We’ve been working on the latest mosaic recently, for Larchmont Elementary School, in Norfolk, Virginia. Here are a couple of shots of the work. The tree trunk iamge uses a type of sandstone, appropriately called Teakwood. The girl playing the ukulele is wearing a short made of a marble called Lilac, which has purple veining. It is a gorgeous stone, almost luminous.
We did this small project in a West Asheville development called Craggy Park. There was a rather ramshackle looking set of steps and stepping stones in the front that we completely revamped.
An entry way in the Craggy Park neighborhood by Hammerhead Stoneworks
This was relatively new construction, so there really wasn’t anything going on around back. There was a deck but it didn’t really have any relationship to the area or to how someone might want to use the space. We worked with Mardi Letson of Gardens by Mardi to redesign the space. We added a small patio and this step that leads into the house. The patio is natural edges, mostly fitted with hammer and chisel. The step contains crisper edges, shaped with a grinder.
A cut stone design at the back entry of a West Asheville home
I visited the Beat Wall project recently, showing it to a potential client. I like to take people to see old projects because I think it gives them a better sense of what their stone work will actually look and feel like. It’s a more complete presentation than just pictures in the portfolio or a visit to the stone yard, where all the materials are stacked up on pallets or bundled together in shrink wrap.
This is all laid dry and supports a parking area
If you really look at it, you can see the staircase in the face of Beast Wall, though it almost disappears into the same plane in this photo
Salvaged granite oak leaf set in landing at the top of the steps
Made of stone found on the site, which was clearly salvaged from old Asheville walls
I’ve been chipping away at this for weeks now, and finally reached the last word! Lame stone pun fully intended…
I have plenty of fussing to do to tidy up the inscription, particularly the first few words I did; I have gotten a little bit better along the way. The last element will be a pair of Jerusalem crosses that separate the phrase from itself. ‘Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another’ appears twice around the outside of the circle.
This is the template I used, all laid out. It’s eleven feet long. All that green tape was to keep it in position; I did it in small sections and wanted to keep the whole template intact until the end.
The whole inscription
We did this project back around Thanksgiving. We used Pennsylvania stone for the step treads and walking surfaces. The wall stone was salvaged from a section we demolished to make way for the new staircase. It’s local stone and we tried to match the joint style of the existing wall (to the left in the image.) We can’t really match the patina of age, but time will do that for us.
A mortared wall supports the bottom of this Pennsylvania staircase
The stoop was challenging. There was a decent slab of concrete under there that we preserved, though we narrowed it down. It was well-tied to the foundation of the house, meaning our steps are cohesive with the house; they can’t settle away from the house. To get our steps to lay out properly, we had to use some thin veneer stone on the face of the slab. I hate that stuff, but will use it when it’s the best solution for a problem like this. This was the best case scenario here because we got to keep the existing slab (saves time & money & remains tied to the foundation) and made the steps look structurally similar to the work we had done at the driveway.
A basic cut stone design fills out the top of the landing. A nice detail that Fred worked up.
A mortared stoop leads to a drystone pathway.
We are making decent progress on “The Treehouse Orchestra,” our final mosaic for the schools in Norfolk. Here are some shots of what we’ve been up to…
Blue Bahia pants and Ostrich Gray for the shirt
Laying out elements of “The Treehouse Orchestra.”
A character from ‘The Treehouse Orchestra’ mosaic
As 2020 wound to a close, we did some more work for Mardi Letson of Gardens by Mardi. She is a frequent collaborator, but this project was in her own yard, which is a showcase of her (and our) work. This time we added onto an old wall we built eight or so years ago. She was expanding an outdoor seating area, so we took down a curving section of wall and straightened it out and lengthened it. We added walls, steps, and edging to create gravel paths and flatten some of the steeper passageways.
A transition between the old wall and the new add-on we just built.
A drystone retaining wall and some low stone edging frame a garden path through a North Asheville garden
Some stone edging accents a pitcher plant in a home garden
A mosaic pattern based on Islamic geometry
Islamic Geometric Design is a book by Eric Broug. It is extraordinarily beautiful. It is filled with photographs of complex geometric patterns employed and tile mosaics, decorative metal craft, and architecture. The text is dense explaining the history as well as the significance of the various patterns. Best of all it includes instructions on how to make these intricate designs, using only a straight edge and a compass. (I just discovered his bookstore link; there’s some great stuff in there!)
Several years ago I built a hexagonal stone platform to support a cast iron gazebo. I had to figure out how to lay out a large hexagon in a wide open space. There was lots of rebar and string in different colored paint. Somehow it managed to be challenging and kind of easy at the same time. There’s something about using simple tools to achieve complex results that appeals to me. The same can be said for stonework.
A mosaic pattern based on Islamic geometry
This mosaic started as a drawing. I used graph paper to set my outer limits because I wanted a 9″ x 9″ square. That was really the only place where the graph paper proved to be useful. The final design emerges from layers upon layers of overlapping circles and connecting lines. I should’ve taken a picture of the whole messy thing, but I erased all of the framework before I took this picture from of the construction lines. Of note, this pattern is a tessellation; the weird half stars on the edges match up with each other to create complete stars and begin the pattern anew.
I cut the paper using my 1/16 inch shears. Typically used for copper foil stained glass, it removes a strip of paper 1/16th of an inch wide. In my mosaics, that gives me a little bit of room to finesse edges as well as leaving room for grout. (For the large scale wall mosaics we do, we use the 1/8 inch shears.)You would expect the identical pieces of the repeating pattern to be the same size. In fact, they should be! But tiny, tiny variations in my drawing left small discrepancies between some of the pattern pieces. I like to think that I work with fairly tight specifications for a stone guy, but this is next level. There’s a lot of room to grow.
Tile saw in action
Laying out mosaic
My sons helped me cut the pieces and assemble the mosaic in my backyard shop. I don’t think either of them has a strong inclination to pursue stonework, but I still feel like it’s good for young people to learn how to use their hands and tools. This piece is now taped and ready for thinset. I think we’re going to make one or two more on the same pattern but with different color schemes. Then we’ll set them all at once. I intend to sell them online at some point.
The patterns that you can create from lines and circles is limitless. I’m looking forward to learning how to draw and build more designs.
The next mosaic for the public art project in Norfolk, Virginia is officially underway. This young fellow is jumping up to strike the triangle. I am hoping that we can actually put a triangle (or more?!) into the mosaic so the kids at the school can make it ring. That’ll take some figuring. The theme of this one is music. There are nine kids playing a variety of instruments.
The first figure in our latest mosaic for Norfolk.
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.
A tool rack for patio making