Monday, July 31, 2017

Upcoming Event

AOG Gallery open house

AOG Gallery open house

Frankville, Ontario
Visual Arts — Excursion
A private art collection open to everyone for Culture Days 2017. A contemporary collection including:

Self portraits by Dita Pepe
Pink Hair by Joanne Corno
Tilting Garden dry stone art by John Shaw-Rimmington with Mark Ricard

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Dry Stone Public Art

One of the topics of conversation David Wilson and I kept coming back to when he and his wife were visiting us was the concept of 'public space' and the importance of having practises and initiatives set in place within communities that recognize the huge humanizing value of stone. Unfortunately the funding set aside for projects designed to humanize an urban space don't always meet human requirements, materially.  The simple fact is, stone needs to be provided for if people are to be provided for.

There's no getting around it, concrete and steel and glass are less human and while already dominating municipal commercial and industrial space, should not be allowed to seep into public space as well, where 'the public' could benefit far more by getting back in touch with a far less artificial material.

Stone has always been and will continue to be more 'human' and more publicly appealing than manufactured material. It has a revitalizing quality that humans can not resist.

Artistic stone installations such as the ones David has been commissioned to build in Scotland have an accessibility about them which softens and 'humanizes' the urban landscape, because it has grown into it.  Pieces that are built of dry stone, by necessity are constructed gradually on sight over time, and the community is 'introduced' to it in a way that often involves the artist(s) getting to know the public they are making public art for, and the people get to learn about, and have a relationship with, the 'art' that is starting to emerge on their tiny patch of the urban landscape

Pre-built constructs of metal or indestructible materials other than stone are usually just plopped in place with no integrated connection to the people living there. 

I am happy to see that the dry stone boat that the wallers came together to build here in Port Hope last year has been assimilated into the 'heart' of our community. The banner in the photo above attests to the fact that our public art installation, (our gift of stone) has become something the town recognizes as worthwhile.

During the time it was being built, people not only got to see it gradually take on shape, but also got to talk to us and get a feel for what we were building (and in some cases even got to handle the stones)... and yes, have their hearts touched by stone.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Spoiling the view

Cairns at Cuween Hill cairns, turbines and transmitters

I recently visited Mainland Orkney, famed for its world heritage status Neolithic remains...tombs, standing stones and villages.

Visiting one of the lesser known chambered tombs on Cuween Hill,  silhouetted on the hillside by the tomb were what appeared to be standing stones.  This surprised me a little as there was nothing marked on the map.  As we approached the tomb it became evident that the standing stones were in fact dry stone cairns.   Having crawled inside the tomb and admired the stonework, thecairns were subjected to a closer inspection.  A motley collection, a dozen of various sizes, mostly short columns but one around 9 feet high, another a single skin mini beehive hut, just big enough to crawl into should you dare.

As I looked back from amongst them I noticed for the first time that the backdrop in one direction had two wind turbines and twin radio transmitters atop the nearby hill.  I was reminded of a trip just over a year earlier to Amherst Island in Ontario Canada and playing around with Stones on the beach there and also on the shores of Lake Ontario at Port Hope, with John Shaw Rimmington who blogged about this towards the end of June last Year.  Discussions then as to whether or not such constructions were a blot on the landscape.  This was coincidentally a topic briefly revisited in a discussion on stone balancing I’d had one evening in the bar at Northstone58 just a week earlier.

I admire stone balancing, or at least skilled balancing and creative cairns but I’ve never been a fan of myriads of stone piled willy nilly on a beach or on a river bank in an unimaginative manner.  A little later that afternoon  amongst the 5000 year old standing stones of Stenness I found myself reconsidering my views once more.

The cairns at Cuween are nothing special, although they display a certain amount of skill, if not perfect craftsmanship.  Who built them and why?  They look amateurish and one can only guess that numerous visitors have cleared what looks like an old quarry area.  Amateurish but not terrible, easy stone to stack or pile, but some skill here and there if not much imagination.  2 children were adding what stone they could find to one when we arrived, inexpertly, but the laughing and excited voices undeniably indicated they were having fun. 

Back in 2010 I was having fun on a stony beach in California alongside several members of the Stone Foundation, messing around creatively building, when we were evicted by the police.  It was some form of designated park and we didn’t have the necessary permits, I doubt what we were doing would have survived the first winter storm, but maybe they had a point.  Fun not permitted.

