Sunday, June 10, 2018

The Driftwood Wall



A section of the Driftwood Wall mosaic in the Humboldt Room of the Homestead Building at Camp Glenorchy

This is another essay about one of the many projects I worked on while I was at Camp Glenorchy, north of Queenstown on the South Island of New Zealand.  The area is one of spectacular beauty, which was the primary inspiration for the things that I built there.

Driftwood washed up on the shore of Lake Wakatipu at 25 Mile Creek
I normally work with stone and plants, building gardens and mosaics.  The main focus of my involvement with the Camp was the Braided Rivers Project.  Camp Glenorchy is the philanthropic endeavor of an American couple who I had worked for at the Islandwood School several years ago:
https://jeffreygardens.blogspot.com/2011/06/artist-in-residency-at-islandwood.html
This was followed seven years later by the commission of the Halls Hill Labyrinth:
http://jeffreygardens.blogspot.com/2015/10/the-halls-hill-labyrinth-essay.html
A couple of years after completing the Labyrinth I was brought to New Zealand to work on Camp Glenorchy.  I spent 6 months, starting in November of 2016, and then returned the following November for another 6 months.

An article about Camp Glenorchy in Mindfood Magazine
Early on I showed my client a photo of a driftwood mosaic built by an amazing stone artist named Lew French, from Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts.  I built a garden in Chilmark on the Vineyard for actors Brooke Adams and Tony Shalhoub and was able to see some of Lew French's fantastic work.  My Mother gave me a copy of his beautiful book, Stone by Design for Christmas.  While he works primarily with stone, he sometimes incorporated driftwood in to his mosaics.  Turns out I'd be following in his footsteps.

A stone and driftwood mosaic by Lew French
On the shores of Lake Wakatipu in the area where I was working you can find wonderful specimens of driftwood, waterworn knarls of roots, trunks, branches, and burls.  I began collecting interesting pieces in my compulsive way for adorning the rather forlorn area around the Caravan trailer I lived in behind the general store.  The photo I showed to my client inspired her to propose that I build an ambitious wall mosaic of driftwood in the Humboldt Room of the camp's lodge.  The wall is 2 stories high and faces the Humboldt mountain range across the lake, seen through two sets of glass doors and a window centered in the gable.  I was a little taken aback by the scale of this concept, as I had never built a driftwood mosaic before.  After doing a fair amount of searching on the internet I came to the conclusion that this might end up being the largest of its kind in the world!  A good place to start...

The wall slated to become a driftwood mosaic
Fortunately I was able to work with a local master carpenter named Matt Hood, who had created wonderful wall compositions and trims in the room using recycled timber salvaged from demolished structures all over the South Island.  Camp Glenorchy was built in compliance with the Living Building Challenge, which has the highest environmental standard for construction in the world, and dictates that recycled materials be used whenever possible.  Salvaged wood and corrugated sheet metal from demolished wool sheds, stock yard buildings, and structures damaged by the Christchurch earthquake were purchased or donated, and brought to the camp.  These timbers and planks exude character derived from the kind of wood they are, and the layers of old paint applied to them.  They were sanded to reveal the underlying grain while retaining some of the color.  Then they were composed, and innovatively incorporated in to the design and embellishment of a variety of structures.  Rustic light fixtures were created with salvaged steel by Glenorchy artist Dan Kelly.

A mixture of various painted and natural finish boards artfully collaged by Matt Hood in to the walls and trim of the Humboldt Room.  Light fixtures, wryly nicknamed "Dan's Cans" hang from the ceiling.
We had to divise a method of attaching the driftwood in a way that would be structurally durable but with no visible fasteners.  Matt proposed that we screw the individual pieces from behind through sheets of strand board using screws of varying lengths, depending on the thickness of the driftwood.  I suggested that a sample panel be built underneath a window in a niche between cabinets in the room as a way to try out the method we could use later.  Matt took this project on while I was building the Geologic Wall in the next room, and fabricated a detailed miniature prototype.

