Posts tagged dry stone wall
The New England Farmer: Stone Fences

Published one hundred sixty-one years ago, the excerpt, below, from the November issue of “The New England Farmer” contains much the same advice contemporary walling instructors offer their students. Interestingly, many of the terms used to describe the craft are recognizable today. Although, as you'll discover in reading the final passage, production expectations have changed substantially since 1858, when a waller laid up, on average, three rods of stone fence in a day.

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Granite Solidarity

Now and then it’s advisable to break from the routine of solitary building for a few days of walling with a stone compatriot. It’s a chance to share approaches to the craft and backgrounds in the business. Sharing a workspace after being alone takes some adjustment. Another’s safety has to be considered along with one’s own. Trouble can come suddenly and from unexpected quarters. An outcome can be crushing, or as in this tale, just a lesson learned the easy way.

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Art in the Balance

To be in touch and in tune with nature has a centering effect on us. Couple the outdoors with a creative pursuit, and engagement with both is enriched because together they sharpen and heighten our spatial orientation. My environmental art piece Fantasy Topography seeks to bring pleasure to the core.

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A Stone Livestock Pound

What was the first public structure built to safeguard harmony in early agricultural communities? Who were the hog reeves and why were they sometimes recently married, young men? What did impecunious pound-brechers do to deserve 30 lashes? These questions and more will be answered during a program I’ll be giving at the Dummerston Historical Society’s quarterly meeting Thursday July 18th at 7:30 pm. I hope you’ll join me for an evening exploring the history of Dummerston’s town pound and take a walk around the dry stone pound, erected ten years ago, next to the Historical Society building.

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Length In: Developing a Frame of Mind in Dry Stone Walling

A belief set in the mind of many beginner dry stone wallers is that a wall is what it looks like on the outside, when it actually is what is not seen, on the inside. To accept a wall stone at face value is to believe that what shows is most of what that stone is, but in a well built wall, most is concealed, securely trapped inside the construction.

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Self-Archeology in a Stone Environment

The most enjoyable takeaway from examining a wall that has remained true is a validation of the beliefs held while bringing it into being. Dry stone walling is about action in the moment but the results take a while to be proven out. The labor of building is lightened by seeing how honest effort ultimately endures.

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The Holy Well

Excavation of the hillside spring revealed layers of geologic stratification. Top soil lay on coarse gravel over pure sand on top of clay hardpan. The design called for ground water that trickled out of the sand layer to be trapped in a hollow under a half-shell overhang. Recycled slate from building foundation ruins and cobbles from a gravel pit were combined to shape the dry stone installation.

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Action in a Resting Place

Understandably, the present strives toward the future, but there’s nothing to say we can’t, from time to time, turn around and walk backwards into it. In that way, momentum can be maintained while gazing back, with love and affection, on those who have come before. They might appreciate it, and our steps may be lightened by the expanded outlook on our place in time.

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Stone Well Cover

I can only imagine the pride a 19th century homesteader might have had, on the completion of a hand-dug, stone-lined water well. The clear, cold water contained in it would have been an essential ingredient for any hill farm’s success. Some old wells are still in use today at venerable New England homes, while other 30 foot deep examples of the well digger’s art may be found next to abandoned cellar holes in the backwoods. Although underground and out of sight, such a towering achievement deserved to be crowned, and many were, with a beautiful stone well cover. The cover helped keep the well from contamination, and children and livestock safe from falling in.

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A Columbarium Wall

Soon, I will begin construction on a columbarium in a western Connecticut cemetery. The term columbarium is derived from the Latin columba, meaning dove. So, what do doves have to do with laying the departed to rest? Traditionally, a columbarium is a sepulchral structure with recesses in the walls to receive the ashes of the dead. The walls of cathedrals often have columbaria. But, prehistorically, those recesses were simply hollows in a cliff face, hollows sometimes shared by nesting doves. Thus, the dove became a symbol of love and peace. In the case of columbaria, the dove represents resting in peace.

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Time Tested Wall

Twenty years after Van de Water’s death in 1968 I was asked, by the new owners of the property, to build a stone wall there. I gathered and moved enough loose stone from fieldstone dumps on the farmstead to fashion an 80’ length of decorative fence. The innovation I employed for the project was to erect convex batter frames to create wall faces with curved slopes. Twenty-seven years later, visiting the wall for the first time since it was built, I see that it has held up well. My idea to splay out the foundation stones turned out to be a good trick for stabilizing the structure in the long term. Time is the test of dry stone work. Wallers build with the faith that their skill in the craft will see the work through. I’m heartened when I see ancient stoneworks still standing tall and I’m proud of those I’ve built that continue the tradition.

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A Seating Wall

Here’s a little secret about building a dry stone wall on a busy construction site: work on the holiday. I spent the Memorial Day weekend constructing a seating wall for the Hall Art Foundation in Reading, Vermont. While packs of touring motorcyclists occasionally rumbled past on Route 106, bird song was the predominant sound track. No distractions from the other contractors, who are busy there on the weekdays, meant I could concentrate on the task at hand. I built two sections of wall beside one of the galleries at Vermont’s newest art museum.

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Walls of Snowdonia

“Walls of Snowdonia”; it could be the title of a fantasy video game featuring my stoneworks. But, no, Snowdonia is a real place, and although I did make some stone wall repairs in Wales while visiting Philip Clark in the early 1990’s those walls are not included in this folio of beautiful photographs by Peter Ogwen Jones, Walls of Snowdonia. In fact, these beautiful examples of the waller’s craft were constructed more than a century ago. They continue to stand as testaments to the enduring value, practical and aesthetic, of handmade structures in the living landscape.

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