Thursday, March 31, 2016

What to do with white quartzite?

While the field stone walls in most of the Rappahannock County walls are predominately constructed from a speckled oatmealy granite gathered from the land, there is a small amount of random quartzite chunks too speckled in the mix. 

The granite darkens uniformly to an almost charcoal grey. The white quartzite always looks white. 

If you are building a wall and you want to use all the stones you have on your property the question becomes what do you do with the stuff. Maybe it doesn't matter what it looks like if you're just paid to make walls. 

However, dotted in many of the walls I've seen in the county, the white stones look annoying like plastic grocery bags messily blown up against the side of the walls, especially from a distance. 

One solution we noticed was a section of wall where the builder had saved up the white quartzite to make a ribbon of white running along the middle of the wall. Much tidier!

Another fanciful idea we came across was an entrance way where they had spread the quartzite all along the top of the wall like icing on a cake.

I think I would just wait and save enough of it up and make a completely white wall somewhere far away from the house - or maybe not use it at all.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Bounded on both sides by walls

There is a wonderful feeling of enclosure inside the boundaries of a narrow footpath bordered by tall dry stone  walls. I can't explain it. I think it's a combination of security and direction. A 'protection', from the elements, or from something unknown, something unspecific, and at the same time a 'potential' - the freedom to move forward or go back. 

A narrow trail bounded by walls can become a secret route along one's own imagination. Hemmed in on both sides by the fabric of the countryside it's like an existential parting of the sea. The walls provide a way through the landscape which somehow channels the 'here and nowness' of our pilgrimage on earth.      

Rappahannock County farm lane.

In the walled sanctuary of this narrow farm lane Mary and I paused to sit across from each other and enjoy a quiet moment of reflection. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Rappahannock County Walls

Decidedly unrefined and purely functional in appearance, many of the dry stone walls of Rappahannock County still create that rare feeling of correctness. The stones in these walls, even though they look like they all just leapt into place trying to secure a better perch to survey the countryside, are part of a greater iconic landscape. The walls now provide a more painterly view for the passerby. The stones were all gathered and not just thrown off to the sides of the fields in heaps.  

The stones were not wasted. Their purpose in the past - that of keeping livestock contained, continues to define the uniqueness of this part of Virginia

The walls still work. They keep the cows in. There is no need to augment them with barbed wire, cedar posts or electric fence.

And they help us focus better on the different types of beauty right in front of us, around us and off into the distance.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Unlikely (not unlikable) elements

A well built wall stands as a testament to true synthesis and harmony. The pleasing relationship of its parts is neither disguised nor flaunted. The fits are good but not exaggerated . The stones align in ways that look genuine, not postured or showy. 

A good wall is not in conflict with itself or the surrounding landscape. It does not encourage discord but rather brings harmony to the place it resides.

At first glance gravity, mass and friction seem unlikely things for creating any kind of aesthetic cohesion, but these elements, if applied with some humility and yieldedness, can create beautiful long lasting relationships amongst stones of all shapes and sizes.  They can make a wall look like it naturally wants to stay together. Forcing stones into subjection,  whether it be with glues, cements, steel or other mechanical 'fasteners', will rarely ever accomplish that same feeling of 'rightness'.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Spring Warmth.

A  stone wall is a kind metaphor for connectedness between people. It is a cooperation of differences, a celebration of things fitting together without discord. It is not about expedience, nor is it about imposing one’s own 'uncompromising standards'. It is about seeing similarities and agreements within the given parameters. If it doesn’t negate or undermine the enduring quality of goodness and common sense, stones and people will always stay together.

Lasting bonds are only created in the climate of acceptance and adaptability. Certain alignments of malcontents, like clusters of frozen stones locked tightly together in the fortress of winter, may look deceptively solid, even permanent, but are only bound to one another in the bitter atmosphere of negativity and collusion. They will detach and fall apart when the all-prevailing warmth of truth arrives. Spring brings warmth, and then all the frozen clumps of stone break up. The icy defiance of winter is dissolved.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Reaching with his hands

John's six year project has been this giant amphitheatre. He has built it in and around the huge cavity on his property that he excavated to get enough stone material to build his marvellous walls and sheepfolds. 

