Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A sad Groundhog Day

Writer director Harold Allen Ramis died on Monday February 24 at the age of 69
One of his films, Groundhog Day, is my all time favorite comedy.
I very rarely watch a movie twice, but this one I've seen many times and still enjoy subtleties I missed on previous viewings.
It also has a very spiritual message. There is a 'timeless' cathartic redemptive quality to it.

I can't think of how any of this relates to 'thinking with my hands' except to say that our hands learn after days and days of monotonous continuous practice (and rebellion), how to do some amazingly beautiful and useful things. 

Here's to a man who showed us how to laugh at the repetitiveness of our existence, and get through each same day with a smile.

10 Facts You Didn’t Know about Groundhog Day  

Monday, February 24, 2014

Pediment Arch Part 3

Each voussoir had to be shaped and then carefully dressed with a toothed chisel to give a mottled texture.

The basketball backboard looking thing is the form for the stones in the arch. It also provides a good space for drawing what it is going to look like.

Final under arch dressing

A clever fitting to create a dropped keystone

Timeless beauty

A place to discover as you walk across the property

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Back to Beauty - The revolution is coming !

Thanks to John Fisher for making me aware of this powerful counter culture documentary. 

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Pediment Arch Part 2

These long red sandstone sticks are a naturally formed geological phenomena. It is quarried in only a few places in  New Mexico . Here Kyle is showing a class of local Gualala students how we can these split these huge stones long ways with feather and wedges to make even thinner sticks.

Kyle and Sean have painstakingly shaped and fitted together both pairs of supporting stick posts for the pediment arch and lowered them into the ground using a simple tripod and a complicated machine called a Gradal. Concrete was used to hold the posts permanently in place.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Drawings of the pediment arch.

Last November Patrick McAfee and I had a series of email discussions about the arch we had been asked to build in California this winter.  Knowing my love for ruins he came up with an idea to construct a classical pediment arch ( these are Patrick's drawings you see here) incorporating the big red sandstone 'sticks' from New Mexico for posts we used in the seating areas we built last year. 

I liked the concept too of creating an architectural vista where one could look through an arch and see another one at a distance, a replication, not necessarily an identical copy but often reasonably close. The vista would frame a particular view. Patrick wrote " It's an 18th/19th century concept associated with follies and Arcadia that I'm sure you are aware about. " 

When we arrived there we decided to try to site a single arch, having the bridge that we were also still building, framed off in the distance. 

We described the pediment arch to Kyle Schlagenhauf, a skilled California based stone craftsman, who had joined us this year at Gualala to build too, and asked if he and Sean Smyth would like to take the project on.

They in fact were really excited to do it. Building it using dry stone construction methods would be quite a challenge but Kyle and Sean proved they were certainly up for it, and together with Matt's help, pulled it off brilliantly.

Tomorrow there will be photos of the actual arch being built and more description of the process.

All the proportions on classical pediment arches are worked out so as to maximize the visual appeal of it. The height of the opening, for instance, being determined by doubling the diameter of the circle made by the arc of the arch.  ( As seen in this drawing Patrick did for us when we were seated around the dinner table ) 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

I Spade Rocks

Get those rocks 'fixed' before they start wandering off to the neighbours.

Monday, February 17, 2014

I Heart Rocks

I Love Rocks

Big ones, small ones
Fat ones, tall ones

Heavy ones, light ones
Dull ones, bright ones 

Weighty rocks, hard to lift
Pebbly ones, that fingers sift

Flat ones and ugly ones  
Smooth ones and rugged ones

Square ones, round ones
Tossed ones, found ones

Faceless or faceted'
Time worn ones, or just blasted

Polished ones and precious stones
Fosiled ones with tiny bones

Layered ones with veins and stripes
Building stones of different types

Perfect ones for building walls
Or awkward ones to use at all  

Boulders stretching out for many miles
or gathered stones in tiny piles

Always do I think about 'em
And what 
would I do 
without them.

There'd be no shores, no mountain tops
No cliffs, no canyons, no stone outcrops
No quarry yards with tons of stone
Just emptiness, a rockless home 

There'd be no stuff to make concrete
To build our buildings and our streets
No beach with smooth stones fun to find
No gems or minerals to be mined
Fields and forests would all be bare
No lichen covered moss rocks there

How do I love rocks? Let me count the ways.
I love them to their depth and breadth and height
A stone can reach where nought else might
For they end up being such ideal shapes.
I love them in great Teutonic plates
Most quiet forms, that speak their wisdom thus
I love them freely, and love how they love us
I love them purely, in tumbled mass
I love them in the way they last and last
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love them with a love I seemed to lose
With my hurried ways---and misspent youth
I love them in their simple life --- and, if they choose,
I shall but somehow put some to even better use.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Rocket Scientists

It was a full moon last Friday, on Valentines Day

It got me thinking about the relationship between my love of rocks and space.

