Drystone Wall Terraces

drystone walls make garden terraces

Terraced drystone walls create planting beds on a steep mountainside.

This spring we did a large drystone wall project on a steep mountainside. The clients were unable to drown anything because the bank was live rock- basically mountain ledges under a couple inches of sliding mulch. In most locations we had to carve away live rock to create a shelf to set the walls. We moved in a lot of soil for the gardeners too. We used Hooper’s Creek, a favorite building stone for walls of this type. The walls are laid dry, with gravel and chips behind and geo-textile fabric wrapping the whole thing.

Using the crane to move pallets of stone up to the work site

Using the crane to move pallets of stone up to the work site

One of the primary challenges of the project was the fact that the work site was behind the house, several feet above the driveway and inaccessible. We ended up using over 50 tons of material. That’s a lot to carry up a narrow set of steps. So we had Jerry and Bodie Rogers help us with their crane. They flew the pallets directly from the delivery truck to the staging area. It was fun to see the huge pallets swinging gracefully through the air.

Making the Benches with the Marble Inlay

In a recent post I mentioned a couple of benches we installed at King Daddy’s Chicken and Waffle that had marbles inlaid into the bluestone bases. Here’s a few pictures from the process.

onyx spheres

Banded onyx spheres for a stone bench

These spheres are made of banded onyx and are slightly larger than the regular glass marbles that made up the majority of the bench inlay. I used them in the corners to help secure all of the other marbles- so they wouldn’t roll away as the epoxy was setting.

glass marbles

Glass marbles

I went to the toy store and bought so many marbles. It was awesome. I decided to avoid grouping them or trying to control the color pattern. During the inlay process, my rule of thumb was generally to not put the same color/style of marble next to each other.

helpers at the shop

My boys helped me lay marbles into the bench bases

My boys came to the shop with me one day and helped me put marbles in. The marbles are set in a groove that was cut into the base stone- a large chunk of bluestone. I used a very heavy duty epoxy as the setting agent. Each marble has a couple of small cut on their backsides to ensure that the epoxy has something to bond to. The boys also helped me figure out how many marbles I needed to buy. It was a practical math problem we solved over dinner one night.

Lifting a big stone

Lifting a bench base with a cherrypicker engine hoist

My friend Wally loaned me his cherrypicker engine hoist. We used it to get the big pieces off the truck. From here we dropped them onto our cart and brought them to the installation site. We used the cherrypicker again to set them onto the mortar bed. Because the bluestone bases were precision cut and had fine corners- and because they were full of marbles- we didn’t want to risk our typical approach of flipping things around and muscling them into place. Sometimes we are capable of finesse! We used Lewis pins to lift the stones. Holes are drilled into the top of the stone and the pins slide in. When you lift it up, the pins ‘grab’ the stone and lock in place. The holes are under the slab and out of sight in the finished installation. The three small pieces on the top are spacers that give the seating slab a lift and help imply a floating feeling. They are epoxied and pinned in place. The holes you can see on the top of those pieces were for pins that slotted into the bottom of the seating slab. These will not be easily undone.

Marbles laid into stone

Marbles inlaid into stone for bench base

A look down one side of one bench during fabrication. I could only do one side at a time and I ended up redoing a lot of parts because my starting point with the epoxy was nervous hopefulness. It was a messy process and it took me a while to figure out how to make it work and look good. And since I was practicing on the finished pieces- not the smartest thing to do I admit- I had to undo a bunch of things. I expect that for the next few years I’ll be finding marbles at the shop that have been flattened top and bottom as I cut them out of these benches. But now I got epoxy swagger!

Boulder Bench

Big stone bench

Twenty inches tall and 60 inches tall, this is one of our biggest boulder stone bench builds

We built this boulder bench in Flat Rock, North Carolina. It’s longer (60″ instead of 48″) and taller (20″ instead of 18″) than most of our stone benches. This was at our client’s request. Having recently undergone surgery on her knee, she wanted something stable and a bit taller, so sitting down and getting back up didn’t require as much effort.
A thick slab of Tennessee sandstone is supported by two fieldstone boulders- also from TN. Both boulders are anchored into a single slab of concrete that is about the same size as the slab. This prevents differential settling- having one leg start moving away from the rest of the bench.