A prototype panel by Matt Hood in a window niche, with an ammonite fossil on the ledge


I had been collecting driftwood for some time, including along the West and South coasts of the island during exploratory adventures.  Whenever I found a cool looking piece of wood on the beach I would carry it back to my truck to add to the pile.   The thing about large mosaics is that you need a lot of material to work with, more than you will actually use because its the ones that fit well that make the final cut.  You have to have great patience and perseverance to manifest this kind of art.

Beautiful wood collected from the shoreline near Kinloch on Lake Wakatipu
The camp officially opened in Mid March of 2018.  The day before the opening, I was asked if I could mock up a section of wood mosaic so that people at the dedication ceremony could get an idea of what would eventually be covering the unfinished plywood.  So I spent the afternoon tacking pieces together with finish nails in a temporary fashion.  It was good practice fitting together the different shaped pieces and developing a sense of how the multitude of forms and colors of driftwood could be composed in to an artistic whole.

Temporary mock up of a section of driftwood mosaic for the dedication ceremonies
When we finally started work on the wall, we needed a far greater selection of raw material, so Matt and I drove around the Lake to the resort village of Kinloch, where the Dart River flows in to the lake.  Vast amounts of driftwood are carried down the river and deposited along the shoreline here.  The sheer volume of what we found in a couple of kilometers of lakeshore provided enough driftwood to mosaic the entire town of Glenorchy.

Driftwood naturally piled along the lakeshore by the current of the Dart River
One of the most interesting things about this material is that it represents all of the different types of wood found on the forests mountainsides that surround the rivers that flow in to the Dart and eventually in to the lake.  There are hardwoods, wonderful red colored Totara, Red and Silver Beech, Southern Rata, Coprosma, and even exotic Goarse that was brought from Scotland to use in hedgerows.

A lush mixed forest of Red Beech (Fuscospora fusca) and Totara (Podocarpus totara) with an understory of Coprosma sp, Pittosporum sp, and many ferns along the Routeburn River
Each part of a tree is different.  If a storm topples an entire tree in to a river, and it washes down to the lake, it will be broken on its journey in to smaller pieces that are eventually worn to a smooth finish.  Roots structures are the most interesting as they snake through each other in fantastic shapes.  Sometimes they hold stones like a gem set in organic jewelry.  Burls can look like faces and ears.  Trunks and branches with knots can look like birds, seals, witches and snakes.  We often animated them, holding a piece over our faces and making funny sounds.  The knarlier the piece of wood, the knarlier the character would be.  These are literally the bones of trees, and they have many stories to tell.

Smoking 
So the obsession began.  We filled my truck.  Then we filled Matt's trailer.  Then he started showing up in the morning with more driftwood on a regular basis.  We decided to work off site by the Caravan trailer that I lived in behind Mrs. Wooley's Store because I had a leaky shed we could work under if it rained.  There was also space to unload and pile wood, and we didn't need safety fencing around us like we would onsite, and not be intrusive to guests staying there.


The piles of wood grew to the point that it was hard to get to my door and I had to clear paths to keep from tripping and falling at night.

Matt and I were like beavers once we started collecting driftwood
A truck full of driftwood treasure.  There is so much that you couldn't tell we had been there.
 Matt cut panels of strandboard in to the shapes of the sections of wall we were covering.  This way we could screw the driftwood from behind, attaching it securely in place, with surprising strength.  He ordered a selection of different lengths of self drilling wood screws so that we could access the thickness we were drilling in to and then use a screw that went in as far as possible without poking out the other side.  I cut stones on my wet saw so that we could glue them flat side down to the strandboard, and then perfectly frame them with naturally fitted eyelids of driftwood.  Originally we planned to make a Tree of Life, with a tree trunk trimmed flat on one side that would fit between the two sets of double doors and then branch out above them.  But a green lighted Exit sign went up right where the crown would have started.  While it would have been very cool, it was logistically much more involved to create a tree, so we went with a different concept.

