Friday, March 15, 2013

Sean Donnelly

Sean Donnelly is a craftsman who specializes in building walls, sculptures, and landscape features using a variety of natural stone. Nothing pleases him more than immersing himself in the process of envisioning and constructing a timeless piece, however big or small.

Although Sean’s current chosen medium is natural stone, he first found a creative home in music. He studied jazz trumpet at Humber College in Toronto, learning improvisation, composition and arranging. 

In 2006, Sean’s friend recommended he take a dry stone walling course. Her father had just returned from a course taught by John Shaw-Rimmington in Port Hope and thought that it would be a great fit. After doing some research, he found himself captivated by the history and construction methods behind this ancient craft. Then the creative side of walling started to reveal itself through the work of artists such as Andy Goldsworthy and Dan Snow: the possibilities were limitless and a new world of creative opportunity unfolded for him. A year later, Sean took his first course and learned the basics of dry stone construction from Jo Hodgson at a dry stone festival organized by Dry Stone Walling Across Canada. Sean immediately drew parallels between musical composition and the construction of a dry stone wall: a large pile of random stones (or notes) is arranged to form a one of a kind crafted structure (or song). His decision to become a waller was cemented when Jo encouraged him to consider thinking about dry stone work as a career.

Sean immersed himself in the craft, seeking out learning opportunities wherever possible whether it be taking courses, reading books, or playing with stone in and around where he was living. Seeking to learn from technique driven builders, in 2009, Sean travelled to Scotland to work with master craftsman Norman Haddow at Balmoral Castle, who he met during a subsequent stone festival held by Dry Stone Walling Across Canada. During his stay with Norman, he helped repair a large corner section of wall that was deteriorating on a farm that The Crown had recently purchased.

During his time at Balmoral, Norman recommended that Sean look into the certification program designed by the Dry Stone Walling Association of Great Britain (DSWAGB). Sean saw this program as a great way to push himself to build to an increasingly higher standard of construction in both speed and quality. The following fall Sean was tested by two master craftsmen and became certified in the craft, achieving his level two, or intermediate, certification.

Once Sean started looking into the certification scheme set up by the DSWAGB, he started to see similarities to other forms of creative expression, where people involved with these practices have the opportunity to go seek out masters to learn new techniques from and use that knowledge to help develop their own voice within their chosen fields. This was very appealing to Sean, so he started his journey to master craftsman.

 In the summer of 2011, Sean saved a pallet of heritage Vermont slate roof tiles from being discarded into a local landfill, and currently recycles them by building sculptures for both interior and exterior settings. Sean has created and sold wall hangings using slate and steel, slate vases, spheres and other geometrical shapes and most recently slate bird feeders which are becoming very popular with both the public, as well as with local songbirds. Currently, Sean has sculptures featured at ‘In a heartbeat’, an art gallery in Eden Mills, Ontario.

Sean currently works full time building dry stone walls and features for public and private properties in and around western Ontario. Sean lives in the Kitchener/Waterloo area, but being involved in a specialized trade, he is always willing to travel for the opportunity to build something interesting with stone. To see more photo’s of Sean’s work please visit his site at