John admits he's a bit worn out now. 

So he's turning his hand to writing plays. His first one 'Arguing with God' will be performed this May in the dry stone amphitheatre.

Old Testament drama of the chosen people -- the origin of today's American exceptionalism -- with a feminist twist. George Mason's Rick Davis directs 40-actor cast of "Arguing With God" in the Stone Hill Amphitheater. See interview with playwright:

Friday, March 25, 2016

Hands on a book like this

Further to yesterday's post and my wondering about the seeming lack of documentation about the many historic dry stone walls of Rappahannock County Virginia, there is by contrast a wonderfully informative book written by Jane Wooley's mother about the dry laid walls of Kentucky. 

The many photos and descriptions of walling styles alone make this a book worth getting a hold of. The historic documentation and the insight into the style and origin of the rock fences in the counties surrounding Lexington is thoroughly comprehensive.  

It would be a great benefit to anyone studying the history of walling in North America (or just curious about vernacular building styles) to have as scholarly a book as this one, written about the historic dry stone walls of Virginia.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Thinking Wide

This is an example the many walls you find in Rappahannock County. (Note the scale and width is fairly traditional.)

I had known about and seen many of the dry stone walls of New England and Tennessee but had no idea how many there were in Virginia. It was amazing. They were all over Rappahannock County, beautiful old walls made of local stone and with lots of interesting styles and features. It seems strange that so few people seem to know about these walls and that to my knowledge no books have been written about them.

After several months of having an excavator full time on his own property John Henry wrote to tell me he had uncovered and dislodged enough bedrock and loose stone material to build a lot of walls. (He had in fact dug a quarry size hole on his property.)

I kept getting cryptic email messages about how his wall building was going.

It went something like this. - We have tons and tons of stones. We've started building a practise wall through the forest along the northern boundary of the property. I don't want to do the south wall until I get better at building.

The next letter went - The wall is coming along fine. It has started to get wide. I kind of like it.

Another letter left me wondering what was going on. - The wall is about 10 or 12 feet wide now in parts and is taking up a lot of material. It's a good thing I have lots of it.

I checked with him if he didn't mean 10 or 12 feet long?

"Nope , in fact it must be nearly 30 feet wide now along one part and I figure that I wont fill it in but sort of let it have a kind of rounded open area in the middle of the wall. The wall has a few of these enclosed areas now along its length.

I couldn't imagine what he was talking about.

Then he sent me a photo.

I was amazed.

Last week Mary and I had to go see for ourselves .

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Round Stones Versus Not Very Round

John Henry says he used to be a 'round stone chauvinist'. 

When I met him back in 2005 he sought my assistance in locating and gathering 'dinosaur egg' stones - round-shaped, glacial granite. We collected a load of suitable stones at a quarry I knew of here in Ontario, and he arranged a truck to take it back to Washington DC where he was building his unique, angle-of-repose, round stone walls in his back yard. 

After we got to know each other better, having gone down the next year to build a fireplace for him at his other house ( a beautiful rolling hill 18 acre property in Virginia ) and then a year later to help build dry laid walls with him , he announced he'd changed his mind. He was through with round stones. He'd got religion!  

Contrasting stones and walling styles on John's property

He’d watched me building in the only style I considered appropriate for the tons of irregular blue ridge mountain stone in the area that was the only plentiful material available to work with. As he put it, he’d now become a 'flat stone chauvinist', but not until he’d given it a darn good try building round stone walls on his Virginia property too. 

The problem was that the stones in Virginia were not exactly flat either, nor were there enough of them for the project he wanted to take on. At that time, his dream was merely to rebuild the several existing older walls that and add a few new border walls. It was assumed all the walls look fairly traditional in proportion and shape, and be consistent with what is seen a lot of in that area of Rappahannock County. 