Wood and stone interconnected to create eyes
There is a famous Maori legend of a Sleeping Giant that lies in the lake that helps explain the rising and falling of the water's surface in a tide like fashion.  This link describes the story well.  https://www.southerndiscoveries.co.nz/blog/queenstown-blog/the-legend-of-lake-wakatipu/
It was suggested by a woman with Maori ancestry working on the project that we allude to the Sleeping Giant in some way with the mosaic.  I also had in my mind that a number of forest and water spirits intertwined in the work would as a whole would represent the spirit the giant.

Tourists have made teepees with driftwood on the beach at 25 Mile Creek on Lake Wakatipu
We would compose the driftwood in a section, finding pieces that nested together as if they were meant to be intertwined.  I often say an affirmative "yesss!" when something slides perfectly in to place.  Then we would screw that section together to secure it and continue onward.  We used a lot of small pieces wood and pebbles to fill in the background gaps so that the strandboard wouldn't be visible. Once a panel was sufficiently covered, we lined it up with the one that would be connecting to it and attached more wood to it so that they would interlock seamlessly when we put them up on the wall.  It was a learning process and things didn't always go as planned, but we were fastideous and made it work with the necessary adjustments.

Working on a panel that would fit in a strip by the doors
Once the panel was ready we would flip it over and Matt would trim the edges with a Skil and hand saw.  The first ones we made went on either sides of the doors.  Beautiful repurposed hardwood planks frame the doors and the panels had to fit behind those, and be flush with the walls at the corners.  The trick there was that the walls are planked with varying thicknesses of boards that were uneven, so our panels got stuck on the thicker protruding ones.

Matt Hood trimming the edges
The first panels were large and we realized how heavy they were when it was time to move them, especially because of the weight of the stones and some of the dense hardwoods.  We took the door trim off, made some adjustments to get the panel in to place, and then used heavy duty screws to bolt it to the wall.  It was exciting to see the beginning to what would eventually become a dramatic work of art.

The first panel in place
Ironically, I think that the first panel we made is perhaps the most successful section of the wall for its composition and mixing of colors.  Each following section has its own character depending on who was composing it.  The other side of the door had the issue of a red fire alarm and a motion detector that we had to build around.  The trappings of public buildings meeting code requirements is one of the joys of working on such projects.  This side had to be done in 3 interlocking panels to fit around these units, which were neatly trimmed in hardwood frames.  We actually did one of the panels backwards and had to do some adjustments to remedy this simple error.  The measurements needed to be exact for the panels to slide in to place.

Felted wool pieces beautifully appliqued to make a panel of the braided Dart River by local artist Amanda Hasselman
If you take your time and really study the wall, you will discover a miriad of the details.  Each piece of wood has a character unto its own, a root that circumnavigated a boulder, a branch that once reached for sunlight, knots that look like eyes, a fork stick that makes a mouth.  Its not unusual for our minds to create associations related to that which we find familiar, and there are hundreds of creatures intermingling here.

A close up view of the panel on the left side of the doors
Once we had reached the top of the doors on either side we could start making panels that were more horizontal, spanning the wider space between the wall and the window.  We could use longer and thicker pieces here that projected further from the wall.  Some of the compositions are rather chaotic with so many wild shapes.  I tried to include large driftwood to contrast all the little bits that were busily finding their way in to the mosaic.

A panel made to fit over the doors.
When we reached the gable, the panels had to be cut at an angle.  Because the ceiling has acoustical fabric overlaid with strips of hardwood, the angled edge had to be trimmed with individual pieces once the panels were in place.  We also had to work around two beams that support the ceiling.

