Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Art of Millard Sheets

Honoring Millard Sheets

A lot of us are looking forward attending to this event in California. It is part of the 2015 Stone Symposium. And yes it's not exactly stone subject matter but still very stylish and it is sure to inspire.
Hope to see you there!  

CREATIVE COLLABORATION – Honoring Millard Sheets: Master of Art & Design

Millard Sheets

A day-long event honoring artist Millard Sheets

Thursday, January 14, 2016 from 8:30am to 5:30pm
Scottish Rite Masonic Center, 19th Ave & Sloat, San Francisco, CA 
Make reservations online -- see details below
January 14—prior to Stonework Symposium 2016 in San Francisco, CA
Location: Scottish Rite Masonic Center
19th Ave & Sloat, San Francisco, CA
(directly across from Stern Grove Amphitheater)
Advanced registration required online at Brown Paper Tickets:
$20 Lectures & Lunch (includes Lectures, Tours and Lunch – no reception)
$35 Lectures & Reception (includes Lectures, Tours and Reception – no lunch)
$50 Lectures, Lunch & Reception (includes Lectures, Tours Lunch and Closing Reception)
$0 Lectures and Tours ONLY — free (does NOT include lunch or reception)
Registration requested by January 7
Free lectures & tours and no host lunch & reception are offered to Stone Foundation members, Gualala Arts members, Tile Heritage Foundation members, invited guests, and the public at large.
Millard Sheets, 1948 Studio Portrait for LIFE Magazine
Millard Sheets, 1948 Studio Portrait for LIFE Magazine
MILLARD SHEETS, painter, educator, muralist and architectural designer, was an all-inclusive artist who collaborated freely with his fellow artists. This resulted in the construction of buildings and the creation of tile and mosaic murals, artistic masterpieces across the United States, with artwork, inside and out, as an integral part of the design. The work was created by many artists, masters of all media, working together.
On Thursday, January 14,  2016, art enthusiasts will gather at the Scottish Rite Masonic Center in San Francisco—a building designed by Millard Sheets.
Peter Mullins, Stone Foundation member and sponsor of the day’s events, believes “Millard Sheets is the single most influential individual in art in California in the 20th century.”
This day features artist Tony Sheets, Millard Sheets’ son, accompanied by colleague Jim Cogan sharing their personal stories; Adam Arenson, Associate Professor of History at Manhattan College, chronicling Sheets’ accomplishments; and Lillian Sizemore, accomplished mosaicist, scholar, and author of “A Guide to Mosaic Sites: San Francisco”; plus others.
The presenters’ mission will be to share their stories and talents in a collective atmosphere in which Millard would have eagerly been a participant. Craftsmen and artists working in related mediums (stone, tile) will amaze visitors with their stories and displays in a day of discovery.
Tours to the magnificent stone walls at Stern Grove Amphitheater and to nearby historic tile installations are also in the offing.
The Tile Heritage Foundation, Gualala Arts Center, Stone Foundation, The Scottish Rite Masonic Center and other Sheets enthusiasts are supporting this day of events.
Please join us in this one-of-a-kind adventure into the world of Millard Sheets. More details to follow.
Additional information available: and

Millard Sheets at work on Notre Dame Mural Panel
Millard Sheets at work on Notre Dame Mural Panel

