coupled with many of the old wallers retiring or dying will likely result in the tradition being forgotten if nothing is done very soon. Even on Minorca (as well as the walling community worldwide) people need to be more conscious of that issue.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Frédérique Mahieu

Frédérique  Mahieu was born in Belgian in 1955, and studied graphic design in Brussels before moving to Spain with her first husband in 1981 where they ran a mixed farm with their children and learned about gardening and was introduced to walling. She has been living in Menorca for the past 30 years.

Her second husband's father was a waller. By the mid 1990s he was already retired but still had a lot  of clients, so she and her husband began to help him, and finally opened their own stone business during a period of local construction boom, when there was plenty of work. They were able to work together successfully with most of the local wallers until the the company and their marriage dissolved in 2006. Frédérique has continued walling on her own since then .

In 2009 Frédérique was asked by the local government to organize a 6 month walling course for unemployed people.  She told me that this was a great experience for her as the program included both the theory and practice of Menorcan walling and allowed her to focus her thinking on all aspects of the subject

Frédérique works several months every year in the quarries of Líthica, repairing old walls, building new ones, and carving steps in the rock to create new accesses to remote places in the gardens there.

When she noticed that private clients were disappearing because of the difficult economic time Spain was going through, Frédérique presented a unique project to the European Program Leader, with the design of a double square walls space which showcase the different types of walls found in Menorca. Along with Cristobal Torres Canet, Frédérique and some well selected 'helpers' created 'The Dry Stone Space' an amazing and delightful formal enclosure showing  all dry stone styles and features associated with Menorcan walling.

Frédérique also participates in a volunteers group which meets one Sunday morning every month to repair dry stone buildings situated in public places. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The oldest game in the world

Mysterious cupules in a 2,9000 year old rock
 in the Daraki Chattan region of India

Is this rock art, a charting of the heavens, special religious writing, prehistoric doodling or just a game?

The oldest game in the world is Mancala (or some close version of it)  And guess what you use to play it with - stones ! If it's not played on the ground, it's played on a rock surface with special holes (capules) bored into it. 

"Stone Mancala boards have been found carved into the roofs of temples in Memphis, Thebes and Luxor - the game was definitely being played in Egypt before 1400BC. It appears that the game might have evolved in Egypt from boards and counters which were used for accounting and stock taking; evidence for such record keeping boards having been found in even more Ancient Sumeria as well as Ancient Egypt."

The rules though simple can involve a lot of strategy and though they are slightly varied depending on whether it's Wari, Warri, Ware, Walle, Awari, Aware, Awaoley, Awele, Oware, Owari or Wour your playing, the basic concept is the same. 

I got introduced to the version called Kalah as a child when my father brought the game home for our family to play at Christmas. It was a smash hit and remained so for many Christmases.

Years later, still enjoying the game and yet running into few people who knew about it, I decided to laminate pieces of wood together to make a home-made version of Kalah to give away as a gift.

Even though you can buy many manufactured wood and plastic versions these days or even play it online on the computer, if you wanted to, you could go down to the beach and dig some holes and still play it the old prehistoric way, with stones. 

And of course if your talented, you can just make your own. 
Here's a beautiful one made with hand painted plant pots and seeds.

Try your hand at the online version.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Radio Controlled Dominoes

I recently found this strange post about these crazy radio controlled dominoes and it has me thinking about how different walling could become if they start manufacturing radio controlled cultured stones. 
Quick, what's wrong with this picture? Oh, that's right -- dominoes don't topple all by themselves, do they? But these aren't your average tiles. Constructed by Japanese interaction researchers in 2009, these "Esper Dominoes" each have ZigBee radios inside, and as each stone falls it wirelessly tells the next to follow suit, all down the line. Of course, knowing all that, why would you ever settle for a boring row of five? Hit the break to see what these bones are really capable of, and join us in praying that some entrepreneur mass produces these perfect stocking stuffers before another two years fly by.

Sunday, January 20, 2013


In September of 2009 at StoneFest a yearly event put on by Marenakos Rock Centre in Issaquah, Washington  About  a dozen enthusiastic letter carvers got together under the leadership of master letterer Karin Sprague to learn more and to practice their craft by cleverly creating a unique stone version of the well known board game Scrabble. 

A large scrabble board painted on an eight foot by eight foot canvas tarp. The six inch by six inch by two inch 'Scrubble' letters as Karen called them were carved from blocks of limestone. 

The font was a 3rd century Celtic design in the Uncial style. Each StoneFest letter carving participant made at least one tile. 

At the end of the weekend all the carvers played a friendly round of Scrubble 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Starting to get loopy

While this structure isn't exactly in keeping with our theme of 'stone games' this was a fun little project we did a while back.

It was an original idea of mine back in 2004 that was considered for the focus of a professional walling demonstration at Canada's largest garden and flower festival show in 2005

Then there was this photoshopped plastercine model for the 'looping wall', as it was first called.

this 'hot-wheels' loop (as it came to be known) ended up being built first by students of mine during a two-day workshop that was held at Landscape Ontario near Milton, Ontario, Canada back in February 2005 before the Canada Blooms show in March

Friday, January 18, 2013

Stone Chessboard Ideas

image by bearded_avenger
A very pleasing dry stone checkerboard wall design in Garachico.

