Saturday, March 22, 2014

Bloom 2013

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Almost a year late, but here is the story of my involvement in Bloom in the Park garden show last year.
Tim Austen's Gold winning garden at bloom

Outdoor classroom under
construction during spring 2013 
Picking up icy cold stones in January of 2013 as the winter was slowly easing its grip on the country, I powered on through the cold in a bid to get my outdoor classroom project completed for my May deadline.
It was during this time that I was contacted by renowned Irish landscape designer Tim Austen. A regular medal winner at Bloom, Tim was designing a large garden for the competition and was wondering if I would be interested in creating one of my mosaic panels as a centre piece for his garden.   

Aquilegia vulgaris ‘Black Barlow’ standing proud in front of my mosaic panel.  
Being a fan of Tim's previous show gardens, I was delighted to be a part of his latest garden.
Tim Austen's Giardino della mostra 
As Tim explains on his website  Giardino della mostra, translating generally from the Italian as “exhibition garden” or “garden of exhibits,” is a garden that encourages you to design your own garden to a strong theme whilst referring to the fact that a good garden is formed from the sum of its parts. The concept and layout are, in part, inspired by Ireland’s only permanent exhibition of show gardens at Gardenworld, Kilquade (the National Garden Exhibition Centre), Co. Wicklow. Here a wonderful collection of individual gardens, arranged around the central avenue, collectively inspire and encourage gardeners at all levels to follow a design in their own gardens. The central avenue, with water features and arches are the main elements that are referenced in Giardino della mostra, along with beech hedging that forms a soft backdrop to the garden. Moving through the garden, areas of differing character are also seen.
Tim Austen's Giardino della Mostra
Unfortunately for me the garden show was on the weekend before the completion date for my outdoor classroom project so this meant that I would be spending many weekends over the next few months in the studio.

When making mosaic panels (as well as other stone art pieces) I try and see if the client has any connection with any particular stone. In this case, as Tim is a proud Wicklow man, and golden granite being the stone of Wicklow, we decided to incorporate granite into the mosaic.
So my first task was breaking up chunks of granite into usable pieces for the mosaic.
At work in the studio with help from my lovely wife. 
As the workload started to mount up, working on both the outdoor classroom and the show garden, I called in reinforcements to help. Help with the mosaic came from my wonderful supportive wife Christine who came and helped out with completing the mosaic work.
Christine cleaning the mirror

Back on site, work was commencing with the garden. There was some friendly rivalry between designers on site, and they were often seen walking the grounds checking out the competition. It was for this reason that Tim wanted to keep the mosaic secret only to be installed for the big reveal at the end. The framework for the mosaic did have to be installed earlier in the build, so to keep people guessing 'flatscreen TV here' was written on the framework to throw the rivals off.
Installing the mosaic. Photo Tim Austen
   Tim had a really great crew working with him on the garden, and it took most of them to help me get the mosaic into place. Made of natural stone and cement, it weighed well over 200kg. 
The finished piece. 220cmx 120cm granite, Liscannor sandstone and mirror mosaic panel by Stone Art
Tim was also keen for me to be involved in two of the other stone features in the garden, the old forest-like dry stone wall and one of the water features. As I was short on time I thought this would be a great opportunity for some of The Dry Stone Wall Association of Ireland to get involved in the project. Two good friends of mine from the DSWAI Ken Curran and Alex Panteleyenko  took over the responsibility for this from me and did a really wonderful job of making a dry stone wall look like it has been sitting there for decades. 
Dry stone wall built by DSWAI members Ken Curran and Alex Panteleyenko. Photo Ken Curran
Finished wall surrounded with woodland shade planting and a bronze sculpture by Eamonn Ceannt  
Limestone pebble water feature by Stone Art
Unlike the mosaic panel, the water feature had to be made on site. Tim was inspired by the free flowing pebble work of UK artist Johnny Clasper and wanted something similar. I first contacted Johnny to see if he wanted to come over to do it but unfortunately he was busy with show gardens in the UK at the same time. So I decided to do it myself. So I would spend the next three days on my knees in the garden building the water feature, and it would have been even longer had Alex Panteleyenko not stuck around for an extra day after finishing the dry stone wall to help get me started with the water feature.
Myself and Alex setting the first stones in the water feature. Photo Tim Austen
Slow progress.
The finished piece.
I was delighted to see Tim win Gold for the garden. It was wonderful to be part of the whole process and look forward to future involvement in the show. It was great to see the reactions to the garden over the festival weekend. Tim's garden proved to be a big hit with many of the 110,000+ visitors who attended the show over the four days of the event.
Some of the 110,000+ people who visited Bloom in the Park last year 
The President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins and his wife chilling out by my mosaic.
Delicate blue flowers of Camassia cusickii (Cussick's camas)


Mosaic reflected on wet tiles on Tim Austen's Giardino della Mostra
Evening shot of the water features. Photo courtesy of Tim Austen
For more information about the garden and its designer check out Tim Austen's Website http://www.timaustengardendesigns.com/
If you have time check out this great short film about Tim's road to Bloom and the building of the show garden. Well worth a watch. 



