Sheep Shed

This is the tenth of ten short essays on the design and stone work I did on Rice Mountain for the Berg family over an 18 year period beginning in the late 1980's.

With the gardens around the home completed and planted, no additional dry stone walling was required of me. I thought my building days on Rice Mountain had come to a close, when one day Mrs. Berg asked me to take a look at the sheep pasture. She wondered if it might benefit by having a special feature added, an environmental art piece of my own choosing. Since the sheep that Dave kept there were already key players in the landscape I proposed building a sculpture for them.

The Sheep Shed resides at the convergence of two paths trodden into the hillside by many generations of sheep hooves. Three dry stone walls, built from cobbles and boulders selected from a gravel pit, support oak timbers. A light weight network of spruce log poles rests on the frame. In ascending layers, thick slabs of flat stone from a quarry in Goshen, Massachusetts cover the pole rafters. The roof stones are not affixed in any way. They are held in place by the sheer weight of their collective mass. Twenty tons of stone float over the void of the sheep shed interior.

Painting and sculpture have traditionally relied on craftsmanship as the means to their ends. The lines of demarcation between craft and art are blurred in contemporary culture. Increasingly these days the process of creation is credited as the art form, itself. Environmental art is an example of sculpture-making where the focus is on a specific place on earth. The location of the work is a defining feature of the piece. The title “Sheep Shed” suggests a utilitarian purpose, and the work does in fact shelter sheep, but its true purpose is to interact with the environment as a whole, to become of the place and for the place. These are important distinctions in a world where we expect every addition to the built environment to be of a commercial concern. Values are often developed and judged as items on a balance sheet. The Sheep Shed was born and raised on ideas and ideals that transcend the tyranny of the bottom line.

The principles that Mrs. and Mr. Berg applied to the creation of their surroundings on Rice Mountain were personal ones. They appreciated beauty in all its manifestations, natural and man-made. Artists and craftspeople coming to the mountain were asked to act on their best instincts. The Bergs offered every worker the chance to expand the horizons of their chosen field. We only needed to rise to the occasion, Mrs. and Mr. Berg were behind us every step of the way.