Sunday, July 22, 2018

A stones throw from the high school

Last week we visited the bridge we built in July of 2017 . It's looking very settled in and part of the landscape Good to see too there's no stones loose or missing, even though the bridge is opposite Haliburton High School.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Did it really happen?

If a wooden form is removed from the bottom of a dry stone arch bridge in the middle of the forest, and no one sees it, was it ever really there?

Friday, July 20, 2018

Valuables in the Vault

We put a lot of time in the vault. There was a big investment of energy and a lot of mental effort. There was the value added in the shaping, the fitting, the figuring out what will work in what space , the taking stock of what stones we had left, banking on the bankers and being able to finish and maintain the high standard of workmanship that we started with. 
There's a lot of valuable stuff in our vault   saving up for the And now any time soon we'll go to the vault and withdraw  everything else ( the wooden form) so we can just look up inside the vault . We trust we won't need any bridge financing.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Good Bridge with Good Form

Good bridges need good 'centering' , in other words 'good form'. We know this one is good because we just used it to build Mitchell's bridge and it worked perfectly. Today we will complete the abutments and start going over the form with the granite voussoirs.

Monday, July 16, 2018

What a Performance

Here in Ontario we have something cleverly named High Performance Bedding (HPB)by some aggregate industry advertising spin doctor. It's basically tiny pieces of crushed limestone, without the dust.
High Performance Bedding (H.P.B.TM) is the rather over-excited name for bedding material used to provide drainage layer under slabs, retaining walls and between flagstone. Apparently it is approved as an ‘alternative’ material by the Ontario Building code to the formally recognized HL6 clear stone.
It sells like crazy.
But surely it's a stretch to call it high performance ? Having had initially great expectations, I have long since given up holding it cautiously in my hands waiting for it to somehow 'perform' -as I sit perched on the edge of my seat, expecting it to put on some amazing show. . . Nope

It's just tiny gravel folks. Nothing to see here. Move on.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

A bridge is not a dam.

I build bridges. 

Bridges are built so as not to hinder or stifle the course that nature has already taken, no matter how inconvenient that flow seems or how expedient our own course has become.

A bridge does not say to the river, “Stop what you’re doing, I am more important”

A bridge does not block the silent flow of the moment, or the stream of spontaneity or creativity It does not try to impede the activity that goes freely on below, however contrary to the direction we have chosen to go. 

Spanning things (not hindering the flow) is of a higher order than just connecting adjoining purposes. In this respect, causeways are very unsuccessful bridges.

The thing that flows beneath a bridge can often be more important than the bridge itself, or the things it connects.

There are comings and goings of life (of people and situations) that flow constantly across (above or below) our path which we shouldn’t need to criticize or block completely just because they appear different or not useful to our own interests. 

Bridges are the solution to differences of opinion, style, technique, orientation. A bridge is a structural compromise across dynamic flows, not a stagnant stalemate between enemies. There is no need for conflict, no need for 'either or' ultimatums, no need to have the falsework stay there under the bridge blocking the expansive  flow of cooperation and good will ever possible between man and man, or man and nature.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Metamorphic Stone

The bridge at Pontypool went through a transformation yesterday. Not unlike the metamorphosis of a caterpillar turning into a butterfly, late in the afternoon, after three solid days weighting in the hot sun as we systematically shaped and assembled them, the stones shed their original form supporting them, and, almost miraculously, changed into a floating arc of beauty.  

For the next two days the bridge will need time to have its wings dry laid and have its cobbled walking surface emerge, After that we're anticipating this whole garden bridge project, which has been such a splendid experience to be part of, will begin to 'take off'not just visually, but also 'notably', as the bridge, with its slanted abutment design, is quite different from any of the previous ones we've done here in Canada 

Thanks to the enthusiastic team that participated in this workshop, including the 'Fike Team', Mack, Zack, Brian and Reid. Big kudos to to Oliver, and of course to my main helper Mark and my client Dave.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Bridges without anything but Humans

Stone bridges can be made without mortar. 

Stone bridges that span many feet and take the weight of all sorts of heavy traffic and cross great chasms, can be made without a lot of things. They can be made without complicating engineering reinforcement requirements and without many totally unnecessary manufactured products, things that unfortunately, in this so called modern age, you might be pressured to using.