Schedule of Events

8:30-9:00       Informal reception with coffee/tea and cookies
9:00-9:30       Welcome to the Scottish Rite Masonic Center
9:30-9:45       Introduction to the day’s program and to the first speakers.
Peter Mullins, Tony Sheets, Jim Cogan
9:45-10:30    A Tapestry of Life: A Storytelling Journey into the World of Millard Sheets with Tony Sheets and Jim Cogan
10:30-11:00   Break: coffee/tea and cookies
11:00-11:15    A Tapestry of Life (continues) with Tony Sheets and Jim Cogan
11:15-12:15    California Modern: Art and Architecture from the Millard Sheets Studio with Adam Arenson
12:15-1:45     Lunch followed by tour options (each 30-45 minutes)
– Tour of Masonic Center with Rick Capellino
– Tour to Stern Grove Amphitheater
– Tour to local Millard Sheets installation with Joseph Taylor
1:45-2:00       A Tapestry of Life (continues) with Tony Sheets and Jim Cogan
2:00-3:00       Millard Sheets and the Tree of Life: A Case Study in Northern California with Lillian Sizemore
3:00-4:00       Millard Sheets: Master of Art & Design
A Panel Discussion with David “Sus” Susalla as moderator:
Adam Arenson, Rick Capellino, Jim Cogan, Tony Sheets and Lillian Sizemore as panelists
4:00                Closing remarks
4:00-5:30       Reception with Presenter’s offerings
Granite Mosaic Mural at Notre Dame


Peter Mullins, a stone and tile advocate and collector, Stone Zone, Gualala, California
Peter Mullins is a native of San Francisco and a resident of Gualala (the home of Millard Sheets for 28 years). He is a member/supporter of the Stone Foundation, which is holding its 14th Symposium beginning January 15th in SF; the Tile Heritage Foundation, leading the effort of this presentation; and the Gualala Arts Center, where the Stone Symposium will continue beginning January 18th for 10 days. Peter is currently working with the City of San Francisco to reduce/remove a wall of ficus trees blocking a series of Sheets’ mosaics on the Chase Bank building at Van Ness and Lombard. Resulting from his extensive research into the life and accomplishments of the artist, he has concluded ”Millard Sheets is the single most influential individual in art in California in the 20th century.”


Tony Sheets and James Cogan
Title:  A Tapestry of Life: A Storytelling Journey into the World of Millard Sheets (60 minutes includes Q&A)
Tony Sheets, the youngest of the four Sheets’ children, is an accomplished artist with a passion for both painting and sculpture. A collaborator by nature and training, Tony works with other artists and clients to create artworks to suit their needs. Growing up among a community of artists in Southern California, he apprenticed at many different studios representing numerous mediums, which has enhanced his appreciation for the arts in general. Today in addition to serving as designer and director of the Millard Sheets Center for the Arts at the Los Angeles County Fair, Tony is engaged in saving installed artworks by his father and other artists, thus far relocating six of Millard’s large painted murals, with more to come.
James Cogan, a professional storyteller for 28 years, historian-educator-journalist, weaves a web of fascinating stories into an exciting narrative that illuminates both the personal and professional highlights of the life of Millard Sheets. A close friend of Tony Sheets, Millard’s son, Jim creates a tapestry of some of the more memorable and influential moments of this consummate icon of American art. Jim continues to collaborate with Tony Sheets to celebrate Millard’s life at numerous venues throughout the state. An award-winning spoken word artist, Jim is a member of the National Storytelling Association and has been featured at the National Storytelling Festival and numerous festivals and conferences across the West.

Adam Arenson, Associate Professor of History and Director of the Urban Studies Program, Manhattan College
Title:  California Modern: Art and Architecture from the Millard Sheets Studio (60 minutes includes Q&A)
Adam Arenson, a California native, is an associate professor of history and the director of the urban studies program at Manhattan College. He is finishing a book about Millard Sheets’ art and architecture and preparing a museum exhibition of studio artifacts. Arenson has interviewed more than 60 people involved in the creation and preservation of the artworks and visited more than 100 of the locations in six states. His research on Sheets has appeared in documentaries, newspaper profiles, and on his research blog, His previous books include The Great Heart of the Republic: St. Louis and the Cultural Civil War and Civil War Wests: Testing the Limits of the United States, which was accompanied by a museum exhibition.

