Thursday, November 21, 2013

Pine Mountain Settlement School {Dry Stack Stone Workshop}

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Last month Jeff and I took a trip to the hollers of Kentucky to attend a heritage workshop at the Pine Mountain Settlement School near Harlan Kentucky.  The weekend was one of those dreamy perfect fall weekends when being outside is wonderful and refreshing.


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When we have traveled through Ireland and the United kingdom, the stone fencing always saturates our trip with one of Europe’s visual attachments to the past. For Jeff, it sparked a dream to learn more about this ancient method of fence construction.

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Our instructors were eager to provide us with their knowledge and skills.  The main instructor is Richard Tufnell who is from England and is an expert in the craft of dry stone masonry.  His assistant, Keeland works for the Kentucky extension office in the area and has been working with Richard for many years.  The program to rebuild the stone walls at the schools has been headed up by these two men for over 12 years.

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Our class included a group of college students from the University of Kentucky.  They were attending as part of their studies in historic preservation.  They were all young and spry.

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Half of the students were women and they didn’t hesitate to pull their load when it came to doing the strenuous duties of constructing these walls.  I like to get dirty and work hard too, which was frustrating for me because of the injury to my arm.  But, I was able to learn a great deal, and handed out tools and small stones as needed.

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Jeff really loved the process of learning and being a part of this workshop.  I am also proud to tell you that he had no problem hanging in there with the young guns.

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This is what we had to work with.  Nothing special, just gathered rocks from the property.  We learned how to look at the rocks and determine which pieces would work best based on their size and shape.  When we finished, we had used almost every piece in this pile for the wall construction.

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There are no special tools required either.  It is an art, like any art, that can be developed with very little training, but it takes years to perfect the skills of the masters.  Years and passion, make masters of an art.  Although, in years past, it probably wasn’t hailed as an art.  It was a necessity.  The rocks littered the fields that needed to be planted, the rocks were in the way and had to be moved.  And, the farmers needed fencing.

Dry stack stone masonry is an artistry crafted by obligation.  But when I look at the ancient stone walls, I somehow don’t see obligation, I see beauty, I see art.

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This is the stretch of wall that our group built over the course of the two day workshop.  It was a brilliant weekend which included work and laughter and learning.  That right there is my kind of weekend.

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There were also beautiful images on the property to capture.

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I told you, it was my kind of weekend.

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