Where do we draw the line? Can we be the Stone Police?  Do we have a right to say thou shalt not spoil the countryside/view by piling stone inexpertly?  Is it okay if I do it because I am more skilled or through being  creative than your average Joe or Jill Public, perhaps for the sake of photographing it in some Goldsworthian way.  What I remember most about those days piling stone with John (after only a year I could not picture exactly what we/john had built until I revisited my photos)was that it had been a really enjoyable time.  The children at Cuween were having fun.  However much we might or might not like what we see, were the people doing it having fun?  Of course they were, they would not have been doing it otherwise.  If they are not actually breaking the law or damaging anything (thats a different ecological argument I’ll not consider here) then who are we to deny them that, just because we might not like it or appreciate it.  Who knows it might even be the inspiration that leads them on to an appreciation of stonework, or even a life in the craft.  Should we dismiss the possibility, stifling it with a blanket ban?  Who do we think we are?

Back at Stenness I wondered, perhaps a little disingenuously, if anyone had been up in arms when they first set the stones or erected the nearby ring of Brodgar, they do rather impinge on the view.

Image result for Stones of Stenness

Stones of Stenness
Image result for ring of Brodgar
Ring of Brogan

Thank you Sean Adcock for this recent submission to Thinking With My Hands

Thursday, July 27, 2017

See your garden later.

Mary-Marie Anne contrary,

Look how this garden grows. 
With Hostas tall and taller walls
Of pretty stones all in rows


On our site seeing tour of stonework all day yesterday we first visited Linnea's farm and saw some of the lovely garden flowers and walls there. It was wonderful to see her property later in July with everything now looking so green and lush.

Why do hostas look so good in front of walls? Perhaps because the walls look so good behind them? Maybe. 

Or maybe because if the walls were in front you couldn't see any of the hostas. In that case, there definitely wouldn't be a 'hosta la vista'.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Expert

Last night David Wilson led us on a marvellous visual journey into his world of stone. Many of us were in awe of the caliber and creativeness of projects he has tackled over his many years as an artist working predominantly with stone.  

His well executed public commissions dotted throughout the UK are nothing short of inspiring and his work at the Chelsea garden shows were, each one, a treat for the eyes . 

In talking with David later about his many successes and the huge challenges and personal stretching the projects have demanded of him as an artist, David admitted that over the years he has become a bit of an expert. 

He explained that an expert is someone who has made the most mistakes in his field. 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

David Wilson

The well known Scottish artist David Wilson who designed and built the much admired Edinburgh International Airport dry stone roundabout installation has been traveling thousands of miles across North America in the last three weeks with his wife through the funding of a Churchill grant. 

He will be arriving in Port Hope today with his wife, after four days of solid driving from Gualala,California. David will be giving an inspiring talk here on many things having to do with 'stone and art' which, if you live within 4 hours of Port Hope, and don't make the effort to hear him, I'm pretty sure you'll be kicking yourself later.

The address is St Mark's Church, King Street, Port Hope. The time is 730 pm, Tuesday July 25th.

David and his wife will have driven 4445 km to get here tonight. Admission is free and everyone is welcome. 

This presentation is being provided for by D S Walling Across Canada and the Churchill Memorial Trust ) 

Let's all plan to give them a big Port Hope welcome.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

A leaning experience

Surprisingly, we can teach stones to lean on each other.

If they are sitting flat on the horizontal they have little dynamic strength. Leaning on each other they feel stronger .

Sometimes if they can't lean, we have to lean for them.

Then they can learn to lean, from us.

Saturday, July 22, 2017


  • We
    All of us
    Are looking 
    To find a way of connecting.
    We learn the principles of connection sometimes 
    By experimenting putting things together.
    Connecting them like stones in a wall
    And we learn 
    What works
    And what doesn't.
    And we make the connections.
    And our wall takes on a pleasing form if it is built right 
    And reveals the beauty of connectivity.
    And fittingly,
    we and others 'connect' with what we see.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Not just Imagination.

One of the students taking the bridge building course I finished teaching at the Haliburton School of Art and Design brought his grandchildren back to see the completed bridge he and the nine other students built there last week. 

When I took Mary back to Haliburton to see the bridge, we arrived to the sight of the kids jumping and crawling all over it, pretending they were in a Harry Potter adventure. It did indeed seem like a magic bridge. The week before there was nothing there! 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017


My client wrote to say someone who saw a photo of it asked if the thing moved when you stood on it.

