I didn’t mean to start doing this. I was going to be a curator.
That is, until an artist and an artisan from Wales completely changed my mind about who I might be. While working on my Master’s in Folklore at the University of North Carolina, I spent summers staffing the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. In 2009, Angharad Pearce Jones, a blacksmith and installation artist, and Stuart Fry, a dry-stone waller and landscape historian, came to build their country’s portion of the festival site and to represent their respective crafts to the public. I had never seen anything like these two. I was in awe, just completely dumbstruck by their talent and intellect, as well as their humor and professional generosity. Fortunately, Stuart and Har appreciated my over-the-top enthusiasm for their work and took me under their wings. To my shock and delight, they invited me to take a break from graduate school and instead come to Wales to live and work with them for a few months. I could not get on a plane fast enough! I spent that fall and winter working alongside these two master craftspeople. Although taking them up on this offer delayed my graduation and essentially decimated all of my previous life plans, it was the smartest thing I ever did. I quickly realized that I no longer wanted simply to document and present craft as an academic—I wanted to do it. I was happy. I had found a new kind of satisfaction. My first trip to Wales was the biggest "Aha!" moment of my life so far. For better or worse, I knew that my days at a desk were over.
When my time in Wales was up, I came home to finish my Master’s, cooked professionally for a while, and even worked on a small organic farm, but I knew I wasn’t done walling. After spending an additional two months training in Wales in 2011 and five weeks in 2012, I have begun building here at home, too. I continue to travel to Wales annually to brush up alongside my teacher and to work toward additional DSWA (Dry Stone Walling Association) certifications. In October 2013 I passed my Initial Level exam in Brecon Beacons National Park, and I plan to take the Intermediate Level exam as soon as one fits into my calendar. In 2016, I came full circle and built a dry-stone wall at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, where my journey with stone began. Fry came to visit and inspect, and the Smithsonian folks made sure to interview us both. I don't think either of us could have been more proud.
Most often, I build using traditional dry-stone methods—no concrete, no re-bar, no fake stone. I build the same way wallers have been building for centuries. I will, as needed or requested, work with mortar. A well-built dry-stone wall can last hundreds of years without the aid of concrete or even mortar (though mortar is appropriate for some structures). Concrete is not always the answer. Besides, not dumping concrete in the middle of a wall can do nice things like create bird or toad habitats in a wall's interior. A wall can be part of an ecosystem. Ever thought of that?
I am open to any project ideas you might have. Thus far, I have tackled functional farm walls, garden walls, privacy walls, retaining walls, gateways, fire pits, bridges, benches, steps, and pitched (cobbled) walkways and driveways. I am equally experienced in new construction and restoration/repair. And I am equally interested in sculptural pieces as in functional ones.
Projects are priced by the square foot and according to technical difficulty rather than an hourly rate. Building with stone is heavy, tiring work, and I don’t like to feel I’m wasting your money if I take a tea break or a breather! A full day of walling means I might move anywhere between two and six tons of stone by hand. Breaks are important.
I am based in the Blue Ridge Mountains in southwest Virginia, but my work keeps me on the road much of the time. I have completed large-scale projects, for instance, in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, the DC area, and in upstate South Carolina, where I grew up and maintain strong ties. I also continue to volunteer myself on big projects in Wales as often as possible. I will gladly consider projects outside these areas depending on the housing situation, the season, and the compensation. Don't be afraid to propose the ridiculous. For the moment, I remain young and adventurous. I can do and do travel nationally and internationally to work, and am particularly interested in doing so for historic restoration projects.
Lastly, I have bills to pay and always prefer cash, but I also believe in barter, as it's what made communities around the world work for many centuries. Consider making me an offer if you aren’t flush with cash. Vintage tractor? That motorcycle that's been sitting in the shed for ages? The sailboat you love but never have time to use? A small flock of heritage breed sheep? A few acres? Let's talk.
Please contact me with ideas and questions. I would love to build something for you.
+1 (864) 630-9353
Literary Representation by Tim Bates of Peters, Fraser and Dunlop, London