The moon is like a big rock revolving in space.

Funnily enough yesterday on my way up to Alta Sierra I saw two guys with bikes out standing by the side of the road, hitchhiking. I stopped to give them a lift. They threw their bikes in the back of the truck and explained they were planning to do 'Just Outstanding', a crazy mountain bike trail with a grueling 5000 foot descent, known to be one of the best mountain bike trails in the Southern Sierra. 

After we talked about dry stone walling and biking a bit, I discovered they were robotic engineers with Astrorobotic  www.astrobotic.com in Pittsburgh. They were taking a day off from where they are stationed this month, at Masten Space Systems (located at the Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave California) where their team is test flying a landing sensor package complete with a brand new lunar landing software system on board. Its being flown over the desert by a loony thing called the Masten Xombie suborbital rocket. 

So these guys were real rocket scientists ! 

Astrobotic is one of 29 teams competing for the Google Lunar X Prize -an award of up to $25 million for the first privately funded team to land on the moon and travel 500 meters, sending data and video to Earth.  

It turns out the moon is a hot destination these days.
The Chinese even landed a space module there recently, but they are apparently disqualified because they are not 'private', or even 'public' for that matter - just a 'republic'.

Anyway, after exchanging email addresses I dropped Fraser and Kevin off at the summit and descended to my own private rock robotics program, moving heavy stones in my space dolly and preparing them for lift off. 

I've started thinking about being the first man to 'wall' on the moon, too. 
Great idea? Maybe there's some Google prize money there as well !  It should be a lot easier than down here.  The moon has one sixth the gravity of earth. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Menno Braam's new website

 Menno Braam, a dry stone waller in Toronto Ontario has recently created a new website of his work.  You can find it at whistling-dwarf-stonework

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Christopher Barclay's New Website

Christopher Barclay a dry stone waller in Victoria has recently created a new website of his work.

You don't have to scratch around far to see some really nice work there

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A river runs though it

Amanda took these great photos of the bridge we built at Fish Rock Road last week.
The rains came after we left, and where there was no water before, a rushing stream suddenly appeared.  

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Location location location.

The students at the workshop in Redwood City last weekend built these lovely dry stone benches inside the service bay at the Lyngso stoneyard because it was very rainy outside . 
While it was a good looking installation, had we built it more precisely in the 'Bay' area I think it would have looked even better

Sittin' in the rocks in the bay.

Or maybe we should have built it overlooking the hills in Napa County.

Monday, February 10, 2014


Two of the thee benches we built at Redwood City last weekend

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Dry walling in the rainy season.

We worked on this wall for the last two and half weeks in unusually dry conditions. It was supposed to be the rainy season here in California.The very day the winged wall was completed however it did start raining and the drought effectively ended in Gualala. The empty pond on the property, we've heard since we left, is now filled and overflowing.
Our job was done. We've flown on to other parched areas now, hopefully to bring relief there also.

This particular wall on the property was purposely built not just without any mortar but without any saws or grinders. Theres a rugged honesty to it. Part of it's appeal too I think is the rhythm created by the repetition of the winged shape. Build something in dry stone once and it may look good, but build the exact same shape again next to it, or three or more times, and the appeal increases exponentially. 

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Remaining a dry stone waller in the bay area

I was amused to see the poster that Lyngso had advertising the workshop this weekend - a photo of me at the wall we built there two years ago balanced on the through stones.

This weekend is supposed to be very rainy. 
A deluge is forecast for the San Francisco Bay area.
Luckily they have moved the workshop indoors into the machinery repair bay area.
It's a great space to work.

This is the fire pit seating design I did on Sketchup that my students and I will attempt to build   with a type of stone they call moss rock stone .

Friday, February 7, 2014

Gerry Sheilds

 Gerry is a great guy and a hard worker. 
He may not be the world's best waller 
but his hearting is in the right place 
Most of the things we do at Gualala we could not do without him.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Modal variations on a theme

At some point nearing the end of construction, Patrick McAfee decided the arched bridge we were building needed a two-light medieval round arched window to finish it off.
That evening at supper he did a drawing of what it would look like on the paper tablecloth.

He and John Divona spent days measuring carving and fitting it togetherfrom chunks of buff sandstone from Idaho

I helped out by cutting a few chamfers into the middle mullion. It's very contemplative work , not like dry stone walling, smashing stones with sledge hammers. 

Wafting through the trees we could just about hear monks singing Gregorian chant in the background (from my Bose Soundlink Mini) . With the only other sound being that of Patrick and I chipping, it felt like we had blissfully floated back to another time and place.

All the bridge including the window was done 'dry laid'. How the centre mullion was secured is a subject for a future post .