Fitting panels around the window and Exit sign
Maori wood carving
in the Te Papa Museum
in Wellington
We used a very fancy sissor lift to hoist the panels up and then positioned and bolted them to the wall.  The Skyjack is an awesome machine that made the project logistically manageable.  I was also able to attach wood to the wall in situ because this part is higher up and individual pieces of wood could be screwed in from the top where the fasteners couldn't be seen from the floor.  I incorporated some paua (abalone) shells that were given to me for their reflective quality.  Cut pieces of Paua are used for the eyes in traditional wood carving.  More spotlights were added to illuminate the wall better.




Getting ready to fill in another section of the gable
Closing in the final triangular sections of the gable on the sissorlift
I finished the gable by creating an somewhat masonic looking mountain pyramid that speaks to the Humboldt Mountains that the room is named after.  These dramatic mountains are visible through the glass doors and window.  A paua shell eye gazes from the peak to suggest the collective wisdom of Nature watching over the lake and everything around it.

A Paua Shell in the Eye of the Mountain
People staying at the camp would come by to see the progress and return later with others to show them this crazy work of art coming to fruition.  Its tangled composition captures the wild character of the places we collected the wood by the lake.



Driftwood washed up on the lakeshore near Kinloch

Our Muse
The Sleeping Giant rippling on the waters of Lake Wakatipu
Once this project was finished I had fulfilled my goals for what was an intense and highly productive 6 months building homages to the magnificent beauty that surrounds the town of Glenorchy.  Before I left we held a dance in the Humboldt Room to christen the wall.  It was a magical celebration in a magical space.  Dancing with Driftwood, a beautiful way to honor a labor of love.


Thanks for reading always, Jeffrey







Thursday, May 24, 2018

The Geologic Wall


A pink Piemontite and Green Schist whirlpool twists through the gap between beautiful stones
Geology is a word derived from Ancient Greek; Geo, meaning Earth, and ology meaning the study of.  It is Earth science, the definitions of the solid and liquid masses that form our planet, and the multitude of rock types that are manifested by the forces of Nature.  My father's parents were geologists, rock hounds as they were called in the Western US.  They went out on digs to find minerals that they cut and polished to make cabochons for cowboy belt buckles and bolo ties, and specimens they sold in their small rock shop and at shows.  I loved looking at all the beautiful minerals in cases in the house and collected stones out in the garden.  My grandmother later donated their best specimens to the geology department at Oregon State University.  It is no wonder that I work with stone, and understanding the processes involved in how they came to be is an essential part of that work.

My Grandmother on the Sweet Home Rock and Mineral Society float

A small niche in a narrow wall built on the other side of a pair of double doors from the main wall.

I arrived in New Zealand in early November, 2016 to begin work at Camp Glenorchy, in the town of Glenorchy, north of Queenstown at the Head of Lake Wakatipu.  I was brought here to build a representational braided river, weaving the community and the natural landscape in to a path system in the camp.  As I started to explore the lakeshore and rivers I was entranced by the beauty and variety of minerals to be found in such abundance.

The beach at 25 mile Creek on Lake Wakatipu, where I collected many of the larger stones in the wall
I have an obsessive propensity to collect stone.  I cant walk down a rocky beach without surveying what I am seeing, and always seem to come away with a pocketful, or armloads, or in the case of this project, truckloads of beautiful specimens of metamorphic rock that were deposited by massive glaciers during the last ice age.  The stones I collected piled up around my trailer, with no real idea of what I might do with them.  It was my hope that I would be able to build a wall that showcased the wonderful minerals from this region.  I gathered stones with specific shapes that would lend themselves to building and having exceptional character.  I always do this with a sensitivity to impact so that no noticable trace is left when removing rock from the natural landscape.