But the fact is, they can be made without having any  steel or concrete in them. They can be made without nails, fasteners,rebar or plastic holding them together. And can be built without using bobcats or cranes or heavy equipment. 
Beautiful footbridges of stone that last hundreds of years can be made without anything, (except a little bit of wood) some rocks and a friendly bunch of enthusiastic people. It mostly needs people doing what they do best - getting along.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Dry Walls and Stone Boats

Last Friday, after completing four days doing the boat /bench installation on the shore of Head Lake in Sam Slick Park, I moved inland with my students to do a half day of dry stone wall instruction along the perimeter of Haliburton Highlands Museum property near HSAD.

The fieldstone material here is very different from the quarried material we were using before. Rounder, weathered, and distributed long ago by the glaciers. These particular stones had been piled here at the time the museum opened and were waiting to be made into a replica of a historic wall settlers might have constructed after clearing the land. (Perhaps the bigger ones would have been dragged off the fields in a traditional 'stone boat') 

They would however, have been difficult to form into any kind of sculpture of a 'boat'. 
They would all rather just be part of a ‘dry’ stone wall. 

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Messing about with a Stone Boat

"There is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats." Kenneth Grahame

Friday, July 6, 2018

A Dry Stone Boat

These happy sailers just completed 4 days on a course along the shore in stone row boat building workship, I mean workshop. Even though the weather was scorching and there was no breeze, the crew did a fine job of staying on course without any talk of mutiny or anyone rocking the boat too much. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Field trip to the quarry

Yesterday we went to a local quarry so the students could see how the granite near Minden comes out of the ground. and is processed. Mostly by one man, Ryan, who works at the quarry and is happy enough to show us how this lovely layered Liquorice All-sorts material can be split into 2 inch flags fairly easily with a large splitting hammer. 

A field trip like this helps fill out the day and is a change from the hot work it's been so far this week moving and lifting stones. More fun to watch someone else sweating.

We were there too on a mission with my trailer, to pick up a few 'parts' for the stone boat we are building.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Design a Stone Boat

Yesterday, after a morning of class instruction in dry stone walling, and an afternoon of designing in miniature with small stones, my class has come up with what we think will be a good dry stone bench concept for the park.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Hot Doggedy

Last Friday Mary and I went to the quarry in Minden and chose all these rocks for the Haliburton School of Art and Design course thatI’ll be teaching this coming week. 
Farley just sat and watched. He was way too hot. 
Drop by if you’re cottaging in the area. The workshop project is in the park right next to the site where last year’s class built a charming little dry stone footbridge.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Extending the radiating pattern of the voussoirs

We would like to have the design of the bridge that we're building at next months bridge workshop, have abutments that continue the radiating pattern of the voussoirs over the bridge opening. It will be a fairly flat bridge.

Enough mass will be established below grade to support the longish abutment stones and also there will be large stones stacked at the ends of the bridge below grade to eliminate the tendency of the arch to spread. 

The problem area will be where we are laying the abutment stones nearest the point where the arch opening begins. These stones will want to slide until they are pinned by the entire weight of the voussoirs over the bridge. The opening below the form could get narrower but it could hinder taking out the form. I'm wondering if anyone has any suggestions.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Representational Art

If an artist needs ear, eye and respiratory protection while carving stone in the true likeness of the model who is posing there in the studio, then it seems to me the model would need the same equipment.  For the piece to be realistically representational, the finished sculpture too would have to be depicted wearing that same safety equipment . 

Abstract sculpture does not demand this kind of authenticity.  Nor does building dry stone walls.
But then again, we don't usually use grinders, so we don't have to wear all that stuff anyway.  And our walls can look (and be) absolutely realistic without the rocks needing any kind of protection.

Monday, June 25, 2018

The Art of the Frugal

I don't know if this installation completed just last week (at the same private art gallery near Ottawa where we created the slanted garden last year) is art, or architecture or just a folly. Essentially, I don't think it matters. It's pleasing just to the eye . 

A friend of my client who is in the gallery business, saw the photo of it and wrote back - "... So many congrats for commissioning such an elegant, timeless, discreet intervention in the landscape! I look forward to experiencing it in the flesh."

'Timeless' is a positive word . I like it. It transcends fashion and novelty. It speaks of history (real or imagined it doesn't matter) It says to me the stones from the property made their visual resting place, rather than being forgotten with the rest of the dirt when the gallery foundation was excavated. 