Stone Stoop and Patio with Heron Mosaic

Natural stone stoop and heron mosaic

A stone stoop and patio accented with a mosaic inlay of a great blue heron.

Our client in Mills River sent this photo recently of her new patio and stone stoop. Completed late last year, the area is finally getting landscaped. Decorative grasses surround the Great Blue Heron mosaic inlay I made for her. I call these pieces Garden Guardians. They are fun to build but very complex. I detail the process at this link.

All of the horizontal surfaces- patio, stoop, and step treads- are Pennsylvania stone, with a blend of the full-color and some nice blues. The patio is laid dry while the steps and stoop are mortared. The vertical surfaces are Hooper’s Creek. What’s shown is all mortared, though there is a drystone wall of the same material that holds up the patio. I like this combination of colors and materials quite a lot.

Stone Benches With Glass Marbles

stone bench with glass marbles

Glass marbles inlaid into a groove in the base of this natural stone bench provide a splash of color.

We recently installed two natural stone benches at King Daddy’s, an excellent little chicken and waffles restaurant in West Asheville. The two benches rest on the edge of their covered patio/outdoor seating area. Two large bluestone bases support slabs of Tennessee sandstone. The bases have glass marbles (mostly glass anyway- the ones on the corners are banded onyx!) laid into them. It’s partly inspired by my fascination with benches that are super sturdy but look like they might fall right over (see the Harmony Benches we’ve built or the Floating Bench to see the start of this obsession. It’s also inspired by a tale I’ve heard, but never confirmed, that old school masons would put glass marbles or lead balls between large stones when constructing a building. The marbles acted as spacers and prevented the heavy stones from squeezing out all the mortar between them. And I’ve always had a fascination with marbles in general; we find them all the time digging in people’s yards to install a patio or wall. I had a great deal of fun buying all these marbles. It’s a good time when you can go buy toys with the company credit card! Shout out to Dancing Bear Toys!
stone bench with glass marbles

Glass marbles are inlaid into the base of this stone bench to suggest a delicate balancing act.

“The Boy With Antlers” Natural Stone Mosaic in Raleigh Gallery Show

mosaic art

“The Boy With Antlers” Natural stone mosaic including travertine, marble, sandstone, granite. 22″ by 34″ This is a personal piece inspired by a character from the bedtime stories I tell my sons.

“The Boy With Antlers” is a natural stone mosaic I made based on one of the characters from bedtime stories I tell my sons. He is one of four friends possessed of animal traits- an impressive rack of elk antlers, as well as an incredible sense of smell. Of the four friends, he’s the only one who is troubled by his wild nature. I have posted one of the stories I wrote about Bo (his name) that can be downloaded here as a PDF. I also have recorded a couple of stories about the friends and posted them here.

The mosaic is currently on display (from March 4th to April 22) at the Betty Ray McCain Gallery in the Duke Energy Center at 2 East South Street, Raleigh, NC 27601. The mosaic was selected to take part in the 2018 North Carolina Artists Exhibition sponsored by the Raleigh Fine Arts Society. It is an honor to be selected to this juried show of talented North Carolina artists. The piece is for sale as part of the gallery show.

The first cuts of “The Boy With Antlers” are completed.

I worked on this mosaic for over a year, finding time to cut a few stones on the weekends. The face is marble and the antlers are made of travertine.

The Boy With Antlers mosaic being assembled

The mosaic is mounted to a cement backerboard using thinset mortar.

Marc Archambault making a mosaic in the studio.

“The Boy With Antlers” gets delivered to the Raleigh Fine Arts Society show.