One of many truckloads of stone I collected for the Geology Wall
On a road trip around the east and south coasts, I visited the Geology Museum at the University of Otago in Dunedin.  I asked a man setting up an exhibit if there was anyone who taught there who might have knowledge of the minerals found in the Lake Wakatipu region.  I was directed upstairs to the office of a professor named Daphne Lee.  She was very accomodating and gave me a book she had coauthored with a geologist named Jane Forsyth called Central Rocks: a guide to geology and landscapes of Central Otago.  Otago is the name of the province that encompasses Lake Wakatipu.  I had brought my laptop with me and showed her some of the stepping stones I was making at the camp, and explained that they were geologic samplers of minerals I collected from specific locations, including the West Coast.  She told me that she didn't know of anyone who had ever done this before and suggested that I contact Jane Forsyth and her partner Ian Turnbull.  This couple did much of the field work and analysis of the Wakatipu region for the New Zealand Geologic Survey.  They had published a detailed book and beautiful map of the Wakatipu and its exposed formations.  I was surprised when they wrote back right away and came to visit me a few days later.  They spent an entire afternoon going over my collection and identified all but one stone, which I had brought from the US.  You could see that they very much enjoyed doing this.  Their knowledge was spectacular to me.  Finally I had found experts who knew the stories of the materials I've been using for 30 years building mosaics.  While I have some geology background, I find it one of the geekier sciences, and very difficult to understand when you read the textbooks.

4 of about 120 stepping stones I made that were installed in paths while I was home
There are a lot of nice stone walls in this region of the South Island, which is a primary source of some of the finest building stone in the country.  There is a traditional look to the wall work, most commonly being flat laid schist slabs making a horizontal stacked arrangement.  The classic regional freestanding wall has a row of vertically set stones forming the cap.

An old schist wall in the Frankton Cemetery, south of Queenstown
I found a beautiful ruined wall at Bob's Cove on Lake Wakatipu near a historic lime kiln, where the only limestone outcrop in the region occurs.  The limestone was burned to make lime dust for use as the binding material for making mortar and concrete.  This pioneer wall's material was locally collected and has larger stones in a variety of shapes and mineral types, which I loved.  This is more evocative of the work that I like to do.

A ruined stone wall at Bob's Cove
As the Homestead Building, the main lodge at Camp Glenorchy was being built, I worked with a crew to create a braided river mosaic for the Conservatory floor.
http://jeffreygardens.blogspot.com/2016/11/the-braided-rivers-project-beauty-of.html
The Conservatory is a glass doored room with an innovative glass ceiling that contains solar panels that were manufactured in Dubai.  A stone wall was proposed for the inside wall as a passive solar collector of heat from the sun.  The sun warms the wall and stores heat that disperses through the night.  Another stone mason was scheduled to build this wall but I had loftier hopes for the room, and begged to be allowed to create the wall I had dreamt of.  I was kind of burnt out from making endless braided river mosaics and was excited to do a vertical project that didn't have to be perfectly flat.

The Conservatory doors after installation
Working in the confines of this building had its challenges as there were so many things going on and builders of every trade were jockying for places to set up saws, pile lumber, paint woodwork, install lighting and electronics, and laying floors.  I started bringing in an assortment of stone in to a narrow room.  The project manager had set up his office in here, so I wasn't able to do any indoor cutting.   There was also a small kitchen area set up for workers in the midst of it all.  I kept a path open down the middle of the room so that workers could get through.  I usually do my stonework outside, so that created another set of challenges, in how to mortar stone and clean the work without flooding the room.  I carefully finish my work by spraying the surface with a squeeze handle nozzle on a hose.  They bought me a small wet shopvac for this purpose, which I used to suck up the water and mortar slurry that I washed off the walls after each building session.

Bringing in stone and starting to mock up the first course of the wall
 I started by laying out the first course of stones, large, heavy, and beautiful specimens, who's bases I cut flat so that they would sit flush with the polished floor.  I protected the floor with rolled construction cardboard and sheets of used plywood.  In the beginning it was insinuated by the project manager that I was not qualified to build a properly engineered wall, so I had to prove that I knew what I was doing by example.  Galvanized brick ties were screwed in to the sealed strand board wall I was building against.  I reinforced the wall with ample scraps of rebar and reinforcing mesh I recycled from the storage yard, and drilled and inserted bolts in to stones that stood on end to tie them in to the concrete that I poured behind the courses for back fill.  I don't think this wall will be falling apart any time in the next few thousand years, and should withstand earthquake activity.

