Phoenix Stone Mosaic: Coming Soon!

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

phoenix stone mosaic

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 pivot…
Now the Phoenix is just a Phoenix. I think you can see the hint of the heron in this image of the Phoenix’s head.

The Workshop

phoenix stone mosaic

This table is my happy place. I have spent many hours here cutting templates and tracing patterns on to stone. Sometimes it’s hard to find a place to work because there’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.

Design Reversal

phoenix stone mosaic

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, we’re going to epoxy mesh to the back. Instead of 500 individual stones, we will have approximately 20 panels of stone to install.

Phoenix Detail

phoenix stone mosaic

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

phoenix stone mosaic

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.

See some completed stone mosaics in this series in Norfolk, VA here and here.

Montreat Big Wall

 

Montreat Big Wall

Montreat Big Wall almost 20 years after completion

Montreat Big Wall

I helped build this wall when I worked with Fred Lashley at the Unturned Stone. We built it 18 years ago and it remains the tallest drystone wall I have ever worked on. At its tallest, it is 7 feet high. Made mostly fieldstone from Maggie Valley, we supplemented with Hoopers Creek, which shows up as the rusty colored faces in the pictures.
The wall is in Montreat and I like to visit when I make my way out to Black Mountain. It is an impressive structure. It looks largely the same now as it did then, except for the glorious patina of lichen. I don’t think I will ever build another wall so tall.

Codes? What Codes?!

These days there are building codes that limit the height of a retaining wall. In a residential setting, like this, the max is 48 inches tall. Anything taller, must be signed and sealed by a licensed engineer. In general, engineers don’t love stone walls. They like things that are consistent and predictable and more easily quantified than the crazy ecology of a stacked wall. The human elements– care, intention, and experience – that the builders put into the structure cannot be factored into mathematical formulae.
Drystone walls have fallen out of favor in preference for segmented block, prefabricated panels, and poured concrete structures. They are all the same and more easily analyzed. It’s an apt metaphor for the state of modern society, our blind devotion to conformity and standardization.
When building with prefabricated predictable materials, it matters much less if the people building care at all about what they’re doing. And if you can subtract care from the process, you can subtract cost. It’s always cheaper if you don’t give a shit. Until later…

Montreat Big Wall

Montreat Big Wall – a close-up

Whether or not the same codes were in effect 18 years ago, I don’t know; I just worked on the wall and was not much involved in the process that brought the project to be. I know it was subcontract work, for a landscape guy in Black Mountain with a stellar reputation and very organized and disciplined approach to his work. If anyone was likely to get the necessary approval, it would have been him. To my eye, the wall has not moved at all and I see no evidence of it having needed repairs for the last 18 years.

What Makes it Stay Up?

I get a version of this question quite frequently, especially when people discover that we usually work without mortar or concrete. The answer is amazingly complex, but I generally begin with a very simple answer: gravity and skill.
I’ve already mentioned how important care is in the creation of a structure like this. Care plus practice equals skill.
The rules that govern the construction of a drystone wall are simple and robust: two over one and one over two, end them in, maximum contact – minimum movement, batter back, the top must sit over the bottom, weather always wins. From the simple rules emerge an infinite number of possibilities. Bird flocking is often used as the epitome of the principles of emergence – simple rules lead to complex (and beautiful) results. A drystone wall is another stunning example.

Two Over One: One Over Two.

This is a very simple principle that you must cross your joints. Tall vertical lines in masonry construction– often called running joints – weaken the structure significantly. Crossing joints – imagine the traditional running bond of the most common brick wall – creates a network. That web of dynamic forces is fundamental to what holds a wall together.

End Them In

Another simple rule, stones should run deep into the wall. Sometimes, in an effort to conserve their rock pile, people will use the long side of a stone as the face. This is called tracing and it makes for a shallow structure and therefore a weak wall. If you have a stone that shaped like a french fry, run it long into the wall.
In the picture below of the wall being constructed, there’s a guy who’s not me or Fred. I think his name was Brian and he wanted to be a stonemason. After a little while he decided he wanted to be a building inspector or maybe a social worker. It was probably a wise choice.

Montreat Big Wall

Montreat Big Wall under construction

Maximum Contact – Minimum Movement

The next stone you put in should make as much contact as possible with the stones that are already in the wall. And so on and so on.
One of the great attributes of a dry stone wall is its flexibility. It has the capacity to move and therefore respond to environmental factors. The day-to-day expansion and contraction that comes with being heated by sunlight and cooled by frost may cause minuscule movements in a wall but not crack it apart. It is not supposed to be a rigid structure. Inflexibility fails in walls, as in life.
Minimal movement is a great attribute. On the other hand, stones that pivot from side to side on a single point cause trouble. Maximum contact, minimum movement is where practice becomes most important to a wall builder.

