Saturday, April 30, 2016

Crown Bridge

Crown Bridge

Successfully completing a dry stone bridge project is probably the best way to deal with 'bank' problems and what's more, a great way to alleviate the 'closure deficit' that lingers with so many unfinished aspects of the world around us.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Learning Balance

Anyway you look at it balance makes sense.

Every area of our life requires balance.

It often involves waiting.

Balance is so subtle it can't really be taught but with some experimentation and practice we can learn to position the weightier matters of life (and ourselves) so that gravity (and all other pressures, good or bad) work for us.

Balance is the equalizing of a lot of different pulls.
The thing is we have been given this 'sense of balance' - it's our 6th sense, actually. We can not stand without it.
(We can know when we are off balance without using any of the other 5 senses!)

Balance is wonderful symmetry.

And balance is a dance, a reflection, a repeated phrase, a pleasingly proportioned design.

Balance is a comparison, a relationship, it is seeing the connection, the ratio, understanding the give-and-take of a situation.

Life is a constant balancing act in this topsy turvy world.

And you know what? Stones can help us find that balance.

Dry Laid 'Balance' by Eric Landman 

Merely 'balancing' stones however, which involves stacking them to display the sparsest of contact between the stones may be missing the point. To really balance them, so they are much better supported, so that they are less vulnerable, requires something more.

Laying stones in a durable, structural configuration, as in a dry laid wall, we are learning to fit them with as many points of contact as possible, (not the least) and so we are maximizing their ability to stay together and maximizing their balance.

Taking into account friction and gravity ( factors that are often perceived as adverse and disconcerting ) we are somehow able to create permanent balanced results.

This new found knowledge will be useful when we are looking to find (our) balance in the many other areas where it sometimes seems to be lacking.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Creation

The creative act - a two way exchange between man and stone.

Being creative is the highest form of human fulfillment. It beats any other kind of  're'creation. It is the opposite of so much of what we do instead - like 'wreck' creation. Some would argue that it is more important than 'pro'creation.

The creative act is vital. Other activities and endeavors rarely achieve the same level of satisfaction. No amount shopping, education, entertainment, competitiveness, or commitment to selflessness or selfishness will secure the sense of pleasure and purpose that comes with being involved in some form of creativity.

We are all supposed to be creative. It is our function. It is in our 

The biblical account in Genesis says that God created us in His image.  And there, 'in the beginning', is the first and most important clue we have to understanding His 'image'. His image is 'creativity' because He is creative, and thus any creativity including yours is essentially a reflection of God.

There are many ways to be creative, but working with stone is unique in that it allows human beings to explore their potential using the most elemental and rawest form of creativity - stone. 

Stone is more than a blank canvas to create on. It is more than the paint. It provides the inspiration as well. The very essence of stone contains within it an endless source of potential, both to be creative and to be created upon.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Monday, April 25, 2016

Indoor Outdoor Moss.

Lichen takes a long time to grow on stone, but it takes even longer for anything to grow on concrete. 

I took this photo yesterday morning while walking the dogs.

Indoor-outdoor carpet glued in place on a stoop to keep visitors from slipping and maybe give the porch some 'green appeal' had presumably got too weathered and most of the stuff had been scraped off the steps leaving patches of green that looked for all the world now like manmade moss. 

Voila! Time has been sped up.

By contrast the time it takes for real lichen or moss to grow on a rock is measured in ages. Rocks of course have all the time in the world, but do we? 

All this musing reminded me of a clever animation that is probably worth posting again here.

Click the link below to see it

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Completely Unique

We drove to Amherst Island yesterday morning to check in on the weekend walling course being taught there. Two very competent instructors Kenny Davies and Sean Donnelly of Dry Stone Canada had things well in hand. There was a nice buzz. A friendly collection of helpers were there as well to show support, and help out with bringing more stones and cheering the students on. It was a well run event. 

Because the stones and the people are always different, no two workshops are ever the same. It's not like being on a work crew learning to lay bricks every day. 

The potential for creativity, the group interaction, the new friendships formed and the problem solving that goes on in these types of events transcends the emphasis on just maintaining some 'standard' or merely trying to build structurally 'correct'. 

I know of no other craft that provides such a rare opportunity for participants to be uniquely involved in the completion of something so completely unique.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

A boat design that floated by.

This clay maquette was an idea of mine for a full scale dry stone wall sculpture which I'm delighted to say was chosen in a competition by a committee's announcing a 'call for submissions' for a public landscape feature, nearly ten years ago.