A stockpile of a small portion of the stones I collected for the Geology Wall
The arrangement of the stones is decided in advance by placing and fitting them together.  I like a tight fit so the stones have to nest together in a way that feels right.  There is an intuitive sense 0f spacial recognition that is required, and I often exclaim an affirmation if the marriage of stone meant to be.  Its important that they compliment each other and create a base with the next course in mind.

Mocking up the first course of stone, with brick ties screwed in to the wall


I used large stones near the base to give a solid look to the foundation of this 3 meter (9 1/2 feet) wall.  They project farther out than the top so that there is a slight battening to the face, giving it a gravitational strength.



A side view showing brick ties and bolts in the upright stones
 I mortared the first course of stones in place.  Some of them have shapes like the mountains in the region, miniature snowy peaks.  I don't like to see mortar joints in my work so I sometimes trim the stones with a diamond blade saw to remove bumps and make them fit more tightly together.  I also used thin shingle like stones I find on certain beaches of the lake shore that I stack to make tiny cairns.  The shapes are like long triangles laid flat so that they are well embedded in to the mortar backing them.  These little cairns fill the gaps between the stones in a way that speaks to the forces of Nature that formed the rocks, like super heated chemically laden water that deposited the quartzite minerals in the fractures in the base schist stones, solidifying in to the white and gold striping veins.

The first course of stone mortared to the floor.

I used this detail throughout the wall, which gives a delicate unifying pattern to the design.  Cairn building (stone stacking) is popular on the South Island of New Zealand, probably because there are a lot of water worn flat schist stones along the river banks and beaches of the lakes.

Cairns at Blue Pools in Mt. Aspiring National Park
When the first course of stones was set, I back filled the space behind them with wet concrete and rubble I collected from the construction site, along with rebar for reinforcement.


Then I mocked up and set the second course in mortar.  The tightly fit stones take on a metaphorical look as to how they might appear when moved and wedged together by water in a river.  Each of the stones has some feature that made it special to me.  There are wonderful stripes of quartzite, and a wide range of colors.  Some are dense and smooth and others are layered.  Each has a story to tell of how it came to be what it is today.

The end section of the two courses of stone
The way the room was built made it necessary to finish the ends as the rough beams that I was building up to only projected two inches from the wall I was building against.  The pattern of filling gaps with the thin stacked shingles made it possible to finish the spaces between the beams and the larger stones where they didn't line up perfectly.

The second course all the way across.
The interior window I was supposed to build around, set in the middle of the wall had a frame that didn't work with what I was creating, so a carpenter friend, Matt Hood built me a new rough hewn hardwood frame from beautiful repurposed planks. It became the perfect compliment to the rustic stone work.

Working up to the new window frame
On the other side of the pair of double glass doors leading in to the Greenstone Room is a narrow strip of wall that was designated to be stone as well, so I began to work on that, since vertical stonework is done in layers.  Finding good corner stones is not easy and I was fortunate to have started collecting material over the 8 months before I commenced on the project.  I used a lot of stone!  This section had the same issue of finishing up to the edge of a beam that didn't project far from the base wall.  You can see how I used the small shingles to fill in the gaps.

4 courses of stone on the narrow wall section
While I was working on the project, an amazing woman I knew who lived in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico passed away, so I built her a memorial niche.  I wanted to create a variety of spaces in the wall on which to place objects, candles, or bouquets.  These are flat ledges with arches, or slabs for roofs.  My dear Aunt passed away shortly before I returned to New Zealand so I also built a niche for her.  And then my best friend's Mother died and I built another.  There are 7 in all, dedicated to the spirit of departed women I've known.

