Thursday, March 23, 2017

Remembered in stone and bronze

During this St Patricks Day week, Mary and I visited a park dedicated to the 38,000 Irish immigrants who came to Toronto during the famine of 1847. 

Ireland park, which opened in 2007, is a hard to find wisp of property not far from Harbourfront, which looks directly across to Toronto Island Airport. 

A kind of stone oceangoing ship creates a solemn backdrop for a handful of haunting bronze sculptures ( created by renowned artist Rowan Gillespie) personifying the hardship endured by families leaving Ireland during the famine, many of them arriving in Canada only to die later of typhoid. The cluster of sculptures representing ‘arrival’ in Canada mirror a similar collection of ‘departure’ sculptures by the same artist at the Famine Memorial in Dublin at the Custom House Quays. 

The rugged contour of the looming boat-like structure (built from of limestone shipped from Dublin) was purposely designed to be reminiscent of the towering 'sandstone' Cliffs of Moher on the west coast of Ireland, the last sight seen by emigrants leaving home. 

Some names are engraved in the stone and hidden in the gaps in the ships walls. A kind of presence of nameless thousands who died on the 'coffin ships’ is felt in the layers upon layers of stones heaped together to create this powerful and very sobering stone sculpture. 

In my research I was unable to find anything else about the ship or the sculptor. It seemed fitting that he or she also remains nameless.

DEATH or CANADA from Daniel Thomson on Vimeo.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Giant Chess

I envision the Irish tower we built in California as a giant stone playing piece, the first one of many different towers in a gigantic world game of three-way chess.

The stone tower is the castle or the ‘rook’ and it’s on the white side. (This could be the side of the international team of French, Irish, US and Canadian.) 

Who the grey and black sides are, will have to be decided on as other chess towers are designed and constructed and ‘transported' to the board

This video clip is a quick rough visualization of how I imagine the board will be ‘landscaped' and how the view might look from a drone’s perspective, (minus all the pieces except ours).

I’m not sure what all the rules are yet. Three sides and three dimensions might get a bit complicated. 

Anyway the tower was the hard part, right?

Of course there is only this one rook on the board so far.

Three full sets of monumental chess structures still need to be constructed.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Sometimes it's good to be tasteless.

In the stone world 'culture' has become not much more than an advertising concept.

Here are some other examples of 'cultured' rock.

What then does 'tasteless' rock look like

A bit more interesting and engaging, perhaps.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Rock vs Plastic

Bruce Curtis, a master craftsman with the DSWA in the UK spent two years building some amazing dry stone walls at the Edinburgh International Climbing Arena (otherwise known as Ratho) 

When we visited it in 2007 it was considered the world's largest climbing arena.

Not only did Bruce build the upper walls with a challengingly difficult stone material, he must have been an incredibly fit climber to have got all the way  up there to build them.

I wonder why we don't see dry stone installations for climbing on at more climbing facilities in North America. 
They would look more authentic and probably feel much more like what climbing feels like. 

I think I would even take up climbing if I didn't have to hang on to coloured plastic knobs.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Ripplings.... Believing IS Seeing.

We as a species are always looking to discover patterns. 

We believe they are there.

If we look hard enough, our imagination starts to see some sort of design in everything.

And so, in what just seems to be random arrangements of stones, eventually, we will manage to find order. 

Sometimes in order to discover it, we just have to dive right in.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Well worth the time.

A brilliant twenty-five minute documented exploration into all the reasons we as wallers love building with stone. 

Sometimes you just need to stand back and watch other people talking about their passion and see it in such perspective. 

JuliĆ  Rocha Pujol has created an all-encompassing cinematographic 'enclosure' around a subject that will be appreciated by anyone curious to learn, not so much how, but whywe choose to do what we do.

Big thank you  to my friend James Asbury who drew this film to my attention. 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

It nearly drove me back to the bottle.

I've been trying out a pretty amazing paint app on my iPad.

It's called Procreate

After a week of experimenting painting bottles, I ventured on to my first serious stone wall painting yesterday, based on a photo (on right) I took of some stonework I did in California.

As I gradually got familiar with many of Procreate's paint functions, two things occurred to me during the hours and hours I was painting, trying to achieve some degree of stone-like realism.

1. Stones, though seemingly commonplace and fairly homogeneous, have far more visual information stored on their faces than any common homo-sapien.

2. Because stones are so naturally given to the idea of endlessly sitting there having their portrait done, it makes the diversion of stopping for a drink, just to take a break from trying to paint them, seem like an undeserved indulgence!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017


Jason Hoffman is in Norway helping out on a dry stone bridge building project with Haakon Aase an accomplished stone mason from Litlebergen Hordaland.
Haakon's bridge has a whopping nineteen and a half foot span and is being constructed with local gneiss material. 

Haakon and a local farmer had been planning the bridge for several years. They have been raising funds and sought advice from the roads department whose engineers produced a lovely but useless report. So Haakon and some keen helpers went ahead and just built the arch. 

Jason has been FB friends with Haakon for a couple of years and this winter asked about coming to Norway to help build the bridge. Steven Rowe and Jason flew out last Sunday for an intensive week of dry stone bridging. 

