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.