Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Saw This

I saw this low dry stone wall last week. These stones look to be in some kind of altered state. I wonder if they're Stihl feeling a buzz?

Monday, July 27, 2015

Horse Fence

Here is a section of that first 30 feet of horse farm wall we're rebuilding.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Stones and Bones

We are finding a number of old bottles and metal but mostly bones in what was the old dry stone wall that surrounds the old horse farm where we are working. We recon they might be horse bones. We've pulled apart a lot of the hedge row and are now rebuilding the wall. 

It's funny, some of the smoother unusual limestone shapes we've come across look a lot like old dry bones too. Have the bones started turning into stones? Perhaps.

Maybe the longer ones were used as 'through bones'.

Should we reuse them in this old horse fence again?  

Lots of questions 

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Irish-Canadian Dry Stone Festival

I think this is going to be one of the best Canadian dry stone wall festivals ever. It will certainly be the best Irish-Canadian one! 

Friday, July 24, 2015

True to Form

" The Fyrish Monument on Fyrish Hill is a huge structure of three central arches and four flanking towers. It was built in 1783 by Sir Hector Munro - the local laird. He had been commander of British Forces in India, and defeated the Dutch at the Battle of Negapatam. On his return to the Highlands, the Clearances were underway and many people were starving. At that time, famine relief was provided only in return for work, for fear that feeding the starving would make them lazy, and the construction of the monument was one of the tasks given to the local destitute. It was said that Sir Hector rolled stones from the top of the hill to the bottom, thereby extending the amount of time worked and paying the laborers for additional hours. It is a replica of the gates of Negapatam, to enhance Munro's glory. From the monument, the views are awesome, with the whole sweep of the Cromarty firth below, from the North Sea right inland towards the great Ben Wyvis. 

True to form, John and then Fred somehow climbed up on top of one of the columns while the cameras clicked away, catching the boys at play." 

An excerpt from Linda Oswald's informative blog about the Tour of Old Stones that thirteen stone enthusiasts went on last may across Scotland. Fred, seen here pretending to be a statue, is Lind's husband


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Two Clocks

Yesterday was the 100th anniversary of the death of Sir Sandford Fleming, and a celebration of Fleming's life and legacy was held at Fleming College in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada. The event featured the official unveiling of the dry stone sundial outside the Sutherland Campus. Pictured here with me is Sir Sandford Fleming's great-great-grandson, Jock Fleming; and Fleming College president Dr. Tony Tilly.

Sir Sandford Fleming among many other major achievements invented standard time and, in keeping with the theme of tracking time, the sundial serves to highlight his legacy.
I was asked to give a short speech at yesterday's special ceremony and after thanking all those who were involved in the project and talking about the process of designing and building this unique dry stone structure I went on to talk about the preciousness of time and the fact that we should make very effort not to waste it, not just by avoiding procrastinating, but also by slowing down and learning to being patient. 
There's a clock inside the building (and you can see one on the building behind the sundial) that tells you let's you know how much time you have until your next class, and there's a different clock outside, a stone one, that tells you to slow down and not be in such a rush.

Timing is everything. Just as we need to be efficient and use time wisely, by not wasting it, we also need to know when (and how) to slow the pace down and 'experience' the passing of time. The sundial helps remind us to take time to consider life, as we compare the subtle changes of shade and light caused by the imperceptible movement of the sun across the sky. A big part of being on time is being in time. This includes being 'in the moment' and appreciating the expanse of time contained in every day we've been given, as well as learning to enjoy the gradual unfolding of the seasons.

The sundial was a unique collaboration among students from the UK and Canada. Educator Tony Lowe and six of his students from Peterborough Regional College near Cambridge, England, joined five Canadian students in the Dry Stone Walling Across Canada workshop that we organized with Fleming College to build the sundial at the front entrance. It features a naturally-formed 15-foot-long limestone gnomon, and the shadow it casts points to each hour marker telling the correct time as the sun crosses the sky.

You can read more about the building of the sundial by clicking on these links to other blog posts


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Watering Dry Stones

We dry stone wallers have basically always been primitive hunter-gatherers. The idea of growing our own stones has never caught on.

Monday, July 20, 2015

One Man/Two Woman Stones.

When we are describing the types of sizes we will be needing on a project we often refer to them as 'one man' or 'two man' stones. We sometimes forget that there are other sizes too. Here Virginia and Erika are loading a 'two woman' stone into the trailer. It should be noted that it doesn't require one man to be watching.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

What Would Andy Do On Our Beach ?

We went down to Lake Ontario to the west beach of Port Hope to create temporary art installations yesterday. It was a very hot day!
The theme of using found objects to make temporary sculptures was inspired by the work of Andy Goldsworthy, possibly one of the best and most creative artists alive today.

In keeping with his vision, we took the day to be spontaneous too and do some creative things ourselves and then took some fun photos of the pieces we felt inspired to make.
We discovered you don't need to be Andy to make people smile and look at things differently.

Here are some of the things we created with stones and other things we found on the beach.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

When does a pile of stones become a wall?

It seems our brains are only too willing to recognize shapes, patterns and structure.  We give the universe the benefit of the doubt.

When we look at the stones we've started stacking, our eyes have a built in tendency to recognize the plane and line of a wall with only the minimum of prompting. 

Studies show that our brains are strangely pre-ordained to make this visual order out of chaos.

This ability to find order where there is none is something we can’t turn off.  

We mentally begin to construct the form of the wall out of the slightest beginnings and rearrangements of rubble around us. Just looking at the few stones that we have already piled in front of us requires this ability to organize and see order, even when there isn't very much yet. Creating that order seems to come naturally because we actually see it before it happens.