Jason says he and Steven are part of the phase two squad. The phase 1 squad built the voussoirs.  Phase 2 is building the side walls with some pretty massive gneiss stones.

Haken Says that “the people involved have jumped into their tasks with great enthusiasm. Pinning and tickling in ‘mellomroma' between ‘kvelvsteinane’ . The build is going quite fast and it’s hard to pull people away from work for supper.

It looks like pretty rough going doing the foundation digging

The segmented arch form is positioned on steel I beams until  the voussoirs and most of the entrados stones are in place

Safe working areas are needed either side to work off of.

All the 2x4s over the form will be pulled out before the supporting curved centering.

Notice the clever metal stone scoops.

Nice work everyone ! Thanks Jason for the update.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Inversely Hard

It's fairly hard to do this sort of thing, even with rocks that are big and heavy.  

The smaller the rocks however, the 'harder' they are to actually balance. 

Ironically, tiny pebbles are the 'hardest' to stack - Just ask this tiny rock balancer. 

But then again maybe it's not so hard for him. He's obviously quite prepared to stand there forever until he gets it.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Seeds of Creation.

Out in the field with his team of Clydesdales a farmer is planting seeds the old way.  

A farmer long before him removed rocks from that same field and presumably made the old wall in the foreground.

The rocks are like 'inverse seeds'. 

They come out of the soil instead of go into it. Instead of being scattered, they are combined to come to fruition. 

Instead of needing water and sunlight to grow and ripen, all they need is a little imagination to survive, eventually becoming something that enhances the landscape. 

Unlike seeds, rocks are pretty much imperishable, and do their job well, unless of course you crush them and plow them into concrete to create a totally different landscape - a landscape where all too often neither type of seed survives.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Life is a Puzzle

Life, like this pile of rocks, is a puzzle - a free puzzle. Building a wall with these rocks (or any pile of rocks) could be compared to solving that puzzle. 

To take a piece, and without inflicting huge changes with hammer or saw on it, place it in your wall where it actually seems to belong, is like taking life as it comes, and discovering a solution to part of the puzzle. 

It may not be the only solution, but it is valid one. It is valid because you did it . 

Nothing compares to that 'one-with-the-universe' moment, when you find a stone that fits so well that you just know it was supposed to be there.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Shaking out the mountain

The mountains around the San Joanquin Valley look like rugs waiting to be shook out.

The geology below the expanse of green furriness is from when everything was swept under the carpet, leaving only the telltale signature of crevices and mounds of rolling hills.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Stone Fingerprint

kamen po kamen...

Croatia is famous for its stunning Adriatic coast, but equally stunning is some of the man-made creations to be found there, none more so than the spectacular tiny island of Baljenac, just 0.14 km sq in size, but with a staggering 23.357 kilometres of dry stone walls. The original Dalmatian stone fingerprint.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Tower View

This photo I took on February 4th 2014 shows the wooden viewing platform where occasionally we'd throw balls from during some of our wilder games of litho bolos. (Note the trees in the background.)

The platform had been constructed by the realtor listing this coastal property to allow potential buyers to be able to see above the tops of the tall oaks and redwood in order to catch a good view of the Pacific Ocean below.  

After the land had been purchased I suggested to the owner that it was only right that the wooden structure now be taken down and a proper stone lookout tower be built there in its place.

Amazingly, that is exactly what happened.

Here is the Irish tower that was designed and eventually built. As you can see from the position of the trees, it is located on the very same spot that the original viewing platform had been constructed.  

The above photo I took early in February of 2017, three years later, shows the completed stonework the day that all the scaffolding was taken down.

Visitors who come to admire the view are all blown away by what they see. Oh, and yes, the view of the ocean from the top the tower is pretty nice too.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Fighting the Stone People

Sometimes working with stone can be a battle. It's almost like the stones have a personality. There's always a few rebels that resist your every effort to put them in their place. 

It's not always best to confront them face to face or try to show them who's boss. Better to walk away and just accept that sometimes there needs to be a balance of power.

Friday, March 3, 2017

A hit or miss situation.

Bicycling along the old Kern Canyon Road yesterday I rode past several places where huge boulders had recently slid off the mountain. The sobering reality of such big rocks occasionally just careening down onto the road really hit me.

The thing is, I'm fortunate in that I don't go too many days without getting to see and hold rocks of all shapes and sizes. I always enjoy working with them on some project or other. 

It's interesting. When I am working with them, I may often have to smash one or two of the more awkward shaped ones with a hammer. 

So then, in a sense it's true that if I'm away from them for any length of time, I end up 'missing' them, (in both senses of the word) 

I guess I'm asking myself if it's the same for them?

Is it only when I'm not there that they miss me?

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Stones remember where they've been hit.

Stones have memory. Every blow of the hammer sends a distinct message through the chisel to the stone's core matrix.  The stone 'remembers' the direction, strength and angle of each strike. A detailed record of these impacts is kept until an interior line is conceived along a prescribed, but not yet formed, interior plane. 

The right combination of hits is like inputting the right combination on a lock. It 'unlocks' and opens the stone.