Batter Back

A good dry stone wall has a slight backwards slope to its face, called the batter. Imagine the wall leaning into the hillside which it is intended to retain. This strengthens the wall and gives it leverage against the slope behind it.

The Top Must Sit Over The Bottom

Lean back, but not too far. The top of the wall, where your caps rest, must be sitting squarely over the bottom of the wall. It is a common beginners mistake to lean the wall back too steeply. A very steep batter on the face will have the top of the wall sitting over soft soil backfill instead of the hearty structure of the wall. The weight of the cap will compress the soil. The path of least resistance for that soil will be forward; it will blow out the bottom of the wall, collapsing the whole structure. This is where the concept of gravity really comes into play with the construction of the wall. With practice and care, gravity is a great ally.

Montreat Big Wall

Montreat Big Wall almost 20 years after completion

Weather Always Wins

Fundamentally, all construction is an attempt to resist the forces of weather. And while weather is not a singular force, in my experience, water is the prime mover.
Almost all of the structures we build live their lives in the weather. We have to constantly be conscious of what happens when it rains. Where does the water go? Where does it collect? What happens when it freezes? What happens when it builds up or when it moves the earth?

With this particular wall, so tall and at the bottom of such a steep bank, managing water was a primary concern. We lined the cut bank behind the wall with a filter fabric that allows water to pass through, but holds back the soil. In addition to keeping the backfill of the wall from getting silted up, it prevents red clay from washing through the wall and staining the face.
This wall is also very deep or thick, depending on how you want to look at it. Behind the face there is an enormous amount of ugly stone, chips, and gravel. Rain water runs through it and does not linger long enough to build up hydrostatic pressure, the force that pushes over so many rigid, impermeable walls. There are no drain pipes behind the wall, because the whole wall functions as a drain.

Eighteen years and counting.

Black Mountain Stone Wall and Steps

Black Mountain Stone Wall and Steps

Black Mountain Stone Wall and Steps

Crew members from left to right: Jonathan Frederick, Tony Costa, & Michael Sellars


Written by Marc Archambault

We spent about a month this summer building steps around a recently completed modern house in Black Mountain, North Carolina. Designed by architect Scott Huebner of Brickstack Architects, the house has majestic views from its steep lot. Our primary job was to provide access for the homeowners so that they can tend their gardens and landscape. Really it was more like backcountry trail construction than our typical more finessed style of work. However, the real fun was when we got to replace a very sloppily built boulder wall at the driveway.

To hear it described, the wall in question was a last-minute add-on. It certainly looked very thrown together, with large gaps, no attention paid to bonding, and lots of gravel between the stones as if using ball bearings as a substitute for mortar. It was nothing to look at, for sure. Adding insult to injury, other tradespeople had mistreated it. Someone had smeared a lot of polyurethane on a few stones, presumably cleaning their brushes. There were similar concrete stains in other locations. All in all, it was a very ugly wall.

So we took it down and rebuilt it. I would say it’s built in the style of our typical walls, but at an uncommon scale. Some of these pieces weigh over 1000 pounds and it required an excavator – a small one – to help move the material into place. The stones with the stains were either removed or turned around to hide the mess. We used hammer and chisel and- as appropriate- the big saw to sweeten the fits and to ensure good bonding. The previous wall had no attention paid to batter or a clean line to the face of the whole wall. We took care of that and the results are pleasing.

I should have done a before and after post, but the original wall so ugly I never thought to take a picture of it. If I find a picture, I will surely add it.
To me, true craft is about caring. The devil is in the details.

Black Mountain Stone Wall and Steps

Photo by Jonathan Frederick

Black Mountain Stone Wall and Steps

Photo by Jonathan Frederick

Black Mountain Stone Wall and Steps

Crewmember Tony takes a rest on the newly completed wall.


Special thanks to Fred Lashley for operating the excavator on this project.

Sacred Fire Circle in Alexander, NC

Sacred Fire Circle in Alexander, NC

Sacred Fire Circle Panorama

Sacred Fire Circle

Hammerhead completed the fire circle in January of 2014 for clients hoping to use the space for ceremonial gatherings.
Rays of black granite shoot out from the central fire ring in the cardinal directions until they meet the four large site boulders. Each site boulder frames one side of the four semicircular stone benches that border the circle. Reclaimed granite of various colors and patterns give each planet orbiting around the fire ring its own distinct look.

Click here for the process of creating this unique project, and click the image above for a huge view!

