In the Company of Stone: The Art of the Stone Wall

In the Company of Stone: The Art of the Stone Wall

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by Daniel Snow
     
 

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“Finding stone, choosing it, and letting go of it are the three things a waller does. I’d miss any one of them too much if I asked someone else to do them for me. I may work by myself, but I’m not alone. I’m in the company of stone.”

Dan Snow is a waller, an artisan who builds walls, terraces, caverns, and the occasional sphere or

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Overview


“Finding stone, choosing it, and letting go of it are the three things a waller does. I’d miss any one of them too much if I asked someone else to do them for me. I may work by myself, but I’m not alone. I’m in the company of stone.”

Dan Snow is a waller, an artisan who builds walls, terraces, caverns, and the occasional sphere or pool out of dry stone. It’s an ancient skill—building with only what the earth provides. No mortar, no nails, nothing to hold his creations together except gravity, an invisible glue he can sense in the stones’ “conversations” of squeaks and rumbles. A hollow sound means a void needs to be filled; a solid fit is secured with the sound of a bolt being thrown.

Snow’s evocative prose and Peter Mauss’s richly textured photographs of Snow’s work reveal the nuance and beauty of walling—and of one man’s relationship with nature. The result is by turns poetic and practical.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Snow nestles his practical depictions of design within rhapsodies about earth and stone and man."
Santa Fe New Mexican
House & Garden
Man's relationship with nature is the subtext of this exceptional book.
Book Fare
...the thinking man's stonemason. Snow applies a Zen-like concentration of mortarless stone walls.
The Washington Post
"The prose weaves between practical and poetic with the same gentle twists as an old field wall, inspiration to armchair waller and budding artisan alike."
Washington Post
Seattle Post-Intelligencer
"In this artful tome, stone walls are not just linear boundary markers, but sinuous, wandering creatures."
Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Sacramento Bee
"A fascinating work [with] spectacular photographs."

Sacramento Bee

Santa Fe New Mexican
"Snow nestles his practical depictions of design within rhapsodies about earth and stone and man."
Santa Fe New Mexican

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781579653477
Publisher:
Artisan
Publication date:
01/30/2007
Pages:
128
Sales rank:
730,955
Product dimensions:
10.31(w) x 12.00(h) x 0.50(d)

Read an Excerpt

I built these walls out of necessity, or by way of that motherless invention known as art. Whatever reason they came to be, it is their "coming to" that I can tell you about. I am a drystone waller and art maker. Walling is my occupation and has been since 1976. It is also my preoccupation-when I'm not working, I like to think about it. Of the many good reasons to do this for a living-working outside, one that keeps bringing me back for more is walling's endless capacity to surprise.

My surprise is in how my perception is changed as stones enter relationships with one another on their way to becoming a wall. When now and again a stone falls into a place that is utterly inevitable, I feel I am suddenly standing under a shower of grace. For an instant I become inevitable, too. I share the compatibility that stone finds with stone. If I'm lucky, it happens a lot. Then again, some days it doesn't happen at all. Grace may fall in the next moment or never again. I know only that if I put myself with stone, it may happen again, so I keep on walling.

I am continually surprised and delighted by what the earth has to offer through the handling of its loose stone. Can you imagine anything in static form with greater variety than the stone scattered loosely over the earth?

The sky is full of clouds of intense variety, but before we can take a second look at them they've changed. Stones keep their shapes for so long, I don't have to wonder how they may someday change. For the purposes of a waller, stone is immortal. I work alone most of the time, gathering the stone myself for each job, either from a place of my own where loose stone lies naturally in abundance or from the property where I'm building. Finding stone, choosing it, and letting go of it are the three things a waller does. I'd miss any one of them too much if I asked someone else to do them for me. I may work by myself, but I'm not alone. I'm in the company of stone.

I have been fortunate to discover my place in the world by way of an intimate contact with the earth's "offspring." The handling of stone sets me squarely between imagining and knowing. All loose stone was at one time part of the living earth. In walling, I bring stone back together, even if artificially and only temporarily, and reunite it with the earth. Walling puts back what has come apart. I spend my days close to the ground. My shoes are scuffed from stamping in the dirt. The palms of my hands are burnished from grabbing stone. I bend so low my head dips below my heart. I'm always trying to get a little closer to the land and its boundless gifts.

Others have been here before me, filling themselves full of this place as I do. They pulled themselves to the ground by planting and harvesting. The first steps I take in the construction of a drystone wall are a continuation of those taken long before. Land that was free of stone was prized by earlier generations. Removing stone made the ground more accessible. Plucking it from the surface of the ground opened the ground up for foraging and growing crops. Set into a wall, it acted as a barrier between livestock and crops. Farmers harvested it along with their potatoes and pumpkins.

For more than two hundred years a wave of agriculture rolled across our landscape. The deep woods were turned to cropland and pasture. But the tide turned by the end of the nineteenth century and agricultural life has been, for the most part, retreating from the land. Left undisturbed, forest reclaims open land quietly and completely. It is ironic that what former generations wanted out of the way in their time is today an enduring visual proof of their existence: collections of stone.

The earth is alive and continually tries to take back what it has given up. Stone walls are pulled down by many forces; perhaps the strongest is the earth they stand on. There is a ton of stone in every yard of drystone wall three feet high. In summer, the earth is warm, soft, and impressionable. Day after day, a wall's heft is pressed by gravity into the soil. The soil compresses and is squeezed out in the direction of least resistance. As the soil moves away from the wall, the wall's base stones follow it, shifting down and out into the surrounding ground.

What was soft and malleable in summer turns hard and irresistible in wintertime. Frozen ground pushes harder than a wall can resist. Even with its tons of stone bearing down, a wall is heaved up by frozen earth.

(Moisture drawn out of soil particles freezes around them, expanding the earth.) Stones are displaced when the wall is raised up on frost. More damage occurs when the wall comes back down during a thaw. The weight of

the wall flushes water out from under it and soil particles run out with the water. With less soil under the wall, the base stones sink farther down.

In late fall and early spring, the freeze-thaw cycle can happen daily as night temperatures fall below freezing and then warm again during the daylight hours. This process can be a very specific phenomenon in a wall, occurring on the south-facing side but not on the colder north side. This causes an uneven amount of settling to occur between the two faces.

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