A dry stone chessboard I envisioned in Sketchup and will be making this year, based on an original design by Ji Lee

Photoshopped from an original photo by ijonas

Let the giant chess games begin.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

More Fun and Games

Staying on our theme of stone games, and trying to unlock the real purposes of ancient stone ruins. Consider the strange 'maze-like' structures that have been discovered in several remote parts of the planet.

Perhaps these mysterious sites like Chaco Canyon, the Chihuahua-Paquime-ruins and Machu Picchu were just large-scale 'marble mazes' where giants amused themselves using mere men and women as pawns.  

Again, all the holes were probably all filled in long long ago.

Speaking of pawns, stay tuned for tomorrow's post.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Stone games # 2

At the end of December I did a couple posts - Scores of Standing Stones. Stone Games  and Climbing Stones - not such a new idea  where I discussed the likelihood that primitive megalithic sites might not be built for just religious or astrological purposes but rather for various sports activities. 
I think the evidence is compelling enough to continue the exploration into other relics of what might have been 'stone games' played in primordial times.  But first let's look at this neat video to see how small dominoes can set other huge monoliths in motion.

So here I have visualized four, new, ten foot high, 50 ton sarsen 'domino' stones like the type used at the Salisbury Games. While many of these huge stones can still be found standing around, most of the dots have worn off them due to thousands and thousands of years of weathering.

The ancient version of the game would probably have been played very slowly.
Pieces would have had to have be hauled onto the Salisbury Playing area with ropes and rollers using a great number of people.

I imagine when they weren't playing the standard game of 'mega-dominoes' they might, just for fun, have spent time standing them up and stacking them in circles and spirals. Then they would knock one over and watch as the rest fell over, one after another.  I wonder if the sarsens at Stonehenge were spaced too far apart the last time they played the game and that's why there are so many still left standing?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Still Standing

We had a ton of rain here two nights ago in southern Ontario. Many rivers and streams became swollen with all the runoff. This combined with an unusual January thaw made me wonder how Kay's bridge was doing particularly, as it, of the ten dry stone bridges we've built in Canada, has quite a volume of water go under it even in the dry summer months.

You can see from this angle the flow of water comes crashing down the hill parallel to the direction of  the bridge and then makes a sharp turn left to the east.

By chance, John McLeod who lives on Cross Cemetery Road near Rockport, just across the road from the bridge, took photos yesterday and sent me some of the stream in full flow. He wrote "... thought you might like to see how it looks's still standing"

Monday, January 14, 2013

Herringbone wall from leftovers

Eric Landman and Ryan Stannought made this random herringbone dry stone wall near Orangeville Ontario from what looked like a useless pile of leftover pieces of pinkish granite. It's amazing what you can do with leftovers, instead of throwing them out.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Stone wall article in 'Watershed Magazine'

Stonewall Reverie 

A quiet drizzle blankets the shoreline of South Marysburgh, a peninsula in Prince Edward County that extends out into Lake Ontario. I have stopped to take a closer look at the stone walls that border a distance of Morrison Point Road. Running parallel to the roadway, the walls chase through dense forest to reappear in a clearing, only to vanish again into the shadows of the woods. The wall construction is tied to a militia troop stationed here during the War of 1812 yet they hold a presence all of their own. I stand here amidst the chant of swallows that shelter in a nearby windrow, uncertain of what it is that compels me to pause, to commune with a wall in the rain, but I do.

Something I discover is that even when these walls were new they were old. The dry masonry skills that went into building the walls that stand before me were skills that had been passed down for thousands of years. Something else I discover is that the art of the dry stone wall lasts to this day. My curiosities take me to two people who share a first hand appreciation of them. Phil Ainsworth has built his own walls in Prince Edward County. John Shaw–Rimmington of Port Hope, Ontario is a specialist in restorative masonry. I find their insights to be revealing.

“I think about the walls on Morrison Point and wonder what it was like to work at that time, how much they enjoyed it or how much was drudgery,” Phil Ainsworth shares. A retired educator, he has garnered a love for dry stone walls. “Most of what I have learned about them has come from reading,” he tells me as we meander along a 300-foot length of wall he has built at his home in nearby Cressy.

Ainsworth’s descriptive of wall building transports me back to Morrison Point Road where I noticed a section had collapsed, spilling a carload of rock while exposing the skeleton of its makeup. Flat stones, ranging from car hubcap to coffee-table-top in size were stacked course by course in an interlocking design of two thinner outer walls that leaned into each other. Like a saw-horse, the sides approached towards the top without meeting and were spanned at intervals by large tie-stones that served as beams between the two faces. The hollow within the structure was filled with stone rubble, adding mass and support all round. The whole effect had a certain grace; the massiveness of the thing was striking as each foot of wall seemed to hold a ton of stone.