The planets in orbit around the sacred fire circle

The planets in orbit around the fire circle

Hammerhead Stoneworks Featured in the Slippery Rock Gazette

The Slippery Rock Gazette recently featured Hammerhead’s Green Man mosaic completed for Green Man Brewery. The article explains in great detail the process of creating the mosaic from the imagineering phase to the finished product. Additionally, readers can learn about why certain stones were selected as well as what a project of this scale entails.

Access the full feature here.

Special Thanks for the Slippery Rock Gazette Feature

We extend our gratitude to Peter J. Marcucci for authoring this feature as well as to Braxton-Bragg, who both publishes the Gazette and regularly supplies Hammerhead Stoneworks with cool tools and cutting supplies.

The full size mosaic in the space as featured in the Slippery Rock Gazette

The full size mosaic in the space Photograph ©2016 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

Garden Stonework in Mardi’s Yard

Over the last several years Hammerhead Stoneworks has worked closely with garden designer Mardi Letson, owner of Gardens by Mardi. The images below are from garden stonework projects we’ve done in her own yard. Mardi has a wonderful sense of design and can integrate plants into stonework wonderfully. She’s very talented and very easy to work with. She is especially good at working with small spaces as is demonstrated in her own yard. Her yard is not huge by any means, but it has so many little rooms and small special places to hang out.

The Finished Garden Stonework Products

garden stonework

Dry Stone Wall in Mardi’s yard

 

Stone slab steps at Mardi's

Stone slab steps at Mardi’s

 

Dry-laid flagstone path

Dry-laid flagstone path featuring the heart-shaped rock Mardi requested

Stone Steps and Pathways on Historic Kimberly Avenue Home

The owners of a historic home on Kimberly Avenue recently commissioned Hammerhead for a project. We got to work designing and constructing stone steps and a walkway while the home was undergoing a renovation. Chuck Krekelberg of Samsel Architects led the renovation project while Alan Roderick of Heartwood Renovations took charge of the building.

Trying to match the look and style of the existing foundation served as a particular challenge during this project. We mixed several mortars until we found the correct ratio of lime and various sands to match the existing mortar in both color and texture. Though time-consuming, a good ratio was developed, and it ended up being used as a base for stucco repairs on the home as well.

Griffin Award-winning Project for this Historic Home

The Preservation Society of Asheville & Buncombe County awarded the Kimberly Avenue residence a Griffin Award in ‘the rehabilitation of a historic residence’ category. The attention to detail by all the craftspeople working on the project certainly paid off! This recognition of our work certainly makes us proud.

Stone Steps at Historic Home on Kimberly Avenue

Completed stone steps

 

Kimberly Ave walkway

Completed walkway

 

Palm Leaf Mosaics

Palm Leaf Mosaics

We created six palm leaf mosaics for First Baptist Church of Asheville, and they now adorn the memorial garden’s brick walls. The mosaics feature sandstone palm leaves surrounded by bluestone, and each one has its own unique features. One of the leaf mosaics has a unique fractal pattern called a dendrite on some of its surfaces, and it tied in nicely with the mosaic. While closely resembling fossils, dendrites are naturally-occurring crystals called pseudofossils, and they are created by mineral intrusion.

1 of 6 Palm Leaf Mosaics made with natural stone

The natural stone mosaic of a palm leaf.

Accompanying metalwork was completed by Bob Gurkey. He did an excellent job maintaining the palm leaf motif, and collaborating with him was a pleasant experience.

Palm leaf metalwork by Bob Gurkey

Palm leaf metalwork by Bob Gurkey

First Baptist Church Medallion

Hammerhead doesn’t often work with brick, but we always enjoy a challenge. The scope of the large Memorial Garden project included two brick medallions designed to match the existing architecture of the church. A native to the Asheville area and an esteemed architect, Douglas D. Ellington modeled the design of the church after the famous Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, Italy. First Baptist Church Asheville was completed in 1927 using red brick and pink marble and is now listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.

First Baptist Church – Asheville

It was important to us to seek out the same type of marble used in the original construction in order to make it match the original motif of the church. We were pleased to locate the matching pink marble, called Etowah marble, from Northeast Georgia.

Closeup of the natural patterns found in etowah marble

Closeup of the natural patterns found in etowah marble

 

Using a similar red brick and the sought after Etowah marble, we were able to complete the inlay modeled on the architecture of the church. On the church facade, tile is used for the corners of the medallion. We used natural stone instead for weather durability and to connect the medallions to the stonework within the Memorial Garden.

Existing motif

Existing motif

 

Completed brick and etowah inlay

Completed brick and etowah inlay