I had “The Boy With Antlers” framed once he was accepted into the show. It looks great! The good folks at Frugal Framer knocked it out of the park.

GreenMan Mosaic Recognized by SAMA

A close up of the stones that make up the eye of the GreenMan mosaic.

Close up of the GreenMan mosaic
©2016 David Dietrich

“GreenMan” the mosaic created for the GreenMan Brewery in downtown Asheville has been selected for inclusion in the Society for American Mosaic Artists exhibition Mosaic Arts International: Juried Fine Art and Invitational. It was selected in the Site-Specific category of the juried show. Images of it will hang during the 16th Annual American Mosaic Summit. The show will be visible from May 4 to June 15, 2017 at the Janice Charach Gallery, Jewish Community Center of Metropolitan Detroit. The entire show will be posted on-line at AmericanMosaics.org beginning May 4, 2017.
Photo by David Dietrich

The Mountain Waterfall Mosaic

The Mountain Waterfall Mosaic is located at First Baptist Church of Asheville, and it was the last part of the Memorial Garden that we completed there. The waterfall was a collaborative effort between Hammerhead and the crew at Medallion Pools led by Mark Dorsey. While Mark and crew took charge of the waterwork elements of the waterfall, Hammerhead was charged with designing and installing the stone.

Details About the Mountain Waterfall Mosaic

The waterfall is located at the end of the stream path. In fact, the bluestone that runs throughout the stream path represents the flowing water and widens as it reaches the pool. The floor of the pool is completely done in the bluestone as well. The sky in the waterfall mosaic is also bluestone, and I like the implied metaphor here. These elements were key components of the design created by Steve Wyda and Ryan Blau of Vision Design Collaborative, the landscape architects who designed the Memorial Garden.

Stream Path Leading to Waterfall

Stream Path Leading to Waterfall

The spillway is made of mountain stone, while the sun and sunset clouds are made of Tennessee sandstone. The Tennessee sandstone is used throughout the entire project at First Baptist Church of Asheville, including in the stream path, the labyrinth itself, and several of the benches. The mountains are made of a native stone that is sometimes called Emerald Gray. We were able to source it from Marion, NC, a town about an hour east of Asheville.

Mountain Waterfall Mosaic

Mountain Waterfall Mosaic

Our Thoughts About this Project

The waterfall was a very challenging build. It wasn’t one project but rather ten small projects combined, each with its own specific components. And when it was done and the water was flowing for the first time, it immediately became my favorite. The sound of the water washed away the months of stress of getting the whole garden finished.

Our completed waterfall flowing

Our completed waterfall flowing

At Hammerhead, it’s the challenges of the project that get us excited. We will take on almost any project, but we do have a couple of rules: no veneer and no water features. Of course, we broke both of these rules for the waterfall. The mosaic background – the mountains and the sunset – is a cut stone approach to veneer. It’s 4 inches thick, basically the depth of the brick, and is affixed to a block wall coated in shotcrete. I am proud to say, it doesn’t look like any lick’em-stick’em I’ve ever seen.

I try to avoid the naturalistic water features that are so commonplace now. Making mountain streams is Mother Nature’s domain, not mine. But this waterfall had just the right balance of creative freedom in the design, execution, and technical challenges to keep us all engaged and excited about the outcome. It’s my favorite project – for now…

Our completed waterfall flowing

Our completed waterfall flowing

GreenMan Mosaic: Brewery is open!

At long last the GreenMan Brewery has officially opened, meaning I can legitimately post images of the natural stone mosaic we built for them. I already had, but really wasn’t supposed to! It is one of our most ambitious projects to date. The 320 square foot mosaic is comprised exclusively of natural stone, all cut and fitted by the Hammerhead crew. Much of the stone is regional, including a lot of stuff from North Carolina. The yes are malachite found in local gem and mineral shops, though it most likely originated in Africa.

Exploring stone choices for the GreenMan Brewery mosaic.

Exploring stone choices for the GreenMan Brewery mosaic.

