Sunday, May 25, 2014

StoneFest 2014 and the Irish connection

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So after a number of years of procrastination and dreaming about going to StoneFest, this year I finally made it over to Seattle to attend the event. Procrastination was of course not the only factor in making the 14,623 km round trip to the event, finances and situation also played a big factor. If it were not for Alexandra and Scott of StoneFest and the work they are doing with the 'OnTrack' scholarship, dreams and procrastination would still be my only memories of StoneFest.

About StoneFest

StoneFest came to be after Scott Hackney (partner of Marenakos Rock Center), Alexandra Morosco (sculptor, and Trow & Holden Field Representative at the time) and Randy Potter (Trow and Holden Tool Co.) had a short tool demo day at Marenakos. It was such a great experience they visualized, bringing together carvers and masons and working together for several days. As director, Morosco planned a four day event in 2004 through the Northwest Stone Sculptors Association which was a total success! Sculptors were exposed to the vibrant stone mason, Bobby Watt and learned about function, gravity and basic building principles. Masons got to blow off all their corners and make a square stone round or curvy. They had so much fun, It was clear this needed to happen again.

Marenakos Rock Center adopted the role of sponsoring this most extraordinary event in the Pacific Northwest and called it StoneFest. StoneFest is now the annual gathering for those who LOVE STONE. This educational event offers something that is a unique experience for the stonemason, the carver, architect, landscape designer, or simply those who want to further their connection with stone.

The story of this years StoneFest however, starts much closer to home at a stone festival far more familiar to me, Feile na gCloch on Inis Oirr. I have written about it many times, and it is a place special to many of us here in the stone world in Ireland. It has also become precious to Scott and Alexandra who have been coming to Inis Oirr for the past few years and will be back again this year.
Inspired by their recent experiences in Ireland as well as the large number of Irish and Scots attending, Scott and Alexandra went with a very strong Irish theme for StoneFest 2014.

Renowned Irish stonemason / author Patrick McAfee is a regular instructor at StoneFest and has brought a regular Irish influence into the projects at StoneFest (note the Clochán in the photo at the top of this post that they built during the 2010 StoneFest)
For this years festival Patrick designed two very special Irish inspired structures.

The Early Irish Christian Church 

This replica of an Early Irish Christian Church was built using local granite rubble and earth mortar and is only slightly smaller than the similar ones found in Ireland.
Tomas Lipps cuts quoins for the church as building continues in the background
Stone busting under the watchful eyes of instructors Pat McAfee and Bobby Watt 
The church site-a hive of activity.
The church rises out of the ground.
Stonework nearing completion. 
Pat McAfee having a well earned drink upon completion of the stonework. 
Stonework complete and ready for its timber roof. 
The dry stone 'Krak'

Newtown Castle
The dry stone project was inspired by the unique Newtown castle in Co. Clare (Unique because unlike most other tower houses in Ireland, Newtown Castle is round but rises from a square pyramidal base).
Inspired by this Pat designed a scaled down version of a 13th century defensive structure known as a 'Krak'.
This type of defensive structure has the same type of complex shapes as Newtown Castle, with round turrets emerging from the steep sloping defensive walls. The turrets were used to provide a projecting defensive position for archers, allowing covering fire to the adjacent wall. The steep slope (or batter) of the wall prevents attackers hiding at the base of the wall but also allowed people inside the fort to throw rocks and other projectiles down that would bounce off the sloping wall and into the faces of the attackers. (as demonstrated by Nick and myself below)
Defending the keep with arrow and stone.
The Krak was built last week under the instruction of Nick Aitken, with the help of Ken Curran, Sunny Wieler, Eric Landman, Russ Beardsley, and Alan Ash to name but a few. 
This scaled down Krak is a complex looking structure, but when broken down into individual elements it was essentially an L shaped wall (plum on one side, 1: 2 batter on the other) with round pillars on the corners.
Building of the Krak begins
The part that had everyone stumped for a while was the quoin stones, and how to get the cylindrical shape to emerge from the pyramidal shape wall. After much head scratching they managed to carve the cylindrical shape into the unforgiving Pennsylvania blue stone. This stone only wants to break perpendicular to the grain so trying to achieve  a 1:2 batter into a 6" bed took up a lot of time.
Some much needed shade in an unusually sunny week in Seattle 
 Fortunately the guys at Marenakos guillotined the limestone blocks into pie shapes for the turrets and so sped up the process and got everyone back on track.
The turrets begin to rise
Ken Curran breaking stones
Alan Ash enjoying some stone pies
Ken and Russ's lovely round caps are placed under the watchful eye of Nick 
The builders had hoped to go higher with the towers but the lack of time and stone gave everyone an excuse to come back. All said and done, it did make for an attractive structure. It was also great for wallers from Ireland, America, Canada and Scotland to come together to play with stones.
Fortress completed

