Jonathan used to rig up rebar with zip ties to make a patio caddy to organize his tools. So we had our welder friends Jerry and Bodie make us one.
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.
Stone Inlay Process – Great Blue Heron
I’ve had this piece of stone at the shop for over a year. It was cut from a bench we installed in the Memorial Garden of First Baptist Church Asheville. I really liked the color and surface texture and was waiting for a project to suggest itself – and along came this blue heron stone inlay. I envisioned it becoming a Garden Guardian like Coyote, a piece we recently designed and installed in Atlanta.
Soapstone is used to create the lines of the general shape, while a Sharpie is used for the exact contour. (Soapstone blows off when the grinder hits the rock, but the Sharpie stays in place.)
The heron is a challenging shape. The point of the beak as well as the curve of the neck were both difficult to get just right, so I used pretty much every tool at my disposal. In order to use a small radius blade, I even got a little Dremel tile saw, which was a bit helpful, but overall lacked the needed power. I used a hammer and a very sharp lettering chisel to get the points as crisp as possible.
Once the design is cut into the stone, I do a rubbing of sorts to get the contours on paper. I can remember doing this with my mom as a kid in the historic cemeteries of Rhode Island where I’m from. While never as exact as I want it to be, it’s usually pretty close. I drop my shapes onto this and then cut them out.
As you can see from the countless scribbles, I go through a lot of ideas. (And that’s after having drawn to design before I even started.) What looks good on paper and a small scale might not work in large scale. Due to the complex design of this project, after I cut it I had to reassemble it so I could figure out how the pieces fit together.
Starting the Inlay
I knew I wanted the body and wings to be blue Bahia. This is a super expensive tile, but the color is astounding!
The Heron’s Gray Neck
I think the scientist in me got a little too interested in biological accuracy. A great blue heron’s is more gray than blue, and I wanted to reflect that in the inlay. (And yes, I understand that even their wings aren’t that blue!) I switched from the blue Bahia tile to a gray stone for the neck. While I like the gray stone, I didn’t really like the effect.
The Finished Product
This is a little more like it. The body, neck, and head are all blue, while the beak is a particularly yellow type of travertine. The crest is black, and the legs are a marble from Tennessee.
I had to cut the legs twice as the first ones were so snugly fit that a few grains of sand made a wedge between the legs and the stone, making it impossible to get them out without breaking them. I ended up cutting several of the stone of this finished stone inlay more than once.
The defining feature of my current project is a circular cobblestone patio in Asheville’s historic Montford neighborhood made of materials gathered by the homeowner over the last 30 years.
The cobblestones are very diverse; I’ve found at least three distinct types of granite. They have all weathered differently and some are quite smooth from years of use as roads. Since there was a limited supply, I split most of them in half lengthwise. This effectively doubled my stone supply and added colors to the palette. While the top might be a granite grey, or green with algae, the bottom may be brown or orange, depending on the type of soil it has been sitting in for the last few decades. Once split, the inside of the stone also became a usable surface, always much brighter and sparkly than the weathered outside. A couple of the stones actually have old paint on them, from their days as roadways. As a result the cobblestone patio is quite colorful.
I have tried every different way I know to cut stone and have found the most efficient and neatest way to split the cobbles is using a type of chisel called a hand tracer. I scribe a line all the way around and around the cobble until it splits in two. The grain of granite is ideal for this type of technique; it’s very hard, dense stone, but it responds predictably to the chisel’s persuasion. The local metamorphic stones are less cooperative. I start out lightly, making sure the line is fairly straight and well established before I really lay into the stone. Once I get going, I can hear the stone starting to split, and I ease up, paying more attention to the places where it still sounds solid. A sharp chisel is a huge asset and I have been bringing the hand tracer home every night for a run over the bench grinder.
Cutting A Stone Circle
I used the hand tracer to remove large chunks of the center stone, a circle cut from a another salvaged piece of granite. I didn’t have a compass large enough to draw a circle on the stone, so I made one with roofing felt, a nail and some soapstone. I traced the circle on a piece of roofing felt and then laid that template over the stone.
