I’d wager that’s probably one of the most common statements to emanate from city dwellers taking leisurely strolls in the countryside, but I’ll raise my bet and speculate that few people ever get to see the process happening right in front of them. Well on the 15th September, a group of aspiring sculptors did just that as they took part in a course teaching the art of traditional dry stone walling at Yorkshire Sculpture Park. The workshop was conducted under the careful guidance of the Professional Dry Stone Wallers.
It happened to be one of the windiest days I can remember too. Had it not been for the weighty bag of photographic equipment I was carrying, the relentlessly aggressive gusts of wind would have swept me across Bretton Country Park on a free mid-week break to nearby Emley Moor TV mast.
After some foraging around in undergrowth, I managed to locate the dry stone walling workshop tucked away in a wooded depression on the boundary between Yorkshire Sculpture Park and neighbouring farm land. They were sheltered in a ditch from the worst of the weather, now spitting intermittently like a petulant child, by overhanging trees either side. A dry stone wall, some three or four foot high snaked through the centre of the ditch, dividing the group like some near-complete reptilian work-in-progress.
The brief for this photography assignment was to capture images of process, people, tools and products:
My take on dry stone walling is that it’s definitely an art – demanding an eye for continuity, experience and sight of the bigger picture. Each course of stones (layer) in the wall is put together rather like a large puzzle, only you craft the pieces as you go along, modifying and tweaking to sit flush with a string plum line. When finished, it’s alarming how neat and tidy the wall looks considering the haphazard and erratically shaped rocks which hold the structure together.