The Hiker: A Memorial for John LedBetter

The Hiker: Memorial Mosaic

The Hiker: Memorial Mosaic

John Winslow LedBetter was a beloved husband, father, doctor and Scoutmaster. He passed away last March and is missed by family and friends. Last summer, his widow Gwenda, approached me about creating a memorial to him. The original idea was for a cairn, as a symbol of John’s endless love for the mountains. The idea resonated but presented challenges at the cemetery, where a single boulder looms over a neighboring gravesite. With the vertical space already claimed, we opted to paint on a horizontal canvas.

The Hiker: Source design

The Hiker: Source design

During the first conversation I had with Gwenda about the project, she gave me a simple card that was shared with everyone at John’s funeral. She noted with some pride that the sketch was a logo that John had drawn for his Scout troop. The iconic hiker image became the starting point of my design.

The Hiker: detail

The Hiker: detail

The gravesite, in the historic Riverside Cemetery in the Montford section of Asheville, is long and lean, at 4′ by 10′. This had a significant impact on how I drew the design. The hiker rests briefly, taking in the sun setting over the Blue Ridge Mountains. The original artwork has an everyman silhouette, which I have replaced with John’s profile, drawn from pictures his family provided.

 

The Hiker: detail

The Hiker: detail

The construction process has gone slowly, mostly because of some gravity testing I did with a very large stone and my finger. Gravity still works; finger still recovering. I cut John’s figure from scraps of a countertop material called Absolute Black. The sunset is sandstone from Tennessee. The mountains, now underway, are Pennsylvania bluestone.

I hope to begin installation this week. More images to come.

Stone Book Feature

Stone Book Feature

Stone book feature
In April 2010, I spent a day with photographer Steven Paul Whitsitt, touring projects I had done. Just last month the book he was working on was released by Schiffer Publishing. I am very excited by the book which is called Built with Stone: Eight Contemporary Artisans. It includes several projects, including the secretive Cabin on Mitchell’s Peak, a structural stone house I built with Fred Lashley and the Unturned Stone. The book is available from local booksellers and online merchants. There’s some amazing work in there by masons from all across the country.

Read more about my time spent with Steven Paul Whitsitt here.

Saluda Stone Walkway Steps

Saluda Stone Walkway Steps

Saluda Stone Walkway Steps
I just completed a project in Saluda, North Carolina today. The home was built some time in the 70’s and the existing concrete steps were broken down and needed replacing. New stone walkways were in order as well. I built most of the new walkways over the existing sidewalks, dry laid on a pea gravel bed. The image above shows the new steps; the image below shows the area before we got started. Note the awkward spacing of the original steps; it was hard to hit your stride walking them.

Saluda Stone Walkways & Steps

Saluda Stone Walkway Steps

Saluda Stone Walkway Steps

Saluda Stone Walkway Steps
The brick pathways wrap around the house, from the formal front entrance (shown above) to the opposite side of the house, which receives most of the traffic.


This short stretch of concrete was poured recently and broke up quite easily under the jackhammer assault. Most of the sidewalks were poured when the house was built and were a pain to break up. They crumbled into dust and would absorb the jackhammer’s impact. It didn’t help that they were up to nine inches thick.

Landscape Architecture Class


During the installation process in Gainesville, my friend Mary Padua brought a group of students from the University of Florida to the site. She is a professor in the Landscape Architecture program at UF and a gifted designer and photographer. The students are studying implementation and construction drawings. I talked briefly about the project, about the work in general and designing with stone. At the end of the conversation, I ran through my five suggestions for young designers:

Learn the local geology

Just as a designer moving to Colorado would set out quickly to learn the local plants, learning about the local geology can be an invaluable asset. The make up of the Earth varies more dramatically from place to place than many realize. Knowing what types of rock are present, their formation and structure can help a designer choose the best application for each. The finished product is stronger and more durable and it looks like it belongs to the place it built. Also, the more you knows about the local geology, the more you can understand about the forces that will actively try to destroy your work such as erosion and earth movement.