Building Marian's Niche
Helen's Niche
Margaret's Niche
The wall got higher, and more interesting as it grew, and a regular stream of visitors came to see what was evolving.  The stones in this wall are so beautiful to me as individuals, that it felt like I was making organic jewelry with semi precious minerals.  I would lie awake at night thinking about the collective energy of what I was manifesting in this monumental work of art.

5 courses up.
I had to make regular trips in search of specific shapes to finish the corners on the end of the walls.  Just at the edge of town is the Buckler Burn River, which has some of the prettiest stone in the area.  I could drive a few minutes away and spend an hour on this beautiful river, wading in the current to see what I could find.

The Buckler Burn River
My client brought me the parts of a Tibetan necklace from the store that had been taken apart, to incorporate in to the wall.  At first I thought it would be strange to include these exotic images of Buddhas and Bodhisatvas in to a wall about New Zealand Geology.  So I recessed them in to little niche spaces framed in the flat single stones like miniature shrines.  They are tucked back from the surface so that you come upon them while exploring the wall.  I researched the descriptions of the various figures and brought the conciousness they represented in to the design.

A small hammered brass Buddha sits in a cave like niche

A tiny glass window framed in hammered brass reveals a Bodhisatva inside in a Tibetan votive
A hammered brass image of Manjushri, Bodhisatva of prajñā, transcendent wisdom.
Over two weeks I finished the narrow wall in the far corner, which contains one small niche backed with a beautiful piece of pink Piemontite I found in the Shotover River near Queenstown.  I was about 3/4th of the way finished with the larger wall at this point.


The pressure was on to finish the wall so that the building could be signed off by inspectors.  I worked long days and late in to the night on several occassions.  It was always easier to work when the other contractors were gone, so I labored evenings and weekends for months on end.



As I neared the top I had to do a lot of cutting to get stones to fit snugly under the beam at the top.  I worked from planks set on saw horses, and eventually a ladder.  I struggled at times to lift heavy stones in to place.  All of my fat has been burned off on this project and I am as lean and strong as I ever have been.

The finished wall, wet, so you can see the colors
I finished the last of the wall in the dark one evening while a friend illuminated the wall with his cell phone, as the electricity wasn't on.  The last stone was heavy, so he helped me lift it in to place.  I named that last stone, in the upper right hand corner the Emmy Stone after him.

A flash photo of the finished top of the wall so that I could check my work when I got back to my trailer.  The Emmy Stone is in the upper right hand corner.
Once the wall was complete the floor had to be cleaned and reground to restore its polished finish.  I worked with the floor grinders to resolve what kind of finish I would put on the stone to enhance the color, once it was cleaned with hydrochloric acid.  The cleaning took the three of us 8 hours and was not fun.  We wore respirators and eye protection all day.

Cleaning the wall with diluted hydrochloric acid, called Spirit of Salts in New Zealand
I went over every stone with a screw driver to trim excess mortar and then scrubbed every face with stiff brushes, adding more acid to remove stubborn spots.  The acid dyed some of the white quartzite a weird yellow color so those had to be scrubbed out with soap and water later.  In the end I chose a stone hardener rather than a sealer which lightly enhanced the stone but maintained a natural appearance.  I didn't want it to have an artificial plastic sheen.


The finished wall is quite trippy.  Every stone is special in its own way, and the fit and composition of how they are interconnected has a certain zen balance to it.  Close inspection reveals wonderful details and discoveries.  One of my favorite objects in the wall is a weathered spiral cast metal pump part that washed up on a beach near Punakaiki on the West Coast of the South Island.  Spiral shapes form when an object grows outward while turning, or is orbiting and expanding at the same time.  Its a pattern found in Nature from the subatomic to the galactic scale.  Since everything is essentially made of elements dispersed in the dust of stars, we are connected in a cosmic way to the stones in the wall.