Having not found anywhere near enough surface stones on his property to do the job, and not eager to buy and truck in the hundreds of tons he would need to do such an ambitious project, he started looking under the property. 

But that’s tomorrow's story.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Ramping the game up - Competition Over Time

Mary and I had the pleasure of visiting with John Henry again at Stone Hill Farm last weekend on our way back from Washington DC .

There's lots to tell.....but for now maybe watch the video I first posted on 'Thinking With My Hands' back in October of 2015

John's Follies from Bruce Dale on Vimeo.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Rock Flower

The American artist Charles Simonds created this stony miniature piece he calls Rock Flower . It appears in the Hirshorn Museum Collection at the Smithsonian. 

It is made of clay and fine sand.

The tiny brick/stones, in what looks like miniature dry laid walls, are no more than an eighth inch across.

It has a distinct archeological feel to it.

In fact the sculpture creates a feeling of 'diminished time'. An imagined history appears to have shrunk as if it blossomed and had just recently faded, right under our noses. 

This is the power of sculpture, of three dimensions. The objects of art we can walk around and perceive from several perspectives become more freely embedded in our imaginations and the space they take up alters our sense of time as well.  

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Indexing with her hands

What kind of accretion is this ? 

Is it some extreme landscape formed by the timeless accumulation of rocky fragments through some extreme geological process? 

Are these bazaar looking canyons, seldom seen landforms of some far away country?

Were they created through years and years of erosion? 

Or is this laminated landscape some fantasy realm in a science fiction movie that takes place in another galaxy. 

No. It is the real handiwork of conceptual artist Tara Donovan who has glued and stacked thousands and thousands of styrene index cards to create the ten looming towers that can be viewed at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Renwick Gallery in Washington DC.    

Friday, March 18, 2016

Thinking about Painting Rocks

While we were at the National Gallery in Washington DC yesterday I was reminded how difficult it is to paint rocks to look like rocks and stones to look like stones. 

I marvelled though at how well some painters do it !

You would think that since rocks have basically nondescript rough uneven random surfaces, that capturing the essential rock 'look' in a painting would be a fairly simple thing to do, but no. 

It seems strange that painting 'believable' looking rocks and capturing their essence is nearly as difficult as doing portraiture. It's hard to get it 'right'.

Below are some of the better rock and stone 'portraits' we saw. 

This is a close up of an Arnold Bocklin painting.

 Interestingly, in The Sanctuary of Hercules by Arnold Bocklin, it doesn't seem to matter that the actual stonework he is depicting is questionable, as far as style, somehow Arnold (like a lot  of wallers I know) still gets it to look 'right'.

Spilling over.

We are in Washington DC . Today we visited my favourite Goldsworthy piece. 

Over the course of nine weeks in the winter of  2004/2005 Andy Goldsworthy and a crack team of  dry-stone wallers from across the pond installed this slate multi-domed sculpture entitled Roof on the ground level of the East Building of the National Gallery .

Of the many cool things about this installation Ive always liked the way it spills out of the gallery onto the street. Unfortunately the whole building is being renovated (inside and out ) and you can't see it from the street at this time. 

Luckily you can still go inside and see it spilling out of the sculpture foyer, through the plexiglass barrier, and back into the gallery.

As a consolation for those of you who have never actually seen it, I've formatted the above photo to dramatically spill out over the rest of the blog page, in order to help create something of a similar effect.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The National Cathedral

Looking north, the humble All Hallow's (all dry laid) amphitheatre walls lead the eye up to a crescendo of magnificence and architectural wonder: this is the tenth largest Cathedral in the world.

We are visiting Washington DC this week. The National Cathedral was on our list yesterday. Quite magnificent. 

I looked up one of the four massive columns supporting the largest vault over The Crossing of the Cathedral and was surprised to discover that it appeared to have a noticeable twist near the top! Could this be evidence of the 2011 earthquake?