How can we call it ‘Environment Art', if the available natural material is not valued enough for us to save and create, not just an aesthetically pleasing statement, but one that lasts. 

The pile of leftover stones below didn't get buried, they were fitted into another expression of permanence and beauty, creating if you will, a kind of ‘timeless closure’. I don't think any other material than these lovely stones from the property could have been used to create such a harmonious whole/hole - a sunken ‘enclosure’ celebrating the inherent economy and provision of nature.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Tilting Day Time?

This is the moment in the earth’s orbit where its lean towards the sun gives us the longest time of daylight in one 24 hour period ! So why don’t we lean even more that way, and get even longer days?

Tuesday, June 19, 2018


We must not give in to A. I.  -  that is, Artificial Insanity.
There is still enough REAL to go around.
Non-plastic flowers still can bloom in our gardens and be picked and put in vases and last long enough for us to remember life is not an act, not a facsimile, not something we can pretend is close enough to real that it doesn't matter.
Of course it matters.
Life is not artificial.
Matter matters and it is ALL real.

Rocks may be our last chance to turn this rampant artificial insanity around.

Rocks are not trying to be anything else. Rocks don't need to be imitated. Rocks shouldn't be fake. The artificial has to stop somewhere. We have enough fake gold, pretend amusement, synthetic food, made up lives and fabricated lies to sink a planet.

The rocks can save us if we listen to them, if we don't mute their voices staring at plastic versions.

Our planet is mostly rock. Our earth is made of reality.  It will not go well if we fool ourselves into thinking we will make do in some fake world we have manufactured for ourselves. No amount of insanity, or intelligence, can replace the truth of one single REAL rock.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Shade Boarding

There's no skating the heat today
Every rock you touch is hot
The sun burns down 
Your strength is sapped
No walls are capped
Nothing can be made 
Even in the shade 

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Herding Sheep

You rarely see Border Collies and border walls in Canada both ‘working’ together to round up sheep. 

The place was Balsam Lake Ontario 
The time? Last Friday. 

The wall? Just one of some the many sections we’ve restored over the past 14 years. 

The dogs? Just prizewinning shepherding dogs owned and trained by Kevan Gretton and Catherine 

The ‘experience’ was a pilot event organized by Debra Soule, economic development officer for the City of Kawartha Lakes.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Half way through the second day workshop

The pilot program is going well.

The Balsam Lake walls, where we were 'work-shopping' yesterday, will soon be on an interactive map showing art and/or historicaly interesting points of interest in and around the City of Kawartha lakes. 
There will be signs put up too, marking where these lovely old Scottish walls are, many of which are over 150 years old.  We better hurry and get this interactive one completed.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Large Boulders ? No problem.

I was asked to help develop a pilot program for the City of Kawartha Lakes Tourism,Arts,Culture and Heritage Development Department involving instructing a wall restoration course at Balsam Lake as part of a two day 'Experience' that will be offered as a package holiday adventure here in Southern Ontario. Yesterday we took down a section of 150 year old wall that was showing signs of collapsing and had spread out at the base. Property owner Doug Patterson and I, with the help of some capable promotional and marketing women, pushed some very large granite boulders back into place in preparation for rows of limestone material to be then laid above them today  .

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Key to creativity.

Looking more like a 'keyhole' now, our 'bowl bench' is taking shape. This local limestone (from the Smith Falls ,Ontario area) breaks along parallel cleavage lines, leaving lots of flag material (or as Mark says 'plates') to choose from. We are finding laying it vertically in a more Irish style is giving the circle strength and a pleasing dynamic look.  The trick too is not to have fresh breaks showing, ( just natural faces) or chisel too much so that the finished piece looks vaguely neolithic. That said, this installation is turning out to be a bit of a challenge. I like creating structures I've never done before, and so I remind myself that usually means taking a risk. As my friend John Fisher the sculptor says,  "True artistic output is an act of desperation".

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The Seating Area

Looking rather like a moongate lying down, our ‘bowl bench’ is now beginning to look like something.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Lean back and imagine you're in a different time.

Here's a visualization of a project we're starting this week. A dry laid concave circular reclining area nestled in a inverted bowl-shaped hill. The splayed entrance invites you towards the narrow opening that then opens up into a cozy protected 'gathering area'. Hopefully the grassy mound and passageway will have similar appeal to that of various rounded sections of ancient Roman earthworks I've seen on my visits to Britain..

