Topography Steps and Path

Topography Steps and Path

Topography

Photo by Jonathan Frederick

We recently completed a pair of small projects for a customer on Beaucatcher Mountain. They were both short walkways with steps in them. The client was familiar with our work and a fan of our cut flagstone mosaic patios and paths.  He asked us to incorporate a design into the first project, a set of six steps that led from his driveway into a grassy yard. His design mandate was very generous- “Make me something cool.” We can do that! (See also “Stone River Step,” another of Hammerhead’s cut flagstone mosaic patios and paths.)

The inspiration for the pattern comes from topographic maps. If you’re familiar with such maps, you know how endless lines loop and circle back to show the contours of the land. When the lines are close together, the land is steep. Lines that are far apart indicate flatter ground. They are beautiful to look at and each bit of land has its own profile; the maps look something like fingerprints.
Topography is important to us here in the mountains, and good bit of our work at Hammerhead is contending with steep ground. Sometimes we have to retain them with walls, other times, like this project, we install steps to help people navigate them. And even when we build a mostly flat patio, we have to deal with issues of rain water and erosion. Our job is topography.

Individual stones have topography too, though we perceive that more as texture. Sometimes you’ll find a stone in the pile that you can imagine could be a complete cliff face, hundreds of feet tall.
I called this set of steps “Pisgah-ish” because the design was loosely inspired by the topographic map of the celebrated Mount Pisgah. (It may even be visible in the distance from this grassy yard – I’m not sure, I have a terrible sense of direction.)

Topography
For as simple as the design is,it was very complex to execute. Probably the biggest issue was the fact that the stone we used was almost 3 inches thick. That made cutting it to such tight tolerances time consuming and delicate. A couple of the stones were cut to resemble donuts, with an opening inside them for other stones to nestle in. That was just straight up twitchy. Fred and Jonathan joined me at the shop to cut all of these pieces.
After all the stones were cut, I stacked them up, taking the flat map and making it back into a typography. It would be a hard walkway to navigate if we left it that way, but it is probably my favorite image from this project.

Topography

Topography

Topography

Natural Stone Mosaic Yellow Wakerobin

Natural Stone Mosaic Yellow Wakerobin

natural stone mosaic yellow

Mosaic Commission

Natural Stone Mosaic Yellow Wakerobin was commissioned as a Mother’s Day gift for a family in Maryville, Tennessee. Named after the species of trillium featured on the piece, it now resides in a niche on a brick fireplace. A conversation with the Mom to be celebrated inspired the design. A heart survivor, she loves the mountains and is devoted to her three kids. The heart shaped leaves of the trillium, which grows wild in these mountains, seemed like a perfect match. And the white dove very much fits the family’s values and aspirations.

natural stone mosaic yellow

Dove and Trillium detail

Mosaic Design

I tried a new technique when I was creating the Trillium Mosaic. Once all the pieces were cut, I flipped them over and placed them on a reversed template. Since I take all of my pencil sketches into a digital space to create my patterns, it’s very easy to reverse the design and have it printed as a mirror image. Working backwards or upside down like this is a very common technique for mosaic artists, but it was the first time that I’d ever tried it.

One immediate advantage is that you can see how well the pieces are actually cut and make quick adjustments. Once I had the fits as I liked them, I applied fiberglass mesh. I used a special epoxy that I trust with stone to adhere the mesh. In the picture you can see tons of little scraps resting on the fiberglass as it sets up. Many mosaic artists will take the piece in that form and bring it for installation. I felt like my pieces of stone were too heavy for that, so I applied it to the backer board right there on the table. The fiberglass mesh was to prevent the stones from moving while I set it.

Mosaic Fabrication

Piecing together the dove

The images below show the two color options for the petals of the trillium. I sent these photos to the customer and they made the call between purple or yellow.

Whoops! I mixed my thinset too wet and then got impatient. As a result some of it used through the joints (pictured below). When I flipped it over, it was well adhered but still green, so I was able to scrape the excess mortar out. It was my penance for impatience.

The mosaic with mortar

natural stone mosaic yellow

All grouted – the dove’s eye is a tiny black stone marble.