We are logical beings, so we visually anticipate the form the wall will be taking, and logically it does take on that form . It is the logical structure we have already seen.

Stones fit together 'because'. But they don't just fit causally, they look like walls because we impose reason on the stones.

We delight to re-arrange the stones so they not only work, but they make sense visually. 

This bias towards seeing stones 'ordered' before they are is a function of vision and cognitive anticipation. 

It is a positive human tendency and worth thinking about the next time you come across something looking like it is possibly becoming something else.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Revisiting the Kayak Storage/Parking Area

Back in November 2011 we started an unusual dry stone project that my friend Mikelos had envisioned for some time in order to better use the space on his tiny property more effectively. 

He needed to make an area to park his truck on top of a drop off that ran beside his house AND to store his three 16 foot long kayaks somewhere as well. 

The resulting arched chamber which was completed over several months was not only a success in terms of structure and efficiency of space, it also ended up looking beautiful. 

I revisited with him last week and took these final photos. It looks great now that everything has healed over. 

It reminds me of something I'd come across at the end of some narrow stone steps or arriving through a tiny stone passageway in the picturesque coastal village of DeiĆ  in Mallorca 


Other 'Thinking With My Hands' posts on this project can be found by pressing the links below.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Tons of Spuds

I'm looking forward to supervising a special Kid's Wall Building Activity, working with the children of parents attending the Dry Stone Walling Festival on Amherst Island this September 25, 26 and 27. We're hoping to build some spud walls, and maybe other weird and wonderful structures out of tons of fresh potatoes.

For more information on the festival go to  2015 Amherst Island Dry Stone Walling Festival

More details about Potato Walling will be posted here on Thinking With My Hands in the next few weeks.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

If You Were Mother Nature

If you were Mother Nature what colour would you paint these rocks?

Would you paint them solid colours? Would you try to stay inside the lines?

Maybe a soft pastel might look nice?

Here's what she created.

Monday, July 13, 2015


Today my focus is on the way the stones are fit together in the dry stone retaining walls you often find in places like Mallorca and Majorca.
They are neither coursed nor random, coarse nor overly refined, round nor square, standard nor uncommon, angular or curvy, obvious or particularly obscure…The walls are just different to what most of us wallers in North America are used to.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Sturdy? You could drive a truck over it !

Got a great video from Doug McGraw last week.

He told me in an email earlier this year, inspired by the bridges I'd done in Canada, he was going to be building a bridge somewhere soon in the States.  Well here it is.  

Congratulations Doug.

Hello John,

I’m attaching a time lapse video of our recently completed dry stone bridge.  


Doug McGraw

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Dry Stone Art Takes Off

Dry stone sculpture. A relatively new kind of additive art. Collectively connected visual expression. A collaboration of enthusiasm and aesthetic sensibilities. Bringing order, structure, whimsy, and hopefully good taste together in stone. Sometimes grasping beyond our reach but always creating opportunities to let stones speak. A way of connecting inspiration and form. Revealing the potential inherent in stones held together by simple people using simple physics

Friday, July 10, 2015

Spiral Ascent

This year's art installation at Haliburton School of the Arts was designed for the sculpture forest. It's called Spiral Ascent. The design is a fibonacci spiral tower with three fibo-niches built into the sides.

Dave and Marion built one of the fibbo-niches

Virginia and Jim built another one

This is what the spiral looked like on day one.

This is the spiral at the end of day four.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

All sorts of stones still needed.

We needed more than the 12 tons of stones we've already used for the large Fibonacci ramp we're making at the art school, so yesterday morning we made a field trip to the local quarry in Minden Ontario. 

After having worked two days building with this lovely stratified granite the students had a good Idea what to be looking for. 

At the quarry we loaded a lot of hearting in buckets. We also found more of the medium sized pieces we needed. We placed thinner flag size stones in the trailer as well as naturally tapered stones for bedding flat coping stones of our ramp on an angle, as well as tapered voussoir stones for around the arched niches we have incorporated into the design. 

Oh, and we needed some large Liquorice All Sorts too.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Fibonacci on Grade

The students and I are creating an ascending Fibonacci ramped platform thing out of local dry laid stone at the Haliburton School of Art in the Haliburton Highlands in Ontario. Th first day after determining where it should go on site, and how it would be oriented on the slight grade, we pieced together the large chunks and connected a continuous spiral course of layered granite. We added gravel to create the beginning of the ramp. 

This structure is a loose adaption of a piece Eric Landman designed and built recently. 
He kindly gave permission to develop his design further which I plan to do in number of ways including adding dry stone arched niches into the mix. 

Stay tuned for tomorrow's edition of Thinking Spirally With My Hands.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Golf balls on the beach

At one point on that recent 'Tour of Old Stones' organized by Margot Miller last May, we took a much needed 'rest day' in Dorhoch, on the east coast of Scotland.  

I spent most of the day on the beach with my good friends Linda and Fred. We goofed around balancing stones and making all sorts of whimsical creations with objects we found there like shells, seaweed, driftwood and yes even golf balls. 

Finding the one lone golf ball in the sand gave us the idea to gather all the roundest golfball-like stones we could find to form this undulating stone necklace.  

Looking back now it seemed like the outing was a kind of practice session for an event that I hope to be leading this July on the west beach of Port Hope.   Here is the link with details concerning that workshop.

What Would Andy Do? Temporary Installations Workshop

Saturday, July 4, 2015