I've drawn a red line to show the orientation of the twist

I read later on a sign that... 'At least once during Washington National Cathedral’s 83 year construction period the Cathedral withstood a magnitude 4.3 earthquake without being damaged. The year was 1969 and the earthquake’s source was nearby West Virginia. By contrast, the power of the 2011 earthquake released hundreds of times more energy than the 1969 earthquake, producing significant forces throughout the building and rotating some of the topmost Cathedral stones: pinnacles on the towers and buttress piers.'

On another sign I read that the 2011 earthquake did 25 million dollars damage to the Cathedral which they were still raising money for to be able to complete the repairs.

South Side

North Side

Two photos Mary took showing how very different an angle the 7th (last) buttress has than the six others 
on the North side.  And by comparison, the photo of south side of the Cathedral, which shows the 7 buttress angles all parallel, which presumably indicates the 7th north side buttress is not symmetric with its southern counterpart, again presumably evidence of damage caused by the 2011 earthquake?

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Miniature or not ?

I'd like to have miniature margarita here some day...      When I get smaller

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Fencerows - Stone, Hedge, or a Fence?

Sometimes its a blurry line between a hedgerow and a fencerow. Is it a hedge, a fence or what ?

The moss can make stone fencerow look like a hedgerow.

The hedge and the stones can sometimes be equal parts of a fencerow

Or the stone can win out completely

Or it can be a battle

And the stones lose, and a fencerow gets completely overgrown and becomes an offence. 

Monday, March 14, 2016

Keeping it in.

Who said, ' It's not good to keep things in ' ? 

While it may be true for creativity or feelings of love and gratitude, there are a lot of things that are probably better left unsaid, unexpressed and definitely unvented.

Necessity is often the mother of unventing.

Anyway, building a dry stone enclosure is a good way of seeing to it that things are 'contained', a way of keeping your cool and not just throwing things around and getting angry. 

It's satisfying to have a place to go back to and say, 'This is kind of a neat cozy place to hang out, and yes, we built this instead of wasting our time getting upset and complaining about what others did or didn't do!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Let It Go

The ancient strategy game of Go originated in Japan over 3000 years ago. Yesterday, in Korea a computer AlphaGo, with high artificial intelligence made world history, by beating one of the best Go players in the world Lee Se-dol, to make it (the computer) the third best player in the world.

Is this a good thing? I don’t know.

The rules of the game are not unlike walling. It starts with an empty flat area. Each player has an effectively unlimited supply of pieces (called stones), one taking the black stones, the other taking white. The main object of the game is to use your stones to form borders and territories by surrounding vacant areas. (or capture your opponent's stones by completely surrounding them)

Players take turns, placing their stones, with Black playing first. Once played stones are not moved. However they may be captured, in which case they are removed from the board, and kept by the capturing player. 

Granted, this sounds like very unfriendly walling. 

It's much nicer to place those stones to make borders and hedge rows to contain sheep or other livestock, and not just covet other waller’s stones. 

Better yet to make sunken gardens and walled enclosures with those stones. Definitely it’s best not to go around stealing your neighbours stones!

The point is, like walling, the game takes a lot of practice and requires a high skill level to do it well. You gotta know the correct place where every stone should go. Otherwise what you're enclosing will get away.

And too, the thing is, the defeat of Lee Se-dol not only spells the beginning of the end of human dominance in the tactical game of Go ( one of the last vestiges of intellectual gaming prowess for mankind ) but possibly, by association with walling, it marks the end of our being able to build dry stone walls without fear of one day being replaced by a machine.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Symposium Recap