The walls of Morrison Point hold a mystique that stretches beyond, not unlike Stonehenge in a way. They hold a sense of continuity, the ordinary work of people throughout history. As Ainsworth shows me the process of assembling his walls I ask about the unseen qualities of handling ancient rock and whether the material suggests an order of its own.

“Maybe it’s a kind of silly thing to say, but yes, I feel that way,” he confides. “I love doing the jigsaw puzzle of putting them together, finding the right stones…the ones that look like they should be together. At first I used a masonry level to keep the walls as even as possible. Now I do it pretty well by eye.”

Ainsworth puts his hand on the top ridge of his wall. “I try to save triangular stones for here so they stand vertically with a flat base. I got the idea from the Morrison Point fences and also from looking at pictures of walls in England, in particular the walls of the Cotswold region. I’ve been told they built them this way so that sheep wouldn’t jump over…most things had a purpose: they were not done for decoration,” he summarizes.

“Let the stones speak to you,” is the philosophy of John Shaw-Rimmington who has worked in stone construction for 28 years, the last 10 in dry stone work. His experience convinces him “that there are deeper striations of information in the stone beyond the visible. While we are missing all of the knowledge, the pieces of the story about a structure, there are so few other examples of where nature and humans work in harmony. The building of a dry stone wall presents an opportunity to dance with the landscape and to collaborate with nature,” he tells me. “Dry stone walls need no other intervention to support them. They don’t need cement and yet hold together for thousands of years. The stone is inspiring in its latitude, like fractural equations unfolding across the countryside, using ancient materials to create new designs,” he continues.

Called dry stone hedges, dykes or rock fences in Scotland and Ireland, the same construction is used for buildings and bridges as well as field boundaries and retaining walls. The Inca of Peru used the technology to create terraces on otherwise unusable slopes. House foundations, shed walls and fortifications date to 1400AD in south-eastern Africa. Early civilizations throughout North America left many examples of dry masonry construction, and with the arrival of Europeans, it was the Scots and Irish that spread the know-how.

Shaw-Rimmington founded ‘Dry Stone Walling Across Canada, an organization whose members gather in workshops to learn to construct and repair stone walls. “Assembling a wall is intuitive, what I call 'thinking with your hands'. It’s a real material from the earth that is both beautiful and structural, something manufacturers spend countless energy trying to replicate, ending up with only a faux façade.”

It seems like the walls are a world unto their own and somehow I no longer feel alone communing with a stone wall on Morrison Point Road when Shaw-Rimmington shares his sensibilities. “I feel the stones speak to me and I allow what I'm hearing to guide me in deciding what goes where…going slow and keeping it simple. Stones are not just decoration; they are not ornamentation; they are fundamentally structural. We use them at our peril and disrespect their most important property if we ignore this fact,” he adds.
The rhythm of stone on stone holds form like a stanza in a poem. Each stone, unique in shape and character, keeps a pace and metre all of its own while at the same time remaining dependent on its neighbour. “At the end of a section is what I call a tower. I raise it to help tie in the last stone. It delineates space and I like the idea of having a gate with rails inserted…it can serve as an entrance to a field,” Ainsworth articulates as he continues to guide me along his walls.

“Where I lived previously, in the moraine of the Oak Hills near StirlingOntario I used round stones deposited by glaciers,” Ainsworth describes. “But here I’m using flat limestone, most of which was uncovered when we built our house,” he points here and there recounting his adventures with stone. “Some of these rocks were broken during excavating so the open face is quite fresh...some of the rocks on top of the ground have moss growing on them and I leave it,” he continues. “And I like where I can see fossils or striations in the rock.” He pauses at a section. “Even though the stones are basically shades of grey and brown you try to mix them so there is some variation. Here is one with a nice plant fossil…apparently this area was at the bottom of a tropical sea at one time  and when the continent shifted over millions of years, the rock that is here was nearer to the equator.”

When I ask about personal insights derived from the work, Ainsworth responds by saying, “I like to learn and at the same time prove to myself that I can do certain things…I think that the stone reveals that while we may be important to ourselves and to others, in terms of the history of the world or the universe, we are incidental.” He then leans against a wall in comfort. “As one of my friends said, these walls will be here long after I’m gone.” And Shaw-Rimmington concurs. “Stones have got it figured out…we’re just a blip on the horizon in the earth’s evolution.”

And so, the walls of Morrison Point Road call to passers-by, strangers like me, offering invitation to stop awhile, momentarily allowing a peak beyond a veil of mystery. Captured in these walls are voices belonging to calloused hands that cradled heavy rock; skilled hands passing along to apprenticing hands a story; stories of cultures, of customs, of family loyalties; stories resurrected from the earth just as the stones were by the steel of the plough. The walls stand in a quiet presence, sentinels that guard the legacy of the Scottish and Irish masons who brought their craft to the Canadas.

Soon a car whizzes by, rubber hissing on asphalt, wiper blades marking a metronome rhythm; the sky eases long enough to spill a glaze of afternoon light over craggy limestone. And I am on my way.    Conrad Beaubien