Once I had the basic shape of the circle cut, I switched to my smaller, sharper chisels, which give me more control, to hone a more accurate shape. Though the patio needs one more ring to be completed, I dropped the circle stone in the center on Friday afternoon, to check the fit. The whole cobblestone patio makes me think of a flower.
I’ve started a new wall just outside of downtown Asheville, at a doctor’s office. A circular drystone wall will surround a maple tree and create a new planting bed. It’s a fun challenge building on this tight a radius. I made a template of the curve out of roofing felt that I use to make sure the stones I am preparing to lay will fit into the circle.
The boys came to visit me the other day.
To get a perfect circle around the tree I rigged up this system of strings, spray paint and a level. The level is tied to the paint wand, ensuring that I keep it plumb as I go around the tree. The trunk isn’t a perfect circle, but it seems that the loop of line I used at that end smoothed out the tree’s contours. I stand back frequently to make sure the wall is staying true and so far it’s been fine.
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.
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.
Allie sent a flying space car with me to work this morning. Here Captian Lego attempts to solve the riddle of the Zero Tolerance Wheel.
One of the great joys of getting ready for the Gainesville art project was tooling up. In addition to a wonderland of new blades and grinding wheels, I got another grinder and a tile saw that I can equip with a contour wheel- a cup shaped diamond blade used for cutting radii. And for all the tool sellers I found on-line, the grinder was $20 cheaper from Amazon and offered free shipping.
Templates are essential for efficient production. My friends at Henco Reprographics print these for me. This sheet shows the actual length of the patio and is over fifteen feet long. This sheet is the first of nine big templates I’ll need.
I cut the templates with pattern shears, three blade scissors that remove a thin strip (5/64th of an inch) of paper as they cut. These shears are used for creating templates for making stained glass with lead came. The thin strip of paper is equal to the thickness of the lead, keeping the pattern consistent with the original pattern, also called a cartoon. The thin strip of paper is the width of my joints.
I have rented a temporary shop for this project. It’s the first time I’ve ever had my own shop and I love it. I built a sandbox (filled with pea gravel really) to lay the patio as I cut it. By leveling as I go, I can detail the fits between the stones so that there’s a minimum of fuss and time spent when I venture to Florida to install it.
The first three stones, done and dusty.
This is an idea I floated for center of the landing inside the house, where the zipper walkway terminates. It’s a 24″ by 24″ slab with a six by six square knocked out of the center. That’s a piece of dalle de verre, a super-thick, richly colored stained glass inset into the small square. We’re going to use pebbles instead of the glass, but I liked this mock-up a lot. With a glass like this though, it really needs a light radiating through it, as in this image. I’m afraid that lit from above, it would appear too dull.
I’ve been working my way through a rounded corner, where the zipper walkway meets the driveway, at the big steps. The following images represent three phases of the process. First, I laid out the shape in pebbles and took some pictures. This helps me get a visual sense of what’s going on. Second, I made templates out of roofing felt. The radius is elliptical, and so all of the templating was done freehand. The next phase has me fitting the stones one-by-one. As each stone goes in, I revisit the templates, to see if I need to make adjustments.
Today I worked on the landing inside the house. The lighting is poor, hence the blurry image quality, but you can still get a sense of what’s happening in the space. To the front of the image are the big, super-tight steps I laid a while back. To the right is the doorway and the zipper walkway, currently protected by some chipboard. The level hides the cut-out in the center stone, visible at the top of the blog. This section- inside the house- is mortared. I wish it was in gravel, like the walkway outside, but I didn’t want anyone to think I was losing my mind. Really though, it makes great sense. The stones are 2 1/4″ thick and are butted up so close to each other that there’s no risk of movement. And everything has a solid frame around it, preventing the gravel from squishing out.
I left the house Tuesday slightly unprepared. Allie had to stop by and deliver: a sweater, a sweatshirt, long johns, camera, cell phone charger and thirty-five smiles. He liked the gravel in the little boxes.