Lillian Sizemore, Mosaic Detective and mosaic subject-matter expert
Title:  Millard Sheets and the Tree of Life: A Case Study in Northern California (60 minutes includes Q&A)
A glittering golden mosaic discovered in a private home in Gualala, CA sheds light on the importance of the ‘Tree of Life’ motif for the Sheets Studio. Speaking from a maker’s point of view, Lillian situates this mosaic within the context of Sheets’ other work, including examples of the ‘Tree of Life’ from ancient to contemporary times. Trees are our friends. The Gualala mosaic can be viewed as part of the Stonework XIV Symposium.
Lillian Sizemore uses her hands-on insights as an accomplished mosaic maker to enhance scholarship on the transmission of mosaic knowledge from its European traditions to midcentury America. When she moved to San Francisco in the mid-1990s, the mosaic murals and architecture of Millard Sheets sparked her curiosity and inspiration. She began making study trips to Southern California where she befriended Denis O’Connor (1933-2007), who had worked with Millard since 1960, helping him to document the Home Savings murals and organize his vast photographic archive. In addition to her many published articles, Lillian has lectured and offered demonstrations at a number of prestigious institutions in the U.S. and abroad. She is a doctoral researcher at the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts in London.

David “Sus” Susalla, Executive Director, Gualala Arts
Title: Millard Sheets: Master of Art & Design. A Panel Discussion (60 minutes includes Q&A)
David “Sus” Susalla, who will serve as moderator for the panel discussion, grew up in Detroit where he attended numerous theater, jazz and chamber music concerts fueling his passion for the arts. Since 2004, this passion has been channeled into a career as Executive Director of Gualala Arts. Millard and Mary Sheets, who established an oceanfront compound in Gualala in 1960, were instrumental in creating a thriving arts community over the years and thus the obvious connection to the local and vibrant Arts Center. Four generations of the Sheets family have gathered at the Arts Center they help build.
Panelists: Adam Arenson, Rick Capellino, Jim Cogan, Tony Sheets and Lillian Sizemore

Millard Sheets At the Easel
Millard Sheets at the easel

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Stone Building Time

To everything there is a season....

A time to build up, a time to break down.
A time to dance, a time to mourn.
A time to cast away stones, 
A time to gather them up and build something timely .

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Spanning the Seasons

Spanning the Seasons

After Dry Stone Walling Across Canada now for over 14 years, Cornish Hollow Bridge, which we built in 2006, best represents for me the wonder and mystery associated with building only with stone. 

This bridge (like the other 11 we've built ) continues to span the seasons with a timeless serenity and composure.

I want to take this time leading up to the holidays to wish all friends followers students and lovers of stone much peace and fulfillment as you cross over into a new year.

Monday, December 21, 2015

'Bearly' Passing Inspection

A friend of mine who follows Thinking W. M. H. sent me this video. 

Mike has a friend who is a bush pilot up in Northern Canada and took this video a few years ago of a polar bear checking out a dry stone wall near the airport in Churchill, MB.

Thanks Mike for the clever caption too - 'Bearly' Passing Inspection. !

I wonder if readers might come up with other fitting 'polar puns' that would go with this video especially as we head into Christmas?

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Moving Heavy Stones

A friend of mine wrote recently.

"Do you know a good way to construct a portable gantry crane?
I need to lift, move and lower stone in the one thousand pound size.
I'm cladding my friend's new indoor fireplace with six inch thick slabs of stone.
I have planed to drill the hearth and columns and use a slip lewis connected to a fall chain, to a hook, to an I-beam to lift and lower."

I wrote back.

" I have a tripod contraption that consists of three 4 by 4 cedar posts connected at the top with a three way metal bracket that pivots and spreads enough to adjust how far the legs are apart, but still stay connected at the top. "

This thing called the ‘Smartripod' allows me to attach a pulley. To move/walk a heavy stone, I strap or chain it and lift it with the hoist just to the point where there is almost no weight on the ground. Then I swing/slide the stone a foot or so over, lower it and then move the legs over one at a time, lift the stone and do it all again until it's where I need it "

Two summers ago Mark and I used the tripod to lift heavy stone treads off my truck, walk them over to where the stairs were being made and lower them exactly where we wanted them to go

Here is a closeup of the fabricated metal Smartripod

All you need to do is add the wooden legs (and a hoist)

Below is the link where you can order it

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Guano Walls

Stone walls on Isla GuaƱape Norte in Peru prevent precious bird droppings, called guano, from falling into the Pacific. Coveted as fertilizer, the dung must be reaped by hand. Here a worker returns sifted-out feathers and bones.

