Wednesday, October 18, 2017

A Rock-Tree

A tree is almost as patient as a rock  It stays put in one place its entire existence, unless of course it is dug up and moved. Like a stone, it has the ability to just wait in one spot, motionless, for a very long time. Apart from a stone or a rock, there is nothing slower than a tree. 

There is a wisdom that comes with 'slowness' – with not rushing. There is a special consciousness that comes with standing still. It is not hard to imagine then that there are important things that can be learned from a tree, or a rock, that sits in one place day after day watching the rest of the world go by. Perhaps there is even more to be learned from a 'rock-tree' – a tree made from rocks. 

A kind of tree than doesn't die, or rot, or get diseased, made of rocks arranged to appear to be something living, growing, stretching up to the sky. 

An iconic structure, merging two different states of naturally occurring material. A tone poem, a silent prayer, a visualized meditation. 


Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Stalking stone structures

When David and Jane Wilson visited us here in Canada this summer on their whirlwind tour of North American stonework, (funded by a Churchill Memorial trust award ) I got to show them some of the dry stone installations in the Port Hope area.

It was a bit like a treasure hunt, as some of the work I had not seen for several years and several pieces were a bit over grown.

We crept up on the rubble helix looking rather splendid and almost ancient in its isolated pastoral setting.


The rising dry stone structure looked to be fully in tact, despite its unusual shape and how it was designed to stay together. The remote placement of this piece in the landscape definitely adds to the mystery of how and why it came to be.  


Later we visited the vaulted hut just outside Cobourg, another beautiful setting for such an unusual stone dwelling.

Then on the same property we looked at our terraced gardens created two summers ago. I was glad to see that the many many tons of stone that it took to build didn't cause it to seem over done or too over-burdened with stone. The garden felt airy and yet had a calm energy about it. 

It's all made with newly quarried limestone and the plantings are all very recent, so it will be really interesting to visit here again when everything has matured.

The Salem Creek bridge was a perfect place to rest and take some posed photos. This bridge was not more than a month old when David and Jane got to see it.

Finally, a stop a George and Reggie's for a look at the wall there we've been building as a part of a continuing yearly springtime workshop.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Framing Andy

We saw this Andy Goldsworthy installation a while ago when we were in the Lake District in England. I was reminded of how dry stone enclosures can frame things (like this boulder) and make them more interesting. 

A computer screen does a similar kind of thing. 

If you click on the frame below, you can watch a talk Andy gave about the difference between his permanent installations built in galleries and the impermanence of the work he creates outdoors, and also the use of colour in his work.

It is interesting to hear how a waller (dyker) in the Q&A at the end of the talk 'frames' the question to Andy about his employing wallers better than himself to execute some of his larger dry stone pieces.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Scale is everything

This bridge was built on Inisheer in two hours and has an eight inch span.

This bridge was built in Ontario in two weeks and has an eight foot span.

So what do you think the span of this bridge is ?

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

By the Light of the Moongate

Sometimes I arrive too soon
The light falls harsh on that moongate ruin 
Sometimes I get there far too late
The light waxes old on my new moon gate 

But once I took a photograph 
In the fleeting light, where I'd crossed her path 
Of a seated girl all dressed in white 
Poised and draped in late dusk-light

And standing up she spread her hands
As if to greet a great expanse 
I caught that glimpse of love immortal 
As luminescence filled that portal 

I didn't think to ask her name 
We parted ways, the daylight waned  
But what remained within my phone 
Would light the path on my way home.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Scoop on this Thanksgiving Workshop

We needed the excavator with the scoop attachment to lift the heavy ice-cream boulders on to the workshop wall that we built in Brockport over the Canada Thanksgiving weekend.

The ice-cream wall, with tasteful vertical coning, came in many flavours including maple wall nut and rocky road. 

It seemed appropriate for the students, at the end of two days of hot fall weather, to all lean on the dry stone counter together and enjoy some delicious ice cream, to cool off and celebrate our fifty feet of creative walling. 

Friday, October 6, 2017

Instead of mortar?

This 100 year old, 8 foot tall, dry stone retaining wall near Wilkes Barre, PA that Mary and I discovered while on our way to Washington DC, incorporated thousands of small thin shims to level the different thicknesses of sandstone blocks, as well as bed the stones together in a fairly successful, attractive looking, 'mortarless' structure.

The wall breathes, lets dampness through and hold back thousands of tons of rubble and stays together, and still looks pretty good after so many years. A concrete or cement structure would have 'given up' years ago.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Thinking with tiny hands

While proper dry stone walling as a craft is catching on all across Canada these days, (as seen by the increasing number of comprehensive training courses being offered each year) it is a bit surprising that more younger wallers are not emerging from the ranks. Perhaps we need to start earlier.

The kids I worked with at the children's event during the Barriefield Festival last weekend in Kingston Ontario seemed more than content to be putting 'stone on stone'. They enjoyed exploring the many ways stones fit together and probably discovered the same pleasures of hands-on physics with all its nuances and possibilities , that full-scale dry stone walling has, only in this case, in miniature form.  

The miniature people I brought along for the event added a magical scale to the creations the children built.

This lady is contemplating picking up this huge chunk of limestone. I hope she doesn't hurt her back.

Doctor Who and his assistant helped the big kids with the building of a tiny dry stone bridge at the base of historic St Mark's Church.

Lots of grownups watched too as a tiny village of houses and walls and towers were made over the duration of the festival weekend 

While the thing about miniature walling is that you're far less likely to pinch your fingers, professional full-scale waller Dan Pearl, while building this mini Irish wall, seems to have somehow injured himself again. You're just not thinking with your hands, Dan.

Maybe he should let the tinier hands do it.

I watched Catherine build this wonderful cone-roofed tower all on her own.

These little guys built things with wooden blocks and discovered a lot about how things stay together without glue or interlocking snap-together plastic blocks like Lego and Duple. Instead of working to some 'standardized' design, their imaginations were unleashed. 

Of course their is always someone, no matter how small, who needs to use tools to make stones smaller. Sheldon was there working with us for a while, but then had to go and help all the bigger folks rebuilding the walls at the entrance to St Mark's.

My grown-up assistants at this year's children event were saints too. St. Diane and St. Mark together built this wonderful miniature reproduction of the church.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Sun Burst

" What is this?  " you ask.

It's the inside structure of the garden planter bench I designed to be built at the Thousand Islands Art Centre dry stone workshop in Clayton, New York.

I hadn't thought about how best to build the interior until we were actually building it last weekend.


Here is the tiny space we had to work in, before we added the soil.

Stones and hearting laid on their flat would not have meshed well with the vertical treatment we used on the exterior stones, so we laid the inside stones up to bench seat height on the vertical too.

After we finished the seats and filled the interior, we laid boulders in the corners to act as bookends for the vertically laid stones forming the back of the four sided bench.

After two days of hot gruelling work, we rested. Alleluia. It all worked out perfectly.