For the love of stone

Wall at Byzantine city of Mystras, Greece.
Wall at Byzantine city of Mystras, Greece.

It should be obvious by now that I am rather partial to stone. More than partial. For the love of stone, I make mosaics. For the love of its beauty and aloofness.  It allows itself to be cut and chipped and worn down but whatever is done to it, it remains itself. Whether its piled into pyramids, hauled across plains and raised into henges, built into fortress walls or honest field divides, whether carved, sculpted or picked up as pebbles on the beach, we all have a use for it. We are drawn to it to counter balance our own useless, watery transience. We know that it will stay when we are gone.

Eagle and hare stone carving. Mystras, Greece.
Eagle and hare stone carving. Mystras, Greece.

It’s a reassuring substance, so trustworthy we forget to trust it. But what makes it more than just an inert material, broken down so that we can build it up, is that it contains it’s past, as if the stone itself is a memorial. In places where Tectonic plates have scraped and ruptured, you can see, right there, the moving, liquid stone laid down in ripples and sheets. And best of all, folded within it, like seeds into dough, are plants and creatures millions of years old, bright and fresh from a time when there were no words to name them.

Fossil plants found in mosaic marble.
Fossil plants found in mosaic marble.

My love of stone started with walls. The dry stone walls of the United Kingdom are beautiful things. They crisscross the fields, scamper over the hills, run in rivulets next to ancient roads. They must have taken a phenomenal effort to build, but they have a careless, natural permanence about them as if they were always part of the landscape. As a child I used to help my father rebuild the stone dykes around our fields in Scotland. I didn’t know then why I chose to spend my days piling stones and fitting them into each other, but I remember the intense satisfaction when we found the right stone for the right niche – yes, the mosaic urge was there all along.

'My' dry stone wall. Perthshire, Scotland.
‘My’ dry stone wall. Perthshire, Scotland.

It would be impossible to talk about stone without mentioning the environmental artist Andy Goldsworthy whose sculptures perfectly balance the opposing qualities of stone: its sinewy grace and solid functionality.

Fold. Andy Goldsworthy. Image from Wikipedia.
Fold. Andy Goldsworthy. Image from Wikipedia.

And then there are mosaics…What a relief it must have been when someone decided to replace trodden earth floors with pebbles pressed into mortar. And thank God they did. How delightful to wake up and walk across cool stone floors instead of getting your toes grubby before even reaching the door. Not quite so fun for the slave labourers who sorted, graded and placed the coloured stones but their work survives thousands of years after completion which, in the pecking order of human achievements, is one of the greatest.

Decorative floral pebble mosaics. Pella, Greece.
Decorative floral pebble mosaics. Pella, Greece.

Pebbles now are merely a sub-species in a vast genus of mosaic making. Maggie Howarth is the acknowledged leader in the field of pebble mosaics and even people who make stone mosaics are relatively rare alongside the numbers who use ceramic, glass, mixed media and smalti. But it’s for the love of stone that I make mosaics, so here is a collection of random photos of stone things that have caught my eye and made me stop and appreciate this ubiquitous and lovely stuff:

 

 

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2 Comments

  1. I work for the Turf Builders, but I also work with a group of people In Israel who are attempting to rebuild the southern wall of the Temple (without harming the mosques). Like yourself, we are not going to be ordering prefabricated stone, but cutting each piece by hand. Two of your statements that are take-away for me are “solid functionality” and “the challenge of fitting the right stone into the right niche.”

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