Friday, December 18, 2015



That dyke has been standing around a long time
without once having realised it is a dyke:
but ignorance is no embarrassment to dykes.

Dykes enjoy being noticed:
they have no other pleasure in the world.
Insects, weasels, the smallest birds –
and numerous other creatures
dykes wouldn’t recognise by name –
have been noticing dykes
ever since dykes were invented
by the first people who wanted
to keep things in or out.
Nothing understands a dyke like weasels,
and they have a lot going for them
once they get inside a dyke.
Birds rear their delicate families in dykes,
and weasels certainly know that too.

Dykes never actually get bored.
They never think, as far as anybody knows,
but they do a lot of looking
in a stupid, determined way.

The birthplace of dykes is where they are
and always will be.
The graves of dykes are dykes themselves,
no longer willing to stand up
to the responsibility of being dykes.

by Angus Martin
from: The Larch Plantation

Thanks to Norman Haddow for sending this poem my way.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Suspended Suspense

A dry stone bridge, like this one we built in Prince Edward County years ago, is arguably more of a suspension bridge than what is commonly termed a 'suspension bridge'.

Unlike a steel bridge where the road is hung from cables, the stones forming the arch are actually ‘suspended' in air. To a certain extent  'Time' in a slightly different sense of the same word is ‘suspended’ too, as the arch's magical existence is prolonged for as long as those stones don’t give way. 

Is this not suspenseful ?

Incidentally, we are in the process of planning for another one of these magical bridges to be built this coming July. This time it will be in Perth Ontario. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Gas Line Goes In

Recently here in our town, this wonderfully old beautifully constructed dry stone retaining wall suffered the indignity of having a deep trench dug along it's entire length and piles of dirt thrown up carelessly against it, all so that a modern gas line could be put in. 

The situation looked dire.

Let's just hope the ground under the wall wasn't too disturbed

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A man who gets right into his work

Though this photo might suggest the contrary, Scott George is actually avoids complimenting his own work 
- but I will.

Scott is one of those invisible fencers who does fantastic work, but you will likely never see it. Hidden from public haunt, he and his delightful stone creations can only be discovered if you visit his property and ask for tour.

Even then Scott plays down his talents and disguises himself by becoming invisible and
letting the walls be seen.


Monday, December 14, 2015

Pretending to be a stone wall

During the Second World War, the British infantry tank the "Griffin", a Malta based Matilda mark III, was painted so it could not be distinguished amidst the Maltese environment which was rich in low white stone walls .


Sunday, December 13, 2015

If I built this fortress...

As I returned across the fields I'd know
I recognised the walls that I once made
I had to stop in my tracks amazed
That these were stones that somehow I had laid!
And if I've built this fortress then how and when
The circa I’m not sure of but then again,
Just let me build it higher yet
Let every stone on stone be set
And have these massive battlements extend.

I’d like to build this fortress with all my heart
Increasing and extending walls to build it higher
And then climb up and stand alone
The wide expanse beneath my feet
And let me see the work of my desire.

A rewording of 'Fortress Around Your Heart' with apologies to Sting

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Excerpts from 'Collaborations in Stone'

Stones in a dry laid wall collaborate.  They do all the things the thesaurus offers as synonyms for the word. They co-operate, join forces, team up, band together, work together, participate and combine. It is this association, this collective connectivity of stone that yields itself so well to being worked with in the company of others. 

While the traditional view of walling may be seen as a lonely task involving long days plugging away in the harsh elements on your own, building endless stretches of wall that no one will ever see or appreciate, this is not my experience. The many exciting opportunities to build stone projects, ones that I’ve dreamed up and/or designed with others, has almost always included working in the company of other like-minded enthusiasts as myself. In a sense we are all common labourers employed by the stones, learning to work together the way they do.