This is actually the second full scale face I printed and assembled. The first one showed some clear design concerns, particularly in terms of the size of facial features. It’s one thing to draw at screen size. Blown up to eleven feet across and hung up over my head, it was clear the lips were too big compared to the eyes. This printed version fixed those issues and was used to host a meeting with the designer, Krista Lablue and Wendy from GreenMan. The stone samples on the ground helped us choose the palette for the final mosaic. The whole Hammerhead team took part in this meeting, which I think helped us move forward smoothly with the process; everyone had input in the stone choices and had a good understanding of the customer’s vision.

Creating the malachite eyes for the GreenMan Brewery mosaic.

Creating the malachite eyes for the GreenMan Brewery mosaic.

I ended up making the eyes twice. The first time became a test of the concept, which worked! But because the malachite was so costly I only bought enough to make one. I bought more and made the second eye, but there were clear differences in the color and look. I took them apart and rebuilt them mixing the stone randomly and got the look I wanted. The eyes are the only place where we used a more traditional mosaic style, making tiny tesserae. I like the effect though, it is evocative of ancient mosaics, populated with characters like Dionysus and Bacchus.


Here’s a close up of the eye installed.

We built the GreenMan Brewery mosaic at the shop first, right on top of the Labyrinth!

We built the GreenMan Brewery mosaic at the shop first, right on top of the Labyrinth!

We cut and laid out the mosaic at the workshop, detailing the fits as best we could, prior to installation. Space was limited, so we had to build the GreenMan right over the top of the Labyrinth. The green insulation foam guided the fitting of the pieces, all of which had been cut from templates. It proved useful on the installation too…

We used foam insulation as a template and setting guide at the start of the GreenMan Brewery mosaic.

We used foam insulation as a template and setting guide at the start of the GreenMan Brewery mosaic.

Installation began with the eyes, as they needed to be level and centered on the wall. The green foam was perfect for supporting the mosaic pieces on the wall while they cured.

The GreenMan mosaic stares out through the scaffolding as we near the finish line.

The GreenMan mosaic stares out through the scaffolding as we near the finish line.

Even through all the clutter, it was amazing to watch the GreenMan’s towering visage appear on the wall.

The GreenMan mosaic is 20' tall and 16' wide. The face really fills the space.

The GreenMan mosaic is 20′ tall and 16′ wide. The face really fills the space.

The finished mosaic is twenty feet tall and sixteen feet wide. It is opposite the main entrance of the brewery’s new downtown location. It’s the first thing you see coming in the front door. It’s kind of imposing!

A detail of the leaves in the GreenMan mosaic showing several of the native stones we used.

A detail of the leaves in the GreenMan mosaic showing several of the native stones we used.

The face is made of marble from Tennessee. The leaves that surround the GreenMan’s face is mostly native North Carolina stone, though we used a fair amount of slate reclaimed from an old house in Asheville. I’m not sure it’s source. The eyebrows are serpentine. Again, I’m not sure where it comes from, but there’s some of the same stone on older buildings in downtown Asheville, making me think it’s at least regional. The background surround is sandstone from Tennessee.

A close up of the GreenMan mosaic face.

A close up of the GreenMan mosaic face.

Bluestone Patio

A drystone patio of Pennsylvania bluestone and full-color by Asheville masonry company Hammerhead Stoneworks

A drystone patio of Pennsylvania bluestone and full-color by Asheville masonry company Hammerhead Stoneworks

Gary and I built this small patio a few years ago. It’s dry laid over gravel so that it will last longer and drain better than a mortared or concrete slab. The stone is a Pennsylvania mix, comprised of bluestone and full-color, which runs green and brown. A handful of locally sourced mini boulders are included to create visual interest and accent points along the edges. A small, inexpensive project, it really changed the space and made the entry more welcoming.

A dry laid patio of bluestone by Asheville stone masons Hammerhead Stoneworks

A dry laid patio of bluestone by Asheville stone masons Hammerhead Stoneworks