Sunday, May 19, 2013

Christopher of the Cross

I  get to do some really unusual dry stone projects  sometimes. The Celtic Cross we did for the Highland Games in Victoria this weekend has to be one of the most enjoyable and best collaborative demonstration projects I have been involved in a while. 

Hats off to Christopher Barclay who made it all happen under the auspices of ( and as a support for ) and as a sign of solidarity with, the newly formed, not for profit Dry Stone Walling Association of Canada. 

There was such wonderful a collaboration of masons and wallers and a genuine respect and appreciation of one another's skills. It was just like the good old days in Ontario when everyone got along, before a few troublemakers took a lot of the fun and enthusiasm out of it and felt they needed to belittle everyone else's efforts. 

After seeing the one we built in Uxbridge in 2002 Christopher pitched the idea of doing a temporary dry stone Celtic Cross to Highland Games president Jim Maxwell, and got the green light to design, organize and oversee the building of it. Christopher arranged to have Island Stone Supply lend us the stone material and then got the trucking of the material at half the delivery fee . He called together a great crew of skilled people to work on it including Dan Bird, Gavin Chamberlain, Jose Janecek, Kevin Maloney, and Jordan Hunt. Several other local masons dropped in to join us in the fun during the two-day build.

Christopher and I were able to tweak his original design based on our not wanting the centre post of the cross to interfere with the dynamics of the arch. We reasoned that if it was placed so that it was going through, or supporting (or even touching) the arch it could actually weaken the structure because the lateral line of thrust would be broken. We contemplated leaving a gap at the top of the upright just below the arch centre and then wondered about having the upright actually suspended by the arch (in effect clamping it)  leaving a tiny gap about a half inch above the cross pieces. Then we decided to really raise the bar so to speak, excuse the pun, and have the uprights and even the side pieces separated by several inches.

There was  a great sense of drama towards the final stages of construction as we tried to figure out all the possible things that could go wrong. I had never done an arch with a 'hanging' keystone before. Dan commented that the element of risk we were taking in front of the audience of onlookers made it seem very much like a busker's performance involving an escape trick or dangerous juggling act. We could have passed around a hat and paid for at least some of Christopher's expenses I expect.

The result ended up looking every bit as dynamic as we had hoped.  There was a lot of forethought and careful rehearsing before the final lifting and fitting of the very heavy centre upright between half arches and the two forms. After we had secured it with lots of well tapered shims, we carefully removed the centering. The crowd of about 150 people cheered as we successfully pulled the form out. 

The structure which would likely stand for over a hundred years is only supposed to remain at the Victoria Highland Games in Topaz Park for Sunday ( Gaelic Pride Day ?)  before we take it down. 

Jose took this great shot of the Celtic Cross with the view of the Scottish flag in the background, cleverly aligned to appear in the gap between the four independent cross pieces. Who knows, maybe the photo will become a new promotional image for those rallying for an independent Scotland.