Thanks again to Tim Austen for letting me be involved in the wonderful garden. I would also like to make a very special thanks to Alex who after Bloom was over came and helped me for a day to finish off the outdoor classroom which I am pleased to say also got finished on time.

Also of note. I custom make these mosaic panels in all shapes and sizes so be sure to contact me with your enquiries should you want one for your garden.

Monday, March 3, 2014

'The tree that ate the church' and other stone hungry Irish trees

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Around this time every year I try and do a special tree themed blog post especially for National Tree Week which this year runs from 2nd March to 8th March.

Reading through this wonderful new book by Aubrey Fennell about the Heritage Trees of Ireland I got inspired to do a blog post on some of the stone hungry trees of Ireland.

This book is full of wonderful photos, stories and information and I thoroughly recommend getting a copy. Below are two stories from the book that I have been permitted by the publishers to share with you. They are the story of The Tree That Ate the Church in Co. Offaly and the story of Castle One Tree in Co. Cavan written in the words of the author.

Heritage Trees of Ireland By Aubrey Fennell. Click here to buy with free worldwide shipping
I have always been fascinated by the folklore surrounding many of Ireland's trees. Many of these trees are also often closely tied to stone I find. Unfortunately though the same trees are also often the slow killers of the same stone structures as was the case below.
The Tree that Ate the Church. Co. Offaly. (Photo from Heritage Trees of Ireland book with the publishers kind permission)

The Tree That Ate the Church, Tihilly Church, Laughaun, Coleraine, County Offaly  
"I have been as guilty as anyone in rushing through the countryside on our improved road network, and not seeing some of the wonders of our beautiful island. The road between Tullamore and Clara was one I had often travelled, when a beam of sunshine illuminated a pair of ash trees I had not noticed before. They are two fields in, behind a farmyard, and after getting permission from the farmer I approached them with growing anticipation.
Surface roots of the first ash seemed ready to grab my ankles and pull me into if gaping cavity. The gargantuan tree did not look benign and, if I did not know better, appeared to be ‘Old Man Willow’ exiled from Tolkien’s Middle-earth. 
It stands on a mound of stones which are the remains of Tihilly church. Moss-covered stones and bark merge to create a trunk 7.6m in girth, a new Irish champion at the turn of the millennium. Since then its
cavity has become a cave, which has shrunk its girth to 7.18m. It supports a respectable storm-damaged crown, and at over 300 years old, is living on borrowed time. It probably started life as an opportunist seedling on the walls of the church, when it was abandoned in medieval times. Two walls remain standing beyond its grasping roots.
The second ash stands proudly clear of all this carnage, and is in the prime of life, ready to guard this religious site when the old brute is gone. It shelters a standing High Cross made from sandstone, which depicts scenes from the Bible, along with geometric and animal interlacing. St Fintan founded a monastery here in the seventh century. The last abbot served here in 936, while the church we see now was built from the stones of previous churches.
Ash trees have a special place in Irish folklore, and massive old trees have been venerated down through the ages. After the hawthorn, it is the tree most likely to be found at holy wells and sites of special significance.
Here we have a tree to rival those of the past and I hope to revisit it before it returns to Middle-earth."

Castle One Tree. Bawnboy, County Cavan
Castle One Tree
(Photo from Heritage Trees of Ireland book with the publishers kind permission)


Castle One Tree
(Photo from Heritage Trees of Ireland book
with the publishers kind permission)
‘Castle One Tree’ is a recently coined name given to an incredible old ash tree which is gorging on what remains of Lissanover Castle between Bawnboy and Templeport. Lissanover translates from Irish as the ‘Fort of Pride’, and the story goes that one of its occupants had a priest murdered at the altar because he had started Mass without him. In medieval times the castle was a stronghold of the ruling McGovern clan, and commanded views of the Barony of Templeport from Fermanagh to the Shannon basin as it fed into Lough Allen. 
Another account translates Lissanover as ‘Fort of Extravagance’; in this version a Baron McGovern was building the castle and had his tenants drive their cows to be milked at the castle every day, and the produce was used instead of water to make the mortar. BuIlocks’ blood was also used, and if anyone refused, the Baron had them hanged.
The McGoverns’ despotic rule did not survive the Elizabethan plantation, and the castle stone was recycled into the construction of Lissanover House in the 18th century. 
By the early 20th century, the mansion had suffered the same fate as the castle, and its stone was reused in the building of local farmers’ homes after the estate was divided up by the Land Commission.
Permission to view the tree from Martin Donohoe on whose land the tree stands is essential, as the grazing bullocks may have an ancestral memory of what happened to their forebears. Climb the hill until it levels off, and only bumps and hollows remain of the fort, except for the stout ash on its pedestal of stone. The trunk is over 7m in girth although it is not a conventional trunk, as many roots drop down from the original height of the wall where the ash seeded itself some 300 years ago. The tree’s height and spread is over 18m, and it is obviously thriving on its diet of blood and milk. It is clear why this tree was left well alone, for who knows what malevolent spirit might be released if it is interfered with? The McGoverns had the habit of imprisoning their opponents in wooden barrels with nails driven in and rolling them down the hill from this castle.

