Some more pictures from our friend Emily at BB Barns. They just finished this big project we worked on together in Biltmore Forest. It was our biggest collaboration to date! The picture at the bottom gives a hint as to what was there before. Not pictured- a dysfunctional water feature and walkway with treacherously large spaces between the stones.
We built this drystone retaining wall recently for an Asheville couple who have two kids, both of whom have a things for rocks. I can identify. As part of the design development, I proposed that we add a handful of niches to the walls, as a place to store a small rock collection- or anything else. The niches are about 4″ by 4″. We’ve done this before and they have been used for hot wheel cars, candles, and antique glass insulators from power lines that were wired to glow at night!
The wall itself is made of sandstone from Tennessee. A set of slab steps cuts through it allowing access to the upper yard. There’s a small patio below the wall, that I call the antechamber, as it serves as a hangout spot just below their expansive deck. Building niches is a pleasing departure from straight walling. And it was fun to find treasures to place in the niches. I am confident that this collection will be dismantled, amended, lost and replaced over time. That’s the point; I like that the wall has an interactive component.
This niche has a small slate elephant I carved a long time ago. This guy has been looking lonely at the shop, so I’m happy he has a new home. The dolphin totem came from an old necklace. I guess this is the stone mammal niche.
There’s another wall, not pictured, that runs near the driveway and connects up to the antechamber. This orb of banded onyx is in that wall, as a teaser of the larger collection visible above. I found this- and several other treasures, at Enter the Earth, a local rock and gem store here in Asheville.
Four stone hearts for the four members of the family.
Petoskey stone- a fossilized coral from Lake Michigan. Great for bug eyes in mosaics!
More fossils. That’s a tiny sand dollar out front. I’m a big fan of the orthoceras fossils, the long tubular seashells in a black matrix. I just discovered that orthoceras means straight horn.
The last couple of pictures show the wall itself, with the niches visible. We just finished, so the land needs a minute to recover. Some ground cover and mulch and the rock collection will be complete!
We called this wall Fort Faulkner because of how much it resembled a castle battlement in shape and scale. It is a very tall, at least from the outside, where I took this picture. On the other side, it’s only eighteen inches above grade and surrounds lawn and a patio, acting as a seating wall. The lower section supports the yard and patio. To ensure proper structural integrity, the whole thing is built as a free-standing, double-sided wall. To be honest though, the lower inside sections- below the yard and patio- are ugly as heck. We knew it would be hidden so we didn’t fuss with the look of the faces. Still a few tons of work, forever hidden. The cap is mortared on to eliminate any movement when people sit or walk on it.
We recently completed this large drystone retaining wall in Biltmore Forest, a small community if high end homes just south of Asheville. We built this project with Emily Gregory of B.B. Barns Landscape Services, a frequent collaborator. The wall is made of Hooper’s Creek, a locally quarried stone. We mixed in Pennsylvania stone as well, which makes up all of the steps and walkways, which are not really visible in these photos. There are over twenty steps leading from the lower lawn through the garden up to the house.
Thanks be to Emily for taking and sharing these pictures!
We built this project several years ago, in collaboration with Mardi Letson of Gardens By Mardi. This was a radical transformation of a sloping, grassy front yard into a main entryway and thriving garden. The big retaining wall to the back- barely visible now behind plants- was set with an excavator. The retaining wall at the street uses the same materials, Daggett Mountain stone, but in a smaller scale. The steps are slabs of gray sandstone from Tennessee, often called Crab Orchard. The staircase is four feet across. To create the a sweeping opening and a welcoming entrance, we widened the steps at the bottom. The bottom step is six feet across- two three footers butted end to end- and the next step up is five feet across.
This project won an award!
I have a small problem with purchasing things that I don’t truly need. I have been fortunate that this impulse control problem has been localized to two things: I buy books and I buy stone.￼￼ (It is worth noting that often the books I buy are about stone.)￼
I have managed to curb my book buying urge. Three years ago we moved. It was intended that we would be moving again in about two months, so we put a bunch of stuff, including all my books, in storage. Three years later my book collection still resides in storage. I have a rule that I can’t add to the library until I have a library.
My impulse is to buy stones have been harder to manage. It will happen in the gem and mineral stores that are scattered around Asheville. I find colors and textures and fossils that just absolutely belong in a mosaic somewhere someday somehow. I got to get them. Happily these purchases are usually small and often do find their way into mosaics as eyes or small colorful details in a larger piece.
My stone impulsivity also arises as I walk the margins of the many stone yards where I shop for my project materials. I just find cool, weird pieces that have latent potential. I have trouble walking by…
One time for reasons that remain unclear to me I was compelled to buy several tons of pink granite. No, it wasn’t especially cheap. No, I had no immediate or projected need for it. I just thought it was uncommon and cool and so I bought it. It ended up hanging around taking up space at the for a really long time.
A recent customer owns a house built in the 1920s that was made of the same pink granite. At long last, a use for this stone. We built them a retaining wall that connects part of the original house to an addition. The house is mortared of course, but the wall is dry stone.￼ Many of the pieces of granite I had were enormous four feet by five feet and 10 inches thick. You will see drill holes in the face of the wall from the feathers and wedges. There are similar drill holes throughout the granite on the house as well.
My brothers and sisters of stone craft will notice more long vertical joints that are customary in a Hammerhead wall. This is a byproduct of having only three thicknesses of stone to work with. All of our source material was either 4 3/8” thick or 8 1/4” thick or 10” thick. It was a real puzzle to align these dimensions in a pleasing and structurally sounds way. Luckily we had some pink Tennessee marble that we could mix in. It was about 3/4” thick but it helped. We rarely work with granite. It’s a hard material but it has such a lovely and predictable grain that it was easy to chisel compared to our local stone.
And I cleared some space in the yard for my next random purchase!
Stonework Customer Testimonial
This past winter we completed a stone path and wall for a customer named Tom in North Asheville’s Beaverdam neighborhood. Here is what Tom had to say about our work:
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.
Design at Evelyn Place Wins Award
The Association of Professional Landscape Designers recently awarded a gold award to a project we did in collaboration with Gardens by Mardi. The APLD International Landscape Design Awards Program honors excellence in landscape design. Projects in eight different categories are judged on the basis of difficulty, craftsmanship, attention to detail and execution.
Huge congratulations to Mardi for receiving this award! And big thanks for all the collaborative projects we’ve gotten to create and construct together.
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.