It was to be installed outside a newly designed (and about to be constructed) regional headquarters building representing 7 townships along the north shore of Lake Ontario. 

Having received the commission I was then asked very kindly by the committee to come up with a different design for the project. The final dry stone feature we built, a fully enclosed dry stone sheepfold, was very different from my original idea. 

The reason?  The 'sailboat theme' was deemed too specific a reference to one of the townships (it being the only township with a marina) and hence would not be a fair representation of the administrative jurisdiction of the new building .

Who knows, I may yet find an opportunity to float my original design somewhere. 

Friday, April 22, 2016

Peace on Earth Day

Simple stone walls made by hand (not machine) provide a border, a protection and a 'commotion barrier' They ensure that all the things that invade our 'earth' are held back.

Within our dry stone walls there is tranquility, calm, restfulness, peace and quiet, peacefulness, privacy, and solitude.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Rolling around ideas about rolling stones and moss

Rolling stones mostly just gather speed.

I guess they just aren't sticky enough.

I wonder if there is such a thing as double-sided moss?

I should try the experiment again perhaps, because I'm not sure the moss was ready.

On the other hand,
It has been suggested that painting yogurt on the stones helps them gather moss.
In that case my next rolling experiment will have to be a bit messier.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

'The Moving of the Farley Mowat Boat Roofed House' Website is Launched

The Farfarers used boat roofed houses for shelter.

Yesterday the new website was launched describing the details of a bold plan to dismantle and rebuild the massive dry stone structure that was built ten years ago commemorating Farley Mowat (while he was with us). Please set aside Canadian Thanksgiving, October 2016 to participate in this international event in Port Hope Ontario and keep Following Farley  on your cyber radar. 

Farley on site during the original construction of the boat roofed house

Farley Mowat is recognized as one of Canada's literary lions and a fervent champion of environmental issues. A graduate of the University of Toronto, Farley is remembered not only as an author and environmentalist but also as a soldier, veteran and philanthropist. He saw military service with Canadian forces in the European theatre of operations in World War II and left with the rank of Captain in 1945.

Farley began his literary career post the war and published his first book "People of the Deer" in 1952. He was a prolific author with forty two titles to his credit with millions of copies in print and published worldwide. 

Among his many distinctions were a Stephen Leacock Memorial medal for "The Boat That Wouldn't Float" and was named Author of the Year by the Canadian Booksellers Association. In 1989 he won a Gemini Award for best documentary script for "The New North". He received a star on Canada's Walk of Fame in 2010. He was an Officer of the Order of Canada and received a number of honorary degrees.

Among his conservation efforts he will be most remembered for his work with the Sea Shepard Conservation Society who named one of their ships, the MV Farley Mowat, in his honour.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

I wonder what the 'sidewalls' look like.

The common automobile tire can be a very useful thing if you're  looking for a certain shape of centering for building stone arches in dry laid work or mortared work. These fellows who cryptically call themselves Stone_Decor working out of Amman Jordan, have conveniently found a set of all-season tires to form keyhole openings in some sort of rustic faux dry stone palace they've been building all this season. 

Wonder if they are Firestone tires or Bridgestone? I wonder too what the 'sidewalls' look like. What ever size and style they are, Im sure they still need to be rated for the correct pressure. And of course they'll need to be balanced!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Such outstanding attributes.

Imagine having a nature that is solid and steady, never upset by the mistakes or inconsistencies of others.

Imagine a temperament that could out last everyone's follies and negative schemes.

One that was known for being dependable, ever the 'strong silent type'.

One that others could put a lot of weight on.

Trustworthy, a keeper of secrets, dependable, never prying into anyone else's business, slow to take offence.

Unassuming. Never asking for anything.

A character that never waffled. Never changed its mind. Continually maintained a dignified sense of gravity. Morally uncompromising

Without a shred of insincerity.

Yes, this would have to be the description of a real ....











Sunday, April 17, 2016

Working with a Dry Stone Cowboy

You know the type. Quick to draw their large stones onto the wall before you reach for yours. Bang bang. Their side is up and they haven't left enough space for you to build properly on your side. You shake your head and you realize you're dealing with a dry stone cowboy!

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Human Bobcat

It's breathtaking how large a stone can be hu-manhandled into place without having to bring some big noisy machine on site and then stand around and watch it take all the fun out of the job. 