Ken Curran and Rory Noone enjoy some fortification inside the Krak
Sunny propping up the outer turret 
King of the castle. Scott Hackney enjoys the new addition to the stone village at Marenakos yard

Under the instruction of some of the finest stone carvers and letter cutters around (including Nicholas Fairplay, Keith Phillips, Karin Sprague, Tracy Mahaffey and Richard Rhodes)
The theme for this years workshops was Milestones.

 Most commonly, Milestones are known as a stone by the side of a road that shows the distance in miles to a specified place. Metaphorically, they have also become known as an important point in the progress or development of something, a very important event or advance. Students were given the opportunity to explore all the venues of StoneFest: Build a milestone into a wall, carve one for a personal achievement or celebration in ones life and bring it home.
Karin Sprague surrounded by eager students.
Learning from each other. President of the Northwest Stone Sculptors Association Carl Nelson takes some pointers from instructor Tracy Mahaffey
Randy Potter in the Trow and Holden tool shop
Rory Noone
Instructor Nicholas Fairplay giving some guidance
Neil Rippingale of The Dry Stone Conservancy getting a taste for letter carving
One of the things I love about events like this is seeing people getting their first taste of stone and instantly becoming hooked. Whether its someone like Neil above who has decades of experience working with dry stone, who has only now discovered his passion and talent for letter carving, or someone like Daniel Poisson (below) who before StoneFest had never touched chisel and stone before.
Daniel Poisson and his first ever stone carving
Daniel Poisson is a graphic artist but this was his first ever carving. I am also delighted to hear that not only has he sold his first stone sculpture, he has already begun work on his first commissioned piece. You can read about Daniel's experience at StoneFest on his blog here
It is a wonderful feeling making that first connection with stone and thinking 'HELL YAAA' and being hooked evermore. 

Mike Schroeder works with a group using Portland cement based masonry
This is one of the things I love about StoneFest, it is a convergence of all the disciplines of stone. There is no cliquey groups here, no hierarchy or prejudice, just people brought together in a collective celebration of all things STONE.

     Another highlight of the week was the big StoneFest Feast on the Thursday. The spectacle put on by the hosts in honour of the Celtic themed festival was nothing short of jaw dropping, with a night filled with festivity, music, food and a few pints!
The opening of the StoneFest Feast (Photo Tomas Lipps of The Stone Foundation)
  It is important to note that the StoneFest Feast was also a fundraiser for the wonderful 'OnTrack' Scholarship which made it possible for people like myself, Ken Curran and Rory Noone to attend. You can read more about this Scholarship program here as well as information about becoming a sponsor of this wonderful program. 
The Lords of StoneFest Scott Hackney (in the white blazer) and to his right Alexandra Morosco (Photo Tomas Lipps of The Stone Foundation)
And so ended StoneFest 2014. With a heavy heart I packed my bags and started the long trek back home. Arriving back home in Ireland I felt jet-lagged but yet strangely invigorated at the same time. Convergences like this are important, I feel, the energy and enthusiasm here is infectious. Just as important is the exchange of stories, knowledge, and the lessons learned with people in the same industry, which is hugely beneficial. 
I cannot thank Alexandra and Scott enough for what they are doing on both a personal and professional level. It was so wonderful to see people connect with stone and indeed explore stone in new ways.
To my knowledge there is nothing else like Stonefest that brings together all the disciplines of stone and celebrates them equally together. There is a great scene of passion and inclusiveness here that was evident in all the smiling faces I saw there all week.  
I must admit that the past few months leading up to Stonefest I had been doubting my future with stone due to the sheer lack of opportunities here in Ireland. But as I had hoped it would, spending some time with like- minded people during and around StoneFest has given me the inspiration and focus to carry on. 


  1. What a great conference and workshops. So interesting, with a great connection and heritage to ancient stonework (especially Ireland). I'm not even a stoneworker or mason, and I'd love to attend one of these get-togethers. Thank you so much for sharing all in this post.

  2. I could not have put it better myself. An experience that brought me to tears on more than one occassion over the past few weeks. And you've done it again Sunny.
    We owe our new found momentum and positivity to the people of Stonefest. Big love!
    Now let's go build something with stones and have the craic while doing so!

  3. It was a thoroughly memorable exhilarating creative experience. Well done Sunny for documenting it so well.