Monday, June 11, 2018

Both Sides Done

Eight students, two day workshop.

Students who took the May 20th Dry Stone Walling Across Canada workshop in Rockport might be interested to see their shorter section of wall has now been completed and matches the longer wall we built last year on the other side of the lane.

Again, well done to the students, and to everyone who was involved.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Well on its way Not to be a Ruins

Photo by Paul Murphy of Merchants Gate Films

Even though we didn't quite get it finished during the five day festival of Stein and Wein in Langenlois Austria, we made a significant landmark nestled among the rolling hills of this beautiful vineyard landscape. 

In my talk the previous Friday, I had pointed out that when you are building structures with dry stone, you can pretend that they are supposed to be rustic ruins until you come back to finish them. Then again, if it is to just be a ruins, and you need more work, you can keep adding to it for as long as it is expedient. 

Many thanks to Helmut and the whole crew who made this part of the five sided hut such a success. Sorry to leave my Irish, Austrian and German friends behind. Missing from this photo are Martina, Elizabeth,Reiner, Herman and Renate who also were big helpers.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Finding my niche

There will be several niches like this one I just completed in the five sided hut we're building at Wein and Stein festival in Langenlois Austria .There will be a chunk of blue green or red stain glass that lets the light into the vaulted roofed interior.  There is a beehive of activity today trying to get the hut to a height we will still need to leave for Helmut and his capable crew to finish before the end of July for the gardening school's special celebration .

Several types of stein are being used in the construction of the hut including dense limestone and dimensional and irregularly shaped granite. There are many different students and professionals in the project. The challenge is to get the Stein and the volk to work together.

I have been so impressed with the hospitality and provision of those hosting this event. There has been a much appreciated routine of good tasting Austrian cuisine and an amazing variety of refreshments each day. 

The project has taken five days now and during this short time I have made many new friends and been reacquainted with others I've had the pleasure of working with before  (from Ireland Austria and Germany) who all have discovered this same love of stein. It's a wonderful niche to explore.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Vintage building

Another hot day lifting heavy stones onto the walls of the five sided hut .
Great helpers, great food, great learning, great experience and great exercise . Thirsty work too. Luckily there were copious clusters of fresh grapes on the vines in the vineyard where we're working to refresh our parched pallets . 

But I jest. They are jest photoshopped. 

Friday, June 1, 2018

Helmut Schieder

Helmut  Schieder (organizer of  Stein and Wein stands confidently in the opening of the five sided hut we are building in the hot hot tropical Austrian sun. It's about one fifth done. We have three more days.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

What you don't see

You can just see small pink dots on the base stones marking the outside and inside of the five sided dry stone hut we are building at the Stein in's Wein festival in Austria this week. It's slow going and most of the work done by the wallers and students so far ( except for a few more shaped corners) will not be seen, since the foundation stones here are all still below grade . 
But, as in any serious dry stone construction or creative work, the hearting and the base is not what you actually see and yet it is often the most important and painstakingly slowest part of the job.

Monday, May 28, 2018

One more negative component of wind power.

I've been asked to give a quote on repairing this section of old dry stone wall on Amherst Island that was damaged by a truck carrying wind turbine component equipment.

Photo by Brian Little

Below is an excerpt from the blog
“All the rules are made to be broken,” said Dumbrille, “to benefit the wind power developer. And the public has no right to information, apparently.”
Janet Grace, past chair of the Association to Protect Amherst Island (APAI), described numerous violations of the Renewable Energy Approval, road use agreements, and provincial safety regulations by “Windlectric” a shell company developing a power project on the island for Algonquin Power. 
Roads are blocked without notice, and construction throughout the winter has virtually destroyed roads, so much so that the municipality Loyalist Township issued a stop work order. Resident photographs indicate however, that the order was ignored, with the power developer construction firm continuing work. In addition, Grace said, the company is supposed to stop work at 7 PM, but in reality is working until 11 PM.
“The sad thing is, Grace said, “we know this is just the beginning of what is being done to our Island. There are rules being broken, and violations … the MOECC gives them exemptions. They’re just getting away with it all.”

Many of the walls on the island are in danger of having similar damage done to them unless the trucks drive slower and follow the proper MOECC rules and regulations set in place to protect and respect the properties affected by the influx of trucks creating wind turbine construction upheaval.