Phoenix Rising: Photographs of the Finished Piece

Completed Stone Mosaic: Phoenix Rising

Huge thanks to photographer Dave Chance for getting these excellent photographs of the recently completed stone mosaic in a school in Norfolk, VA. Phoenix Rising 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.

© 2018 Dave Chance

 

Completed Phoenix Stone Mosaic

© 2018 Dave Chance

Completed Phoenix Stone Mosaic

Head of the Phoenix © 2018 Dave Chance

Stone pattern © 2018 Dave Chance

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.

Hammerhead Stoneworks Featured in Asheville Lifestyle Magazine

Following up Hammerhead’s recent feature in the Slippery Rock Gazette, Asheville Lifestyle magazine’s September 2016 issue features our Green Man mosaic as well as other projects. We completed the Green Man Mosaic for Green Man Brewing in downtown Asheville, NC. The mosaic greets brewery visitors immediately upon entry to the building.

The full size mosaic in the space as featured in Asheville Lifestyle magazine

The full size mosaic in the space as featured in Asheville Lifestyle magazine ©2016 David Dietrich

The article describes in detail the process of designing and creating the Green Man mosaic. It covers Marc’s attention to detail and quality, it elaborates on the local materials used for the project, and it gives an introduction to the full Hammerhead crew. The feature also includes a glimpse into one of Marc’s personal pieces entitled The Boy With Antlers (pictured below).

"The Boy With Antlers" is a natural stone mosaic.

“The Boy With Antlers” is a natural stone mosaic

Read the full feature in Asheville Lifestyle magazine here.

 

In the mosaic workspace

In the mosaic workspace

 

Contributors to the Asheville Lifestyle Magazine Feature

We would like to extend our gratitude to Tom Rogers for authoring this piece as well as to David Dietrich, Emily Glaser, and Kristin Cozzolino for their photo contributions.

 

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

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

North Asheville Stone Patio and Steps

dry stone wall and steps

A drystone retaining wall supports a set of carefully stacked steps. This is an overview of a recent Hammerhead Stoneworks project in North Asheville.

This is a recent Hammerhead project, a patio and wall combination to create a exterior space at a home in North Asheville. We used sandstone from Tennessee, one of our favorite stones for tight walls and flat floors.

A favorite detail of this project is the set of steps that emerge from the face of the wall. It’s all dry laid- no concrete or mortar. The design offsets two walls, providing support for the steps. This creates the effect of a single wall that is pulled apart to reveal the steps. I love the look and like how sturdy they are.

stone step emerge from dry laid wall

This is a close up of how the steps emerge from the dry stone wall. Super sturdy, clean lines- how Hammerhead rolls…

Dry stone wall detail

Detail of a section of drystone wall built by Jonathan. Part of a patio/wall project in North Asheville.

Stone cut for downspout.

Detail showing where the downspout plunges through the patio surface. There’s a marble we found on site tucked on the right side there.

Faerie Garden At Dusk: photos by Amelia Fletcher

Here are a few more images from the Faerie Garden in Fairview, North Carolina. These images were taken one evening by Amelia Fletcher. Thanks Amelia for sharing the images with us!

Detail of an illuminated glass insulator in a niche in a drystone wall

Detail of an illuminated glass insulator in a niche in our drystone wall. Photograph by Amelia Fletcher

Drystone wall

The Faerie Garden is a drystone wall with several niches for glass insulators. It’s in Fairview, North Carolina. Photograph by Amelia Fletcher

Stone terraces

A full view of the terraces leading up to the Faerie Garden. Hammerhead built the bottom and top walls in this photograph by Amelia Fletcher.

This image shows the whole hillside. We built the bottom wall and the top wall, where the Faerie Garden itself really resides. In this image you can see the little table on the top level. The many terraces between were already there and are mortared walls of Hooper’s Creek- a big reason why we used that same stone ourselves.

The Faerie Garden

We recently completed a project in Fairview, North Carolina with our friend, garden designer Mardi Letson. Called the Faerie Garden, the project involved adding a new wall to an already terraced slope to create a children’s garden and play area. The terrace wall features a handful of niches that house the homeowner’s collection of glass insulators. To me they resemble arrow notches, because the tight curve of the wall makes me think of a castle tower or battlement. The focal point of the kids garden is the Pixie Table, which is bedazzled in marbles. Also nicknamed the Toadstool Table, it sits near the center of the garden and creates a gathering space that looks out on spectacular views of mountains and rugged farmland.

This drystone retaining wall supports the faerie garden.

This drystone retaining wall supports the faerie garden. Its tight curve echoes an ancient castle battlement. The niches house glass insulators- or are they arrow notches?

The Pixie Table is the focal point of the Faerie Garden.

The Pixie Table is the focal point of the Faerie Garden.

Small niches in the stone wall house the homeowner's collection of glass insulators.

Small niches in the stone wall house the homeowner’s collection of glass insulators.

A granitic gneiss drystone wall built in Fairview, North Carolina.

A granitic gneiss drystone wall built in Fairview, North Carolina.

The final phase of the project involved replacing the bottommost terrace, which was starting to collapse.

Black Mountain Patio

We just finished transforming this Black Mountain backyard from a ragged old deck with drainage issues into a dynamic living space with a fire table. Over the course of the last year we have been using larger and larger slabs of flagstone, but keeping our very tight tolerances for the joints. The results are more like a floor in terms of level and walking comfort than the typical concept of a patio, which is often as much filler as stone. All of the work here is drystone, except for the fire table, which has some refractory mortar in the fire brick for stability. I’ll post about that when I have some good images of it in use.

Getting started on a large patio.

Getting started on transforming this backyard in Black Mountain.

Big flagstones in a patio in Black Mountain, North Carolina.

A panorama from above the Black Mountain patio, from above

Black Mountain patio completed

We transformed this Black Mountain backyard with a patio and fire pit. Many of the flagstones are huge and all the work is laid dry.

A large patio is supported by a tightly fitted retaining wall.

This crib wall supports a large patio in Black Mountain.

Pebble mounted into a larger stone.

A pebble mounted into the face of a small boulder.