This large 'tree dolly', which was specially designed and refitted with a thick metal plate to slip under boulders, does a great job of moving boulders. It's quiet and doesn't fill the air with diesel smoke. The things it can move with a little tugging and grunting is indeed 'breathtaking'.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Remembering His Hands

My father was an artist and a sculptor. I grew up in a house where being creative was as important as brushing your teeth and doing the dishes. I learned from my dad about form and colour, about the golden mean, about composition, balance, movement and above all about the importance of using my imagination. I was taught never to entertain the idea of boredom just because there didn't appear to be anything to do. I was an only child, but what he showed me about making things and keeping busy with my hands, meant I would never be stuck for ideas or lost for ways to pass any day, no matter how alone I was. I learned to not be afraid of change, but rather to be open to seeing the world in new way every day. Creativity was a part of life. It was a way of communicating. All of this I discovered in the context of having fun, whether it was playing music together, making things with whatever was at hand or visiting art galleries and museums.

I never noticed how immersed I was in the creative process until much later when I began to realize that it wasn't as much a part of the lives of people around me. The need to be spontaneous, to improvise, to adapt and to take the things that life threw at you and turn them into something, not just positive but hopefully imaginative and beautiful, was apparently not 'second nature' to everyone.

My father made his living working with his hands, His hands traced the contours and molded the forms that others would recognize and delight to see, and want to hold, and have, and own. His mind was keen and his hands were skillful. These two faculties made the important connections back and forth between image and imagination. All this was attractive and inviting to me and I was never intimidated by all this creativity in my family as I was growing up .

And so after having mentioned all of this, it seems a bit strange to also admit that even though I remember getting along so well with him, we were not really all that 'close'. We definitely were not close in the way that I perceived some of my other friends were with their dads.

But here is the thing, I think he and I enjoyed something which can't really be defined in terms of 'closeness' or measured in the traditional sense of family bonding. What he did enable me to discover and shared with me was a sense of a 'creative purpose' in a world where even if perhaps I didn't feel like I 'belonged', (or where I might not have family or friends around to support me) I could still tune in to that creative energy and be more than content.

On Jan 29 2010, after enduring, without complaint, his last few years on earth, putting up with a gradual deterioration of his health, my father quietly let go of the loose hold he had on this world and departed gracefully and silently into another place. I was not there to say goodbye. 

Of this I am certain, that he has had, and will continue to have, an influential hand on my life. Where he was going 'creatively' continues to draw me, and I will, as he did, keep delving into the 'creative process' which I believe is a looking, not so much beyond death, but rather a peering forward into the very source of life.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Variation on a theme

I have a favourite CD by jazz pianist Jacques Loussier titled Jacques Loussier Trio play Bach - The Bach Book. The opening piece is Prelude No 1 in C major from Well Tampered Clavier, BWV 846 

Every time I hear it I am reminded of the original piece by Bach, (who b.t.w has to be my favourite composer) and I savour all the  transformations Loussier takes the prelude through - the delicate beginning where he hardly changes Bach's melody at all, and then the bass comes in, giving it a slight sense of ‘swing’, and shortly after the drums slide in changing the shape of it. A third of the way through Loussier tackles the entire theme again and interprets it in his inimitable jazz style. The last third is sped up and Bach’s prelude is taken for a exciting jazz ride.

When I look at the stone tree installation that Richard Clegg and his son Lewyn created in the Tatra mountains between Slovakia and Poland I see a beautiful interpretation of the dry stone tree of Eric Landman’s. There is no appropriation here as Richard gives full credit to Eric for the original idea. What Richard does is develop the theme as any composer or painter or any artist might do. Using spoil tailings from the local mines for the walling stone, and rounded granite boulders from a local mountain stream, and local basalt to create the tree bark, the piece, built up against a 5 meter high battered concrete 100s of feet long retaining wall, incorporating Richard's excellent dry stone technique becomes another kind of stone masterpiece. (Wall ties and mortar were only used too to tie the thick mosaic of stone cladding to the concrete wall behind)

Just as a jazz musician uses modern instruments in a fresh style to reinterpret a jazz standard or a painter might take a Madonna and child theme and give it fresh vision and life, Eric's tree theme has been understood in stone in a different way, in a different style and with great success. The shape of the tree was designed by Richard directly onto the back wall using spray paint. The tons of stones laid against the wall follow the lines and there the magic begins.  The wall stones cleverly laid into place keep a level rhythmned backdrop either side of the lines of a lively flowing tree trunk, creating the contrast needed. The verticality of the thin basalt 'bark stones' repeat the trunk theme of the thicker vertically laid Madoc chocolate limestone in the Landman installation.