A square niche, a brass padlock, and a spiraling cast metal pump part from a boat I found on a beach on the West Coast
Pieces of pink Piemontite, which I collected from the Shotover River just south of Frankton and Queenstown stand out for thier unusual color.  The largest piece in the wall was given to me by friends who used to work at the airport.  There is an area covered in stones that people leave rocks before they board their flights because of weight allowances for luggage.  The next time I went to the airport I was surprised to see how many stones there were in a garden bed outside the main entrance.

A large piece of pink Piemontite that was left outside the Queenstown Airport
The arched niche I built for my Aunt
Another niche backed by a beautiful piece of quartzite layered schist.  A part from a boat engine I found on a beach is tucked in to the lower corner
This niche has a base stone with a zig zag edge that I found in the Earnslaw Burn
After the dedication of the building, I contacted Jane and Ian, the geologists I had met the year before, and asked them if they would be interested in giving a talk about the stones in the wall and the floor mosaics.  The lecture Ian gave was a dream come true for me.  I really built the wall for these people, who understand what it is that I worked with.  The audience got a condensed but throrough 200 million year history of the geology of New Zealand and then a tour of the various stones, with explanations as to how they formed.  It is really the reason I built the wall, to create a bridge between rocks and the science of how they were formed, thier source, and distribution of where they are found.  It is a tool for engaging with stone on a deeper level of understanding.

Ian Turnbull, discussing the various lines of quartzite intrusions formed at different periods in a piece of Greywacke
At one point he told the audience that if a group of geologists from New Zealand were to gather here and get drunk, that they would be rolling all over the floor, which shows the revealed cut open interiors of the stones.

This dark grey line was once a thick layer of shallow sea sediment, perhaps 5 meters thick that was compressed by enormous pressure in to the 5 centimeter vein it is today.
A red edged stone looks like the fire at Rat Point that occured on the Glenorchy road above the lake the previous summer
More beautiful stones.  The lime green stone to the far right is Epidotic Schist, as compared to Green Schist in the upper left side.
Most of the stones in the wall are from the Metamorphic Geologic Group.  There are three types of stone, Igneous, which is of volcanic origin, Sedimentary, which was sediment laid down on sea and lake floors, and Metamorphic, which are the previous two changed under extreme heat and pressure deep in the Earth's crust.  Faulting, and then glaciation and erosion exposes the stone at the surface.  Water carrying the stones in a river or washed up on a beach wears the surface down, shaping, smoothing and polishing it.  This water worn, traveling material is what I collect and work with in my art.


A variety of beautifully striped and colored stones are showcased in the Geology Wall

The Geology Wall
As soon as the room was ready they wanted to furnish it for the opening.  The furniture has been rearranged a number of times and they still haven't gotten it right.  I had to let go of a number of desires during this project, but if you can spend some time exploring this wall and it isn't buried behind chairs, it is well worth while.

The Braided River floor in the Conservatory connects three sets of exterior double doors to two sets inside

The narrow wall in the corner

A trio of Tibetan votives set in the wall amongst niches of various shapes and sizes
The Geology Wall project was followed by more Braided River mosaic construction in preparation for the opening of Camp Glenorchy.  After the ceremonies,  I began an ambitious endeavor to create what is perhaps the World's largest driftwood mosaic of its kind, in collaboration with master carpenter Matt Hood.  In many ways it is like the wooden version of the Geology Wall, telling the story of the forests that grew up the Valleys above the lake, fallen from their moorings in to the rivers and worn to a softer form on their journey downstream to the beaches where we collected it.  There are many species of trees in the forest that make for distinctive pieces of driftwood, each with its own unique character and story.   This will be the subject of my next essay.

The Driftwood Wall in the Humboldt Room
I like it when my work means something, when it changes the way people think and feel about the natural world, and in the process of doing the work I learn to know deeply what it is that I'm manifesting.  Its always more fun to admire it than it is to build it, but as projects go, this was a fun one.  May it inspire a deeper appreciation for geology in those that spend time with it.

Thanks for reading, Jeffrey

Higher States of Being
One of two padlocks donated by my client