I’m still pecking away at the opening to the communal urn. I have the major pieces done, though I still have to cut a ramp into the big bottom stone. I thinned down the door again, so it’s very manageable weight now. I still need to devise a locking mechanism, but that will be easier now that I have the whole thing in place to look at. I like it. It’s fun to make things I’ve never made before.
Last week Fred installed the memorial mosaic she designed and built for her Mom’s grave site. Jonathan and I helped install it at the family plot in a secluded and gorgeous corner of Madison County. Fred designed the day lilies to be cut in a quilt pattern, to honor her Mom’s love of quilting. The mosaic is inlaid into pieces of Pennsylvania bluestone. I think it is a fitting and beautiful tribute to Fred’s Mom.
Here are a few images from the fabrication process. I think these show the progression nicely. You can also get a better sense of the richness of the colors. It was a bright afternoon when we finished the installation and the stone looked bleached out in the full sunlight.
Top Ten Stonework Photos
Photographs are an important part of my stonework. They are essential tools in sharing my work with others. A strong portfolio drives business.
Photographs are part of my process as well. I take pictures throughout a project. Studying them later- that same day, or months on- helps me troubleshoot problems and see where potential lies. They show flaws and places to grow as well as the tiny little details that make all the difference.
Photographs act as my memory. I don’t have any stonework of my own. Much of my work is hidden in backyards and hard to get to. My archives- a disorganized mess of over 20,000 images- help me see what I’ve done. This helps me keep things in perspective; in the depths of winter it’s a nice reminder that the weather will someday break and we can get back to making things.
What follows are my favorite ten images from the first ten years of Hammerhead Stoneworks. These are not the best pictures or the ones that make up the strongest portfolio. These are the photographs that speak to me of the process and the materials and why I love what I do. Click on the titles to read the story behind each of the top ten stonework photos.
This might be my favorite image of the last ten years. It’s a memorial mosaic I made, resting in the back of my truck ready to be brought to Riverside Cemetery for installation. There’s something about the exploded, expanded view that I really enjoy. It doesn’t hurt that it’s in the back of my favorite old truck, which now rests dead in the driveway. Residual bright blue spray paint pokes through seams. The name plate at the bottom was carved by me. It’s not at all expertly done done but I was proud of the accomplishment. The family decided to add the dates of John’s birth and death, which wouldn’t fit on this piece. I cut a new stone and had it engraved. I may still have that nameplate somewhere at the shop.
Twenty years ago Kristin I took an off-season trip to Italy. I had just started stone work and was mesmerized by the craft on display throughout the country. The floors in Venice, especially at Basilica San Marco, were breathtaking and completely changed the way I thought about stone. Their color palettes were bold and clashing, their patterns chaotic and busy, and yet the end result was endlessly fascinating and beautiful. My pursuit of mosaic goes back to the moment I first saw those floors. This small section of the Phoenix Rising mosaic reminds me of those floors. It is a thread- however modest it might be–that connects my humble pursuits to the master craftsman of that bygone age.
When I take pictures of my work for my portfolio, I always have to be reminded to show the contacts surrounding the finished piece. Future customers want to see how the wall interacts with the landscape. They want to see how the patio looks with tables and chairs. But I am always drawn to the close-ups, to the images that explore the stone and the stone alone.
This particular image is from my first public art commission”The Blue Spiral” in Gainesville Florida. This shot was taken in the shop during the fabrication process. I love the textures in the tight lines. In this image I saw the potential of the idea being realized.
I made a mosaic for the North Carolina Arboretum. It lines the floor of a water feature and includes native species like this bullfrog. As is often the case, my favorite photograph is early in the process, when I recognize that the idea will work. I love the colors here. Most of the stone is regional and in its natural state. The tympanic membrane is a highly polished scrap of marble salvaged from a company that makes countertops.
There are so many better pictures of the GreenMan mosaic, Hammerhead’s first large scale wall piece, but this is a favorite. I took this picture at the shop, while we were fabricating. The whole face is there except the eyes, which went through several iterations before I got them right. Even without the eyes, I could tell that this was going to work. This was a crazy time for Hammerhead; GreenMan was built on top of the labyrinth at our shop.
This is a sentimental choice. I don’t love this wall- one of my first- but I do love those little dudes, who are not so little anymore.
Another shop shot, another moment when a weird idea came together. I had tried prototypes of this idea before, with limited success. Prototypes aren’t supposed to work, I guess. They’re give you the info you need for when you convince a customer to let you build something crazy, like a bench that’s supposed to look like it’s balanced on a bed of marbles.