And then there is the foliage! The foliage swirls like a Van Gogh starry night. Several distinct clusters of stone flowers are embedded in a white chocolate-box network of rounded river rock. The regular coursing of the wall has turned into an explosion of stone growth and cellular-like division. A sense of nature’s geometry and pattern is infused into every stone creating a very random, but non-random looking, arrangement of inanimate components. The swirling mosaic of the foliage is where this tree differs most from the previous tree. April 12 Post  A fugue-like arrangement of stone-notes repeating around and around itself and bouncing back against itself in radiating contours. There is a bubbliness to this tree that completely draws you in. 

The stones of Richard's tree don't just hide the cold greyness of the lifeless concrete wall behind, they completely transform the entire space.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Wiley: The Thinking Hand - Juhani Pallasmaa

Wiley: The Thinking Hand - Juhani Pallasmaa

In our current global networked culture that puts so much emphasis on the virtual and the visual, the mind and the body have become detached and ultimately disconnected. Though physical appearance is idolised for its sexual appeal and its social identity, the role of the body in developing a full understanding of the physical world and the human condition has become neglected. The potential of the human body as a knowing entity – with all our senses as well as our entire bodily functions being structured to produce and maintain silent knowledge together – fails to be recognized.

It is only through the unity of mind and body that craftsmanship and artistic work can be fully realised. Even those endeavours that are generally regarded as solely intellectual, such as writing and thinking, depend on this union of mental and manual skills.

In The Thinking Hand, Juhani Pallasmaa reveals the miraculous potential of the human hand. He shows how the pencil in the hand of the artist or architect becomes the bridge between the imagining mind and the emerging image. The book surveys the multiple essences of the hand, its biological evolution and its role in the shaping of culture, highlighting how the hand–tool union and eye–hand–mind fusion are essential for dexterity and how ultimately the body and the senses play a crucial role in memory and creative work. Pallasmaa here continues the exploration begun in his classic work The Eyes of the Skin by further investigating the interplay of emotion and imagination, intelligence and making, theory and life, once again redefining the task of art and architecture through well-grounded human truths.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

From the ground up.

Every now and then, inspiration, talent, stone, and stars align in such a way that something magnificent happens. In the primal world of stone walling, where no mortar or glue or any kind of industrial advantage is tolerated, even the most well built structures rarely climb out of the category of traditional craft to become (dare I say?) works of art. 

If fitted skillfully, stones can be pretty much be relied upon to support and create an impressively solid and long lasting form, but rarely do they get the opportunity to perform as they do in Eric Landman's 'Tree Installation'.  Dedicated to his wife Kerry and built primarily by Eric and their son Jordon Mason the wall speaks to the heart on many levels. 

Since its completion in March of 2012,  one or two images of the work have exploded across the digital universe. I suspect by now millions of people have gazed at it recognizing it to be something of a masterpiece, and yet like all masterpieces, it really needs to be seen in person to take in the full meaning and appreciate its materiality.

Standing there in the snow I see cold solid everyday stones transformed into a living mosaic. They combine to create an impressionistic sculpture, a natural synthesis of uplifting beauty. The image of the tree bursts through the inanimate restrictions of mass, gravity and geology. 

The piece is bedded in the landscape. Placed in a gallery of nature, and carefully lit by beams of golden sunlight cascading through the dappled forest backdrop, this tree appears to be growing. Indeed the piece grew out of love and suitably 'from the ground up' during the cold winter after Kerry's death. 

Unlike a painting or a mosaic, where any part of the whole image can be worked on at the same time, the outline of the  tree could only be 'grown' upwards, stone upon stone. Care had to be taken to ensure that some of the stone foliage was built into the wall in places below where it had not yet appeared to be connected to the whole. This is the fun and the challenge of creating credible representations within the dry stone medium.

And credible as the tree is, the over all effect is overwhelming and as a free-standing stone feature quite an incredible accomplishment. As a totally self-supporting structure (having nearly 5 foot of depth at the base, and over 12 feet high) the viewer is allowed to not just admire the surface tree image, but reflect on the interconnectedness within - the inner beauty and depth of emotion that went into creating this enduring piece. 

Monday, April 11, 2016

Wall End?

The view from Wall End farm in Little Langdale is breathtaking. You can look in every direction in this part of the Lake District and see beautiful undulating valleys (dales), meandering streams (becks) tiny lakes (tarns) and high hills (fells) and walls ! 

