In the end of October 2019 we installed “The Dragon Family”, a 130 square foot natural stone mosaic that resides in the main hallway of Camp Allen Elementary School in Norfolk, Virginia. This photo shows the crew just after we finished the install, before we climbed into the truck for the long ride home. From left to right: Marc (me!), Fred Lashley, Tony Costa, and Jonathan Frederick. This was Tony’s last gig, as he left to pursue his dream of being a firefighter. More photos of this mosaic and the construction process to come…
Stream Path Stone Mosaic
The North Carolina Arboretum commissioned Hammerhead to design and build a stone mosaic in their stream garden. The stream garden is located immediately adjacent to the Arboretum’s signature quilt garden. The Stream Path stone mosaic was fabricated at the shop and installed onsite.
For the rapids section of the mosaic, the branches are made of Tennessee sandstone and often correspond with drops in elevation in the stream, to create visual interest and to enhance the sound of the water moving. Kind of like a real branch or log fallen across a stream…
I used a Dremel rotary tool to engrave this mayfly into one of the background stones near the frog in the stream path.
A fun detail of me working under the bridge is that you can see the ‘map’ on the wall. It was a handy reference to have. It shows all the stones and their positions.
The map is also pictured here on the level across the stream while Jonathan works.
Process shots from the shop of stone crayfish and the trout chasing minnows.
After fabrication comes transportation. Here is the trout as well as part of the background stacked up in the back of the truck.
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.
Tiny Kingdom Stone Mosaic: The Process
We recently completed the stone mosaic Life Drawing: The Tiny Kingdom for a school in Norfolk, VA. Here are some additional photos of the piece as well as a video of the mosaic work while in progress.
Completed Stone Mosaic: Phoenix Rising
Huge thanks to photographer Dave Chance for getting these excellent photographs of the recently completed stone mosaicÂ in a school in Norfolk, VA. Phoenix RisingÂ is part of a series of six mosaics Hammerhead is making for schools in this area as part of a public art commission. You can peruse Dave’s portfolio here.
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.
Phoenix Stone Mosaic
Life Drawing: Phoenix Rising is a 9.5 feet by 17.5 feet natural stone mosaic. It was completed in late October after four long, long days. It is installed at Richard Bowling Elementary School in Norfolk, Virginia. The mosaic is located in the main hallway of the school, near the entrance to the cafeteria and the gym and not far from the main office. It is part of a series of mosaics we are making as part of a public art project for the city of Norfolk. I have so much appreciation and respect for my crew whose commitment and craftsmanship made this possible. Thanks be to Fred Lashley, Jonathan Frederick and Tony Costa.
Click here for other mosaics in this series. Enjoy the details of this piece in the photos below.
This phoenix stone mosaic is in progress as part of a public art installation in public schools in Norfolk, VA. The Hammerhead crew leaves this week to install it there.
The Phoenix Head
The original concept for this artwork was a Great Blue Phoenix. Equally inspired by the rugged beauty of the great blue heron and the strength and persistent lives of the mythical Phoenix, the color theme was to be blue and gray. But I ran into a problem finding blue stone! Always expensive, there are very few types of truly blue stone that are made into tiles and sold in the United States. So I had to pivotâ€¦
Now the Phoenix is just a Phoenix. I think you can see the hint of the heron in this image of the Phoenixâ€™s head.
This table is my happy place. I have spent many hours here cutting templates and tracing patterns on to stone. Sometimes itâ€™s hard to find a place to work because thereâ€™s so many tile choices on the table. A large map of the whole mosaic hangs over the table and is a useful reference. Hanging over the map is the phoenix tail, awaiting stone choices and cutting.
After we finished cutting the piece, we started laying it out. In a manner common to mosaics, we are laying it face down. Once we have established that we like the fits between stones, we are going to glue it to the paper. Then, weâ€™re going to epoxy mesh to the back. Instead of 500 individual stones, we will have approximately 20 panels of stone to install.
By the nature of this process, we have never seen the completed mosaic all together in one place. I guess I can see how that would be a liability, but I prefer to think of it as a opportunity. It will be exciting to see it on the wall, for the first time, with the kids who it is for. It will be a surprise for all of us!
Phoenix Stone Mosaic: Feathers
We have been calling these shapes scallops. They are a main element of the wing design. I made no effort to arrange the colors, preferring to let randomness take its course.
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
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.