By: Douglas Overfield ∼MRC Board Member∼
Dry-laid fieldstone walls are often considered to be as old as humankind and the technique of building stone walls is an art in a most basic element says Ken Ely, a restorer and builder of stone walls and a lifelong Susquehanna County resident.
Ken goes on to say that the method he uses was developed from over 50 years of learning as a novice of the art in the beginning to an exhibitor and featured artisan of the craft.
He’s a recipient of a fellowship grant from the PA Council On The Arts, a speaker for the Pennsylvania Humanities Council and a member of the Susquehanna County Artists’ Open House Tour and The Stone Foundation.
“I derive pleasure from handling the stones, watching the structure grow and demonstrating the technique to others. He relies on a natural phenomenon that we know as gravity, which means that the stones are strategically positioned to lean in on one another for stability and strength.”
Utilizing only a hammer, chisel, measuring tape, level, string, crow bar and rake, Ken uses the simplest of human powered tools and emphasizes that he creates his stone walls in much the same way that our predecessors did.
“This is why stone walls have passed the test of time by surviving the harshest of winters and the heat from the sun in the summer. They are durable, they can have a purpose and they are pleasing to the eye.”
When asked about his technique of stone wall building, he revealed some inside information to the author that when a stone wall is dismantled, one can determine how it was constructed to expose the many hidden secrets about the wall itself and the main principles of the original design of the wall.
He goes on to say that these principles or techniques are repeated in several books that are written on the subject and by various organizations that are exclusive to stone wall building.
He sets certain stones aside for placement along the outside that have a “good edge” that can hold up to the weather while other smaller stones can be conformed to “fill in” to the inside of the wall. Ken notes that finds an artfulness in fitting stones of dissimilar sizes and shapes together to form a functional and orderly wall.
According to Ken, one can compare the building of a stone wall to Baroque music whereby the construction of the wall can represent a certain time in history and much like the classical music from the Baroque period, there are many different pieces that are combined together to form one, improvised work of art.
Many aspects of wall building are rewarding like the contentment of physical exertion, the satisfaction of viewing a tangible result and the earthy, subtle coloring of our sedimentary rock with its mosses and lichens.
With the many stones found here in Susquehanna County, an old stone wall can be restored or a new one built to define your property, give privacy and add natural beauty to the surrounding area.