Yes they're just called 'walls', and yet there are so many. And they go on forever and ever...walls without end.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

A Longer Wall Around The Blog

Thinking With My Hands is expanding its borders. It's taking on more sheep. The blog which has been exploring 'all things dry stone' for the last six years is now going to be posted daily on Facebook as well. 

The change is a concession to the fact that while this blog is visited regularly by hundreds of people a day, it is still not that accessible to those who find their daily stone inspiration chiefly on Facebook

So greetings to you Facebookers!   Welcome to the fold. 

Your friend,  John S-r

Saturday, April 9, 2016

It's A Spalled Stone After All

Spalling is the chipping or fragmenting of a stone usually due to freezing and thawing. Moisture in a porous or stratified stone (especially limestone) can cause the outer surface to peel off or crack when it freezes. 

It's sometimes very hard to determine if a particular stone might perhaps begin to spall. It can look perfectly good and yet within a year after putting in a wall it can start look like this. Some spalling takes place over several years.

One important thing to avoid spalling stones is to make sure they are not laid face bedded. Also stones that are most likely to spall often have a tiny network of hairline cracks visible on the surface and these when tapped with a hammer sound with a thud rather than a ring or a solid resonance.

This spalled stone (photo above) showed up six years after the wall was built. I plan to replace the damaged stone this spring. If there are only one or two spalled stones in a wall they are usually not too hard (excuse the pun) to replace.  

Friday, April 8, 2016


   Are you ever tempted when you see stones kept in captivity         
   like this, to just get some wire cutters and set them all free?


Thursday, April 7, 2016

Give yourself permission to do it poorly.

Dry stone walling unlike most enterprises gives a person the unique opportunity to do it wrong. Nothing is set in concrete. A wall can easily be rebuilt if necessary based on what has been learned from building the first time. 

The point is it is unrealistic to insist on getting it absolutely right the first time. 

If we are building with just stones and decide we cannot lay any in the wall incorrectly, we will accomplished very little. There will be not much there to critique or evaluate.  

We have to give ourselves the permission, (and every opportunity) to do it poorly. 'Problem solving' only comes with and through 'problem creating'. 

You have to create problems and stand back and learn from them, and then learn how to fix them. If you got something right the first time you probably didn't recognize what you did.  Luck is not wisdom. What are the chances you've acquired any skill to deal with similar problems correctly the next time or the times after that?

Better to do something, and yes do it poorly, and allow yourself to keep doing poorly for as long as it takes (always gaining knowledge and experience) than to take forever doing nothing because you don't want to get it wrong. 

Consider too the fact that even stones laid far less correctly than most professional's work, will still stay together a surprisingly long time. Some militant practitioners would have you believe it's a consummate  task not ever to be undertaken except by skilled technicians of the craft. Fortunately however, unlike brain surgery or rocket science, dry stone wall building for the most part offers the opportunity to do it less than perfectly without killing anyone or wasting tons of time and money missing some far off planet. 

If there was anything 'improper' or ill-advised about an enthusiast considering trying to lay stones upon stones, it would be their deciding not to risk trying it at all!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

During the games !!!

Dry Stone Wall (Dry Stane Dyke) Workshop at The Victoria Highland Games

The dry stone method of construction is the oldest stone building method still used today with properly built structures lasting centuries.
New this year! Dry Stone Walling Across Canada will hold a beginners dry stone walling workshop during the games May 21-May 22 , 2016.
This is a two day hands-on course, cost is $ 250.00, includes tax.
Visit for further information and to register.
– Workshop organization by Victoria based waller, Christopher Barclay:
– Workshop Instruction by John Shaw-Rimmington, President, Dry Stone Walling Across Canada:

Monday, April 4, 2016

It's a small wall after all.

Dry stone wallers John Bland and Kenny Davies had fun one night and built this lovely miniature dry stone wall. It's a testament to their walling skills how convincingly real it looks. 

John texted me to suggest that miniature wall building might be a good way to teach the basics of walling. That's a great idea. 

My question is did they drink tiny bottles of beer while they were building it?

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Horse Jump

Rob Watson recently completed another beautiful dry stone horse jump for the Badminton Horse Trials in Badminton Gloucestershire 85 miles west of London. May 4 to May 8 2016

I first met Rob on Twitter at and you can follow him also on Instagram too at

Well done Rob.  I've never built a horse jump. I'd love to come and help you build one sometime.