Below is a very good summary of the 2016 Stone symposium event in California put out as a news letter to all the Stone Foundation's members. Enjoy and think about joining.
It seems like just yesterday that we were gearing up for the Stonework Symposium XIV that took place in San Francisco and Gualala on the Mendocino Coast. The Symposium Team hit the ground running in the new year, as we had embarked on a journey into unknown territories and there was no turning back. We spent many a late night pulling together all the details that make these special events happen, anxiously watching registration. And then the delight of seeing old friends and making new friends at the Rocknockers Rendezvous, the magic had begun. 
The Stonework Symposium XIV turned out to be an enormous success. In all, 133 participants attended various lectures, toured the sights of San Francisco, braved the drive up the Mendocino coast during El Nino, and participated in amazing workshops. We succeeded in completing another legacy project, in which the Gualala Arts Center will be very proud of for a very long time. Led by the Dry Stone Conservancy under the instruction of Master Waller Neil Rippingale with the assistance of Michael Murphy, participants of the workshop completed 80 plus feet of dry stacked retaining wall. The Dry Stone Conservancy introduced 'LEVEL 1' certification to the west coast for the first time, and many participants tested and passed their 'LEVEL 1' certification. Participants of the Fabrication workshop under the leadership of Kyle Schlagenhauf, Julien Carmellino, and Matt Driscoll completed a dry laid stone stair assembly which provides a grand entry into the newly renovated Redwood Grove event area.
Now that the dust has settled, the mud has washed off, our friends and colleagues have drifted back to their homes all over North America and Europe. What is it that makes the Stonework Symposium and workshops so special? It’s the people and the friendships that are made that endure the test of time, very much like a well-built stone wall or finely cut stone.

For those of you who could not make it to this year's Stonework Symposium, and for those of you who did, talk of the 15th Stonework Symposium, which will be held in 2017, has begun.

Curious about what the Dry Stone Conservancy is offering this spring? Click herefor a full description and schedule.

Stonework Symposium Team 
Zach Johnson, Nicholas Tomkins, John Mills, Amber Schlagenhauf
San Francisco

Gualala Arts Center
Let the games begin - the LithOlympics tests the skills of the Stonemason as they competed against each other in games of agility, strength, and strategy.
Tomas Lipps perfecting his form in a game of LIthobolos.
The competition was fierce during the Wheelbarrow Steeplechase as contestants maneuvered the obstacles of this challenging course, as they are racing against the clock.
And the crowd goes wild, as Zach Johnson claims the title of Wheelbarrow Champion 2016, beating the time of his competitors.
Positive and Negative Spaces, dry stone sculpture with John Shaw Rimmington.
Figure Carving with John Fisher & Letter Carving with Karen Sprague.
A permanent installation created during the Pebble Mosaic Workshop instructed by Kevin Carman.
Dry Stone Walling Workshop led by Neil Rippingale with the assistance of DSC certified waller Michael Murphy.
'LEVEL 1' certification, free standing test walls, completed by Ray Haas and Robert Faraone.
Fabrication workshop led by Kyle Schlagenhauf, Julien Carmellino, and Matt Driscoll.
A very special THANK YOU to our PresentersTomas Lipps, Edwin Hamilton, David Williams, Richard Rhodes, Edward Westbrook, Coburn Everdale, Bobby Watt, Patrick McAfee, Jane Wooley.

Instructors: Neil Rippingale, Michael Murphy, Alexandra Morosco, Karin Sprague, John Shaw Rimmington, Kevin Carman, John Fisher, Kyle Schlagenhauf, Matt Driscoll, Julien Carmellino.

Backup support:
 Doug E Bell, John Di Bona, Mark Ricard, Mario Tomasek, Dave Irving, Cody Paque, Nick Groves, Shannon Hughes, Mimi Lipps, Kathryn Gleason,  Amanda Stinson, Peter Mullins, Dave Susalla, Roland Staughton, Karen and Billy Hay, and Jordan Keyes.

Increasing the number of members in the Stone Foundation is vital to its survival.
Because this newsletter has been broadcast to the entirety of the membership regardless of status, there is a chance that you yourself might be a LAPSED MEMBER (?) whether for a few months, a few years, or more. 
If you ARE a lapsed member, redemption is at hand: please (re)join the Stone Foundation as we progress into a new era (the neo-neolithic): 
Click here to renew your membership. Your support will be welcome.
(And Issue #XIV of STONEXUS Magazine, released December 2015, will be sent to you immediately.) 
Do you know of someone who should be a member? Tell them about us, show them a copy of STONEXUS.