Alien Landing Pad
There’s not even any stone in this picture, but I still love it and wanted to include it in the top ten stonework photos. It’s the layout of a hexagonal folly that we built for clients in Biltmore Forest. When we were done, they were married there. I like the vivid colors. I discovered the secret to laying out a hexagon on Wikipedia. It involved aligning the centers of three circles with identical radii. The points where the circles kiss each other become the corners of the hexagon- whose sides will be the same as the radius used. This very simple and practical approach to geometry spurred an ongoing fascination with old school Islamic tile mosaics which are incredibly complex and are designed with only a compass and a straight line.
This one soothes me. It’s really the only portfolio-ish shot amongst the top ten stonework photos. It’s been my desktop wallpaper for months now.
Order is fleeting; chaos always wins. This was taken the day we hung pegboard in the shop. It’s been a mess ever since.
Jonathan Frederick took this shot of me as we were installing 3000 pound chunks of granite at the entrance to the labyrinth. Bodie is running the crane as I escort the big guy to its new home.
The Labyrinth: 3 Years Later
Hammerhead completed a labyrinth, a number of mosaics, and several stone benches in 2015 for First Baptist Church – Asheville. I recently visited and took a few photos with the fall color.
We recently designed and installed 2 memorial benches. Similar to some of Hammerhead’s previous memorial projects, these benches were created to commemorate the lives of loved ones.
This first bench was commissioned in memory of a Labradoodle named Ginger. We had the sandblasting engraved by our good friends at Martin Monuments.
The second of the memorial benches was installed beside a lovely stream at Carolina Memorial Sanctuary in Mills River, NC, just outside of Asheville. Carolina Memorial Sanctuary is a cemetery that is centered around conservation and sustainability. The Sanctuary offers natural burials for humans, pets, and cremated remains for a fraction of the cost of today’s typical burials.
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.
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.
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.
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…
Hammerhead Stoneworks creates a memorial stone bench in collaboration with a client.
Memorial Stone Bench
The Murphy family contacted Hammerhead Stoneworks to help them create a memorial stone bench for J.P. who was taken too young. His family had relocated and missed being able to visit his gravestone. The creation of an appropriate memorial is built on communication and trust. The family had found Hammerhead via the web and we spent a lot of time on the phone and e-mailing. We didn’t meet in person until the day they picked up the bench! The extra time we spent going back and forth made all the difference.
We worked together to find the right bench stone and memorial design. I found a slab that I loved and bought. When I got it to the shop and started making minor adjustments, I noticed a hairline crack that had gone unnoticed at the stone yard. This is where the communication and trust built paid off. I sent some pics of the fracture to the family and explained the reason of the delay. I had worried that they might be frustrated with the delay, but in reality they appreciated that I paid that kind of attention to the project. And when I found the next stone, it was a beauty!
Martin Monuments provided the engraving. They are my go-to for sandblasting and are the best. They are unique in their ability to work with natural stone. Most monument places really only seem comfortable working with polished and very flat surfaces. Jeff and Ben Martin are a true asset to Hammerhead.
A Memorial Stone Bench Kit
This was our first bench kit. Typically, we prepare the bench at our shop and then bring it to the site for installation. In order to save the family some money, we got the bench ready and the family took it home and installed it themselves. Installing a five hundred pound bench slab isn’t for everyone, but the Murphy family did an excellent job. We provided a couple of pages of instructions and they did the rest. It certainly helped that the family is in construction itself.
The Slippery Rock Gazette has published a story about “The Hiker” Memorial Mosaic in their print and on-line editions. Check it out!
The Stone Memorial Story
This artistic stone memorial mosaic is created of natural stone. It rests over the grave of John Ledbetter in Asheville’s historic Riverside Cemetery.
John Winslow LedBetter was a beloved husband, father, doctor and Scoutmaster. He passed away in March 2011 and is dearly 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.
Designing the Stone Memorial
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 stone memorial mosaic design.
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 stone memorial 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.
Creating the Stone Memorial
I use full sized templates to accurately cut pieces for the stone memorial. In this image I am preparing to cut Absolute Black granite for hiker’s feet.
I use a variety of different abrasive tools to clean up the edges of my stones and hone the shapes of the mosaic stones.
I pre-assembled the memorial mosaic as I cut each stone. This allowed me to get the ideal fits between stones.
Installing the Stone Memorial
The first step of installing the stone memorial was to set the edging. Here, my helper Gary digs trenches. We bedded the stones in cement and held them in place with wooden jigs while they cured. In the background you can see the stone bench we built.
Piece by piece I laid the stone into the edging. I used gravel as my base to promote drainage and ensure a long, long life for the memorial mosaic.
The Stone Memorial Mosaic
I would be honored to work with you to create a stone memorial mosaic to tell the story and celebrate the life of your beloved. Please call me at (828) 337-7582 or e-mail me.