Below are two other trees that are stone bound which I have long admired. The first is an old crab apple growing out of a sold rock (an old mass rock I believe) close to my family home in West Cork.

Crab Apple tree, Mealagh Valley, West Cork. (Rock not very visible from this angle as grass has creped up over the rock on this side.) 
 The tree below is a lovely old Hawthorn growing through the wall at the 12th century St Doulagh's Well, in the outskirts of Dublin city. I love how the wall around the Hawthorn tree has carefully been maintained and repaired over the years to allow the tree to grow freely through the wall. It was actually visiting this site that  inspired me to incorporate the Hawthorn 'fairy tree' into the outdoor classroom project I created for the school in Donabate.

Hawthorn growing through the wall at the 12th century St Doulagh's Well

Planting the fairy tree in the outdoor classroom
The Fairy Tree in place

In regards to other Stone Hungry Trees, I also like this photo by Ken Curran of vines consuming a dry stone wall in Co. Tipparary

Vines consuming a dry stone wall in Co. Tipperary (Photo by Ken Curran of Earthstone)

Grave Yards are also great places to see stone eating trees.
Stone Hungry trees in Glasnevin cemetery in Dublin

If you want to see some funny hungry trees from around the world, you should check out this link http://hungrytrees.com/


You can see my previous posts for National Tree Week here.


There are plenty of events on around the country this week for National Tree Week. To find out what is happening in your area or to advertise your own event, check out the Tree Council of Ireland website http://www.treecouncil.ie/initiatives/treeweek2014.html

Thanks again to Collins Press  for allowing me to share the stories from their book. The Book Depository has the wonderful  Heritage Trees of Ireland book on sale at the moment with 39% off plus free worldwide shipping so click here to get yourself a copy 

Friday, November 29, 2013

An Outdoor Classroom

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Having this sculptural outdoor classroom project for a school as my first large public work was both challenging and rewarding. Following a site visit with the arts committee of the school I created a concept that would be distinctive of the schools ethos and beliefs, while also creating a visually stimulating space that would be a slice of earthiness and nature in an urban area largely dominated by concrete and steel.
It took almost a year, and 100 tonnes of stone to complete, but I think the before and after shots below shows how successful the project has been.
My new favorite before and after photo

Tom Pollard acting out a scene on our theatre stage.
Working in the middle of a school yard, the site often felt like a theatre stage, with students and parents alike curious to see what was happening and eager to see how the structure developed. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to share some knowledge of the craft I am so passionate about. I would sometimes find myself performing for my audiences, overly dressing a piece of stone so that the ping of hammer and chisel rings out over the school yard to the delight of the spectators.
There are almost 500 students in this school. So if you multiply 500 students by 1 million questions each, it equals some pretty amusing questions. I have been asked "Are you building a church?" "When will the castle be finished?" "Why are you hammering the bricks?" "Why are you doing that" "Why do you have a hole in your jacket", but the most common question and response I would get from students and parents alike went as follows:
"What are you building??.......An outdoor classroom!............(long pause).........."Will it have a roof on it?"....No it is an outdoor classroom!.......(another long pause)......."oh"...

I was delighted to be able to create a space that visually demonstrates the schools ethos and sparks excitement and curiosity in the process. It is a wonderful feeling to leave the space behind knowing that it will continue to excite and intrigue minds young and old for generations to come, also knowing that the structure will only improve with age as the stonework weathers and the planting evolves.

click on the video to see the building process from start to finish. Get yourself a cup of tea 'cos it's seven minutes long, but then again it did take a long time to build.

The Concept

The outdoor classroom consists of a walled garden type structure. The walls are comprised of dry faced stonework, inspired by the ancient traditional dry stone walls found throughout the country. The stone is Lacken sandstone from Co. Mayo.
Taking inspiration from the four strands of the learning spiral from the school ethos, the centre of the structure is a large spiral incorporated into the floor and walls. The first strand of the spiral is already visible as you walk towards the classroom. It spirals first along the ground, then into the wall, before curling up to create the arched entrance into the classroom. Similarly, another of the strands runs into the wall, curling up to form the border of the family tree mosaic. Yet another strand finishes at the teachers stone chair, with the fourth strand of the spiral turning into the path of the exit from the classroom.