Yellow Wakerobin detail

Mosaic Installation

natural stone mosaic yellow

 

Check out some other natural stone mosaics completed by Hammerhead Stoneworks:

Birds of Every Feather

Praying Mantis

The Boy with Antlers

Birds of Every Feather

Natural Stone Mosaic Birds of Every Feather: Fabrication Process

natural stone mosaic birds

Natural stone mosaic completed for Ocean View Elementary School in Norfolk, Virginia.

This collection of images is from the fabrication process of natural stone mosaic Birds of Every Feather, which was designed for Ocean View Elementary School in Norfolk, VA. It is the first in a series of six mosaics I will make for schools in this area as part of a public art commission.

natural stone mosaic birds

American goldfinch, white-breasted nuthatch, American robin

natural stone mosaic birds

American robin, red-bellied woodpecker, mourning dove

As with all of my mosaic work, I fabricated this at my shop before bringing it to the installation site. Making the birds was so much fun! The background, not so much. The eyes of the birds are either glass marbles or small pebbles. In order to save epoxy, I would do several eyes all at once, leading to this weird-looking photograph.

natural stone mosaic birds

The little brown bird is the Carolina wren. While building this at the shop, a Carolina wren built a nest on one of the shop’s storage shelves.

Read more about Birds of Every Feather here and here.

Birds of Every Feather Mosaic in the newspaper!

natural stone bird mosaic

Natural stone mosaic completed for Ocean View Elementary School in Norfolk, Virginia.

In mid July, Jonathan and I traveled to Norfolk, Virginia to install the first of the mosaics I’m designing for public schools there. This one was installed on Ocean View Elementary School and features a diverse array of local birds. The area newspaper, the Virginian-Pilot, just ran a story about it.

Thimbleweed Stone Mosaic

Thimbleweed Stone Mosaic

Thimbleweed Stone Mosaic

This thimbleweed stone mosaic is a small part of a very large mosaic that I’m currently building for the Southside STEM Academy at Campostella in Norfolk, VA. It’s part of a public art project that entails designing and installing six natural stone mosaics in various elementary schools there over the course of the next couple of years.

The thimbleweed (Anemone virginiana) is a native flower to Virginia. The mosaic was crafted using white marble, green marble, scabos travertine (yellow inner), and ocean pebbles.

Praying Mantis Stone Mosaic

Praying Mantis Stone Mosaic

Praying Mantis Stone Mosaic

This praying mantis stone mosaic is a small part of a very large mosaic that I’m currently building for the Southside STEM Academy at Campostella in Norfolk, VA. It’s part of a public art project that entails designing and installing six natural stone mosaics in various elementary schools there over the course of the next couple of years.

The eyes of the praying mantis are a fossilized coral called Petoskey stone, while the mantis itself is primarily a native North Carolina stone. Each of these pieces is about 34″ in diameter.

 

Speckled Crab Claw Mosaic

Speckled Crab Claw Stone MosaicCrab Claw Stone Mosaic

This speckled crab claw stone mosaic is a small part of a very large mosaic that I’m currently building for the Southside STEM Academy at Campostella in Norfolk, VA. It’s part of a public art project that entails designing and installing six natural stone mosaics in various elementary schools there over the course of the next couple of years.

The claw itself is made mostly of various marbles from Tennessee.

“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.

Sand Dollar Mosaic

Sand Dollar Mosaicsand dollar mosaic

This sand dollar mosaic is a small part of a very large mosaic that I’m currently building for the Southside STEM Academy at Campostella in Norfolk, VA. It’s part of a public art project that entails designing and installing six natural stone mosaics in various elementary schools there over the course of the next couple of years.

sand dollar mosaic

This mosaic is made exclusively of Quaker Gray marble from Tennessee Marble Company. Since I used only only one type of stone, I tried to explore texture and profile. The radiating arms of the star design all rise above the plane of the mosaic. This will will be installed at ground level and will encourage kids to touch and interact with the mosaic.

Cicada Mosaic

Cicada MosaicCicada Mosaic

This cicada mosaic is a small part of a very large mosaic that I’m currently building for the Southside STEM Academy at Campostella in Norfolk, VA. It’s part of a public art project that entails designing and installing six natural stone mosaics in various elementary schools there over the course of the next couple of years.

The cicada mosaic is about 33 inches across and will be one of seven circular panels surrounding two kids who are exploring nature with magnifying glasses and sketchbooks. When completed, the mosaic will be applied to a wall in the main hallway just inside the front entrance to the school. The entire mosaic including the cicada panel is called The Tiny Kingdom.