Good idea, but the answer is no.

Mark said "Probably in a couple hundred years from now people will discover it and wonder what it is.
The lady he was talking to said "I don't think you have to wait that long."

Monday, July 17, 2017

Back to the Land Art

This 19 foot diameter 'earth and stone' composition combines vertically laid random bedrock limestone surrounding a slanted circular platform of sedum mat material, to create what is called the 'Tilted Garden'. I feel this piece is a significant development from just walling, venturing even more into the realm of 'land art' . In a way the true 'landscape artist’ isn’t limited just to the canvas or a sketch book. He or she can bring the actual elements of the land into the composition literally. Hopefully Tilted Garden is an invitation to see stone and art ( and gardening) from yet a different slant. 

More photos on the building of this piece to follow

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Tilting Process

At the client’s property, in the gallery/studio space adjacent to where we were going to be building, we first placed the small sand box maquette of the ‘Tilted Garden’  to the angle of the rising sun.

We used landscaper’s spray paint to scribe a 9 foot 6 inch radius circle where the installation was to be built with a line on a north south axis. 

Our guy running the large backhoe really knew his stuff when it came to cutting the angle we wanted.

The stone supply, a large very random pile of limestone bedrock, was the result of what the backhoe had uncovered the year before digging a foundation for a new art gallery building on the property. 

For good drainage we filled 3/4 sharp clear gravel in along the lowest part of the crescent shape depression up to the height of the base that we would be building off of on that side.

There's what our preliminary excavation looked like from the gallery balcony.

Here's me trying to get my head round how we were going to build this thing.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Sand box designing

We were working all last week doing a dry stone installation in the Perth Ontario area, based on a Sketchup design I showed the client several months ago. I did this sand box maquette recently to get a better feel for the slanted platform shape I hoped to create. Models really help get a feel for scale and perspective. The resulting full size sculpture we completed just yesterday, happily created the intriguing sinking effect I hoped it would. 

More on this installation tomorrow.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Visiting the bridge a year later.

Yesterday was my first visit back to Perth Bridge since we were there building it . It's also after that great June flood where the river overflowed. But everything looked good. Nothing out of the ordinary. Or rather, everything looks 'extraordinary' !

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Award for Dedication


Again this year, Dry Stone Walling Across Canada sponsored another graduating student in the Algonquin College award program. They were pleased to award the Dedication to Traditional Stonemasonry Techniques Award from DSWAC at Convocation last month. This year’s recipient was Steven Barter.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Sunny's at Night

A piece by Irish artist and dry stone waller Sunny Wieler  is installed on the client s property where we are working presently. It's an intriguing freestanding mosaic made with cut granite and broken mirrors. It has a commanding view of field where the art installation is that we have been commissioned to create.

It was a bit of a surprise and definitely a coincidence to see Sunny's work here too. Our patron definitely has good taste. 

Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Canada150 Bridge

DSWAC in conjunction with Fleming College - Haliburton School of Art + Design, completed a week long course on teaching students how to build a dry stone bridge.

A small creek in a public park in the municipality Dysart Et Al was chosen and approved for the site where the permanent foot bridge was to be built.

Ten students worked together with me, their instructor, on this ambitious project.

After the foundations were dug and built up with stone (and the undergrowth was cut back) an 8 foot wooden former was set in place.

The first rows of voussoirs were laid over the thick springers.

18 tons of beautiful stone material was provided by Vince Hammond Aggregate near Minden Ontario

On the second day, the water in the creek rose unusually high, due to the sudden release of a month long heavy rainfall backup in a reservoir upstream.

The water upstream had to be slowed down with plywood over a culvert or the former might have been washed away.

On the third day the class went on a field trip to gather 4 more tons of voussoir-shaped stones from the quarry.

Tight fitting shims in combination with closely aligned arch stones are essential to create the even compression and necessary friction to hold all the stones in place when the form is taken out.

There is no lack of excitement watching the form come out and the arched bridge being born 

Iris got the first underside barrel vault shot.

Work still goes on to complete the bridge on the last day

Including setting the parapet stones and the cobbled walking surface.

( Note the train and the jet in the background, an iconic triad of ways to cross land, air, and water. )

There's a job for everyone on a bridge.

We decided to call it the Canada Sesquicentennial Bridge.

Happy birthday Canada.
Well done students.