Entrance into the outdoor classroom
The concept is to have a structure that is visually inspiring from both the outside and the inside, a place for children to get excited about being in the great outdoors as well as learning about it.
The stone structure sits in between sculpted grass mounds that help create a wilderness setting. These mounds fill with colour in the early spring with a dense mixture of spring bulbs. This explosion of colour is continued on into the late autumn by the blend of native Irish wildflowers which will also encourage wildlife into the area.  The planting inside the structure is composed of various colourful seasonal flowers the children can both plant and admire throughout the year.
Planted inside the stone structure, behind the stone teachers chair is a native ‘Fairy Tree’, or Hawthorn. The Hawthorn, with its beautiful spring blossoms, is a tree embedded deep in Irish myths and folklore and will make for many a great tale on a sunny day in the classroom.

One feature in the structure I was very much looking forward to building was the spiralling moongate. I had this feature in my head for some time and was waiting for the right opportunity to build one. Building this moongate involved  a lot of head scratching and even more stone cutting. In order to build it in a way that it would be structurally sound and withstand the heavy traffic it is likely to endure, a lot of cleaver cutting had to be done.  The most difficult and time consuming part was building the lower left (as seen below) section where the spiral coils back into itself. These skinny pieces are in some cases three time the thickness of what is visible, they have been chamfered back into the larger stone below to give them strength and weight.  

Another complex feature that I was excited to build was the stone tree mosaic. I have already written about this feature in a separate blog post that can be read here
The roots of the family tree mosaic
Student participation.
students painting leaf tiles for the family tree mosaic

The design brief called for the students to be involved in the project in some way so that they could put their own stamp on the project. The design allowed for a number of projects for the kids to get involved in.  The natural stone 'Family Tree' mosaic that is incorporated in the walls has leaf shaped tiles which the kids got to paint in class along with the border tiles that surround the mosaic. Read more about the family tree mosaic in the blog post I did about that here

The family tree mosaic
The four large tables in the classroom have also been mosaiced. A competition was held in the school to design the table tops. The students were asked to design the table tops to represent the four strands of the schools ‘Learn Together’ Curriculum, these being Equality and Justice, Ethics and The Environment, Belief Systems, and Moral and Spiritual Development.
Every student in the school (almost 500 in total) got the opportunity to be part of the mosaicing process 
The completed tables
Ethics and The Environment table
Students were involved in planting some of the 3000 daffodil bulbs into the mounds that surround the outside of the classroom. They will be involved on an annual basis in planting of flowers in the raised planting bed inside the classroom walls. Two past students, now in transition year in the neighbouring secondary school also got the opportunity to work with the artist for a number of weeks gaining valuable experience in stonemasonry through the building of the stone walls of the structure.
First of the spring bulbs
Summer wildflowers



The teachers chair (well most of the time)
I will leave the final words to the school who wrote this lovely testimonial for me.

Testimonial from the School

Awarded the project after successfully competing in a public tender process, Sunny Wieler from Stone Art was commissioned by the school to create an outdoor classroom. From the very start it was clear that Sunny had fully embraced the ethos of the school both in his presentation and his daily work.

Sunny has been working at the school for the last year, practical in his approach, he has been very flexible working around school yard time/ PE etc. He has worked  in close contact with our caretakers/gardeners in order to maintain a strong link with any changes happening during the school day he needs to be aware of and has always been enthusiastic in answering the children's many questions. Starting on site early each morning he has built a rapport with the parents as they drop their children to school.

He has contributed positively to all our committee meetings, embracing changes and answering all our queries, helping us shape our thoughts as the project developed. Sunny has consistently been eager to include the children, staff and parents and indeed the wider community in the project. Each have been involved in creating many of the mosaic pieces and planting around the classroom.

Sunny is meticulous in his approach to his craft. Both in the original design consideration and in his daily approach to his work. He certainly never 'cuts corners', his attention to detail in many elements of the design have been remarkable. The almost soothing sound of him chipping away at one of our native stones will be truly missed when he completes the project.

It has been an honour to have Sunny create for us a lasting piece of art that, in a rapidly changing world, is both a beautiful testament to our history and a practical outdoor space we hope will be used and appreciated by many future generations.

Finally a quote from one of our caretakers, “Sunny has the patience of a saint, he quietly works away, it sometimes feels like he isn't here at all, that the classroom just grew out of the ground” I hope this indicates how much he has become part of our school community, how his craft is quietly appreciated everyday and how successful our 'Outdoor Classroom' project has been.