This is a wonderful thing. Perhaps, other than being in an orchestra, there is nothing so satisfying as the unity of collectively building something together using only stones. The performers join to create a special ‘spacial' music. The walls sculptures and other various installations in this book are more recent examples of these types of collaborations. The projects for the most part stand as permanent reminders that people with a common love of stone have worked together in harmony to leave structures that may continually delight and inspire others the same way.

Page 3 of Collaborations in Stone

Friday, December 11, 2015

Collaborations in Stone

I am very pleased to announce that the fifth in a series of special hardcover full-colour books of various designs and dry laid projects I have worked on entitled 'Collaborations in Stone' will be available before January 1st 2016

The 80 page book covers the period 2013— 2015 and includes seminars, public installations, restorations, sculptures, stone balancing and other private work.

The price of $90 per copy (without shipping) is being charged for this privately printed coffee table book, and represents the actual cost of the book.

If you would like more information, sample pages, or would like to order a copy of Collaborations in Stone 2013-2015
please e-mail 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Strangler Cairn

British artist Andy Goldsworthy was commissioned by the Department of Environment and Resource Management, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Division to create Strangler Cairn for the Conondale Range Great Walk.
Goldsworthy is noted for his sensitive response to the environment, which made him a perfect choice for working in the national park.
Strangler Cairn is made from granite and slate sourced from a local quarry. It is also planted with a small strangler fig - Ficus watkinsiana - which, over time will grow and 'strangle' the cairn.

link  Strangler Cairn 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015


Those of us who are building structures of stone have to appreciate the limitless opportunity for creativity this unique material presents. 

Even a small pile of stones possesses an incredibly wide pallet of spacial contours from which to work from, and yet there remains a finite number of ways they can be arranged structurally.   While they have this mysterious ability to stay ‘connected’ indefinitely, (provided the majority of all adjoining shapes have been configured carefully enough) the permutations of possible designs in any given system, and more importantly, the number of sustainably structural combinations within that system, are not endless. 

So in terms of permutations, and keeping our 'options open' as wallers, if we are thinking about arranging such random things as stones into some sort of structural order, we have two options. 

The first and surest method of maximizing the number of ways any and all of the stones can be fit together, is to shape them all into modular blocks and confine the pattern to an ashlar or standard coursed masonry style of construction. That way every permutation is possible because virtually any stone will fit anywhere within the grid . The problem is that (even though the wall might hold together a long time ) because the pattern looks so repetitive, the stonework won’t hold our attention for very long.  

The second way to go involves embracing the extreme ‘randomness' of the material, particularly stone gathered from fields, collected from hedgerows or extracted raw from the quarries.  By choosing to use ‘unworked’ stone then, we are correct to assume there will more variety of style. Hopefully there will also be that satisfying sense of the stones having come naturally together on their own. The fact is choosing this method  there will be far fewer permutations for individual random stones to fit just anywhere, but far more parameters in terms of patterns of interest created within the wall, if and when they do. 

The formula if there is one, is to let each stone find a place for its unique shape imbedded somewhere specifically within the whole. The more rugged the material, the more random the shapes, the less dressed the faces - the greater the spacial problem solving is required. Appropriately, it is this amazing myriad of 'solved spacial problems' within the pattern of the wall that makes the wall look so attractive.  

The skill required to do this kind of 'random fitting' is no less than what is required to cut and shape stones to fit them into an ordered grid pattern. 

The many combinations and 'happy marriages' of unrelated shapes coming together become the 'eureka moments' which happen for the waller and then linger in the wall to be appreciated again and again by others who come along later. 

As crafts men and women, and as artists, we have the opportunity to not just create order, but show off the natural patinas and colours AND the unique pattern of contours created by every stone we put our hands on.

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Insatiable Stone-Eating Gravel-Making Machine.

Every year millions and millions of tons 

of perfectly good building stones 

get ripped out of the earth

mechanically crushed 

up into gravel and