Connect with local craftspeople

Large architecture firms hire large builders. This is cost-effective and helps to ensure compliance with the myriad laws that control construction. But large builders don’t have the vision or the gift of invention that independent craftspeople do. Local craftspeople understand their materials intimately and create distinctive works that celebrate creativity and are meant to last. Employing local craftspeople is the sustainable choice for the economy as well; they spend their wages in their communities and often support other small businesses. Local craftspeople are a fantastic asset to the design process as well, adding a strong practical understanding to the conceptual development of an idea.

Build dry

Dry stonework is the sustainable choice for landscape applications such as retaining walls, paths, patios, and steps. A well-crafted drystone retaining wall will have a smaller carbon footprint and will outlast a similarly sited mortared wall. I offer a more detailed take on this here.

Water always wins

There’s a misconception that modern materials and techniques are so advanced and technologically sophisticated that they can withstand any assault, resist any force. This is patently false. Water always wins. The forces of weather over time should be a central consideration in the design and implementation of every project.

Learn about business and marketing

I expect that most young Landscape Architects will start working in larger firms and over the early years of their design careers get practice at the whole range of design tasks. Many will, at some point, strike out on their own. It’s an amazing journey and incredibly rewarding, but it can be very challenging to start your own business. I encourage everyone to start learning their way around the business side of the design and construction trades now. Project bidding, tax issues and insurance requirements sneak up fast when you set up your own shop. Marketing is often very difficult for the self-employed. Taking classes now and reading books can be helpful. Learning by doing is best, if you can find opportunities to handle the business side earlier

The Blue Spiral

Last week I traveled down to Florida and installed the “Blue Spiral” which I’ve been working on for the past few weeks.

I drove down on Monday and the stone arrived the next morning. It was a soggy day, but mild compared to the weather Gainesville had endured all summer. It never topped 90 on my whole trip, but the week before it had been pushing 100.


It took me a day and a half to pack up all the stones for travel. I used cardboard between each layer on a pallet and shimmed under stones to keep everything level and tight. Lots of strips of cardboard went between the stones on each layer, so that there wouldn’t be any movement and vulnerable points wouldn’t be broken. Then I shrink-wrapped the heck out of it. It all traveled beautifully; there was no damage to any of the 105 pieces. Thanks to Dennis at Dayrunner Systems for taking such care with my delivery.


It took three very full days to install, plus some final tweaks in Friday morning before I started my drive home. My favorite part of the installation process was seeing the stone in natural light. I had built it in the shop, but it was always deeply shaded in there, with a few florescent lights overhead. Thursday evening, when it was substantially complete and the sun was setting, I really got to see the richness of the color in the composition. It was a very gratifying moment.


Here’s the piece in its new home. I placed some sod around the edges, but I think the landscape crew will make some adjustments to that, maybe even add a gravel path. It’s sited at the Gainesville Regional Utilities Eastside Operations Center. It’s a huge new campus, with seven new buildings, all of which will be certified LEED Silver. It’s an impressive place.

On Thursday, my friend Mary Padua brought a group of students from the University of Florida to the site site. She is a professor in the Landscape Architecture program at UF and a gifted designer and photographer. The students are studying implementation and construction drawings. I talked briefly about the project, about the work in general and designing with stone. I’m hoping that someone took a picture or two that I can post here in the near future, with notes on the conversation.

I owe a debt of deep gratitude to John Hayes, the Public Art Coordinator of the City of Gainesville’s Art in Public Places Trust and his board for giving me this opportunity. I am also very grateful to Reid Rivers, GRU’s Project Manager, who was incredibly helpful and supportive in shepherding the project along.


It’s not exactly a maker’s mark, but I did sign the bottom of stone 8.1 with a Sharpie.

The Blue Spiral is an original Artwork commissioned by and in the public art collection of the City of Gainesville.

Public Art: Furled

104 templates cut and curled up in a bucket. Tomorrow I start messing around with the way it all fits together. It’s easy to get lured in to fixing each stone as I lay it, but in reality, it’s often one stone, somewhere else in the design that is pushing the stones too close together or too far apart. Find the offending party and fix it and then the rest will find their place.