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Mitla Stone Mosaics

Along with Monte Alban, I visited Mitla, another Zapotec site but from a later period and with a much different feel. The ruins are in the middle of a town, which makes for a strange juxtaposition, the second stories of several houses peaking over one of the walls and the town’s catholic church incorporating a couple of the old walls into its construction. I wandered onto the site before I even realized it, and at first glance it didn’t seem dramatic. But then I saw the stone mosaic panels and I was completely enchanted. I’ve never seen anything quite like them.

The mosaics are wonderful, made with hundreds of individual stones fit together into repeating patterns, like brick diaperwork but with stone. I’ve read that the panels are based on weaving patterns. Though I think that theory is to some extent just speculation, it certainly seems plausible, and it’s fascinating to think of these as stone textiles and the masons as weavers. I’ve done a little bit of stone fretwork like this, and I am blown away that people did this a thousand years ago using just stone-bladed tools and maybe some form of abrasion.

The stone framing around the mosaic panels is quite sophisticated as well. The walls are three or four feet thick, and the panels are inset and laid as a veneer, with corniced stone courses overhanging them. It’s a more refined form of the detailing at Monte Alban, with a skill level that is obviously much higher, but also a stone that is easier to work as well. The stone is trachyte, a volcanic rock that is soft and relatively easy to work. The blocks have admirably crisp edges, though they are not standardized; virtually every course has an odd-dimensioned ‘closer’ stone to resolve the variations in the stones. Some of the courses are battered at the bases of the wall, and many of the stones are trapezoidal instead of perfectly rectangular. Individual stones vary from fifteen-foot-long lintels and massive cylindrical columns that must weigh over ten tons to pieces the size of a finger.

The recessed stones in the mosaics were covered by red stucco when the site was occupied. Traces are visible if you click the photos to see them larger.

There are about 150 different panels. I didn’t take a photo of every single one, but quite a few of them are below. (more…)

Monte Albán Stone

On my Oaxaca trip I went to Monte Albán, a Zapotec archeological site just outside of Oaxaca City. It’s one of the best ruins that I’ve visited, wonderfully sited on a ridge with views of the surrounding valley, though the air was depressingly smoggy when I visited. I’ve read a bit on the history of the site, but for the most part I just admire it as a stonemason and designer. The thousand plus years of builders did a terrific job, with a beautiful layout and detailing.

Virtually everything on the site is laid out orthogonally except this one building with a strange pentagonal shape in the main plaza’s central cluster. It’s sometimes called the ‘Observatory’ because it’s believed to be aligned with a a star cluster. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but the shape and alignment add an element of mystery. It felt like the masterstroke of the site.

The stonework is beautiful, with coursed, rectangular stone and crazy-patterned, irregular stone often combined in the same wall, sometimes with carved stelae as well. There are several kinds of corners: plumb, battered, lazy, and corniced; and three kinds of vertical surfaces: plumb and battered walls, and the angle made by the steps to the buildings. It’s great how they all combine; there’s enough repetition to give it cohesion but enough contrast to make it interesting.

That’s a beautiful corner detail no matter what century you build it in.

Some of the mortar joints have pebbles in the mud, probably for practical reasons but also creating a nice ornamental effect.

I’m note sure if these stelae are original; a lot of the stelae were moved inside to the site’s museum for protection and replaced by replica, and that’s not the original mortar around these ones. The stelae are subtle but quite nice, worth clicking on to see them larger. Photos of stelae inside the museum are below the jump.

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Recycled Countertop Patio

This patio was an interesting one-off. I built it with a friend of mine as an addendum to his project. He wanted a sitting place up here on the hill above his house. There’s a good view, but more importantly there’s a feeling of separation from life down below, from the demands of work, kids, bills, etc… A place for respite. We called it the chill spot though I don’t think he meant that literally and we’re getting a little old to be using that phrase.

We made the patio from recycled countertops that someone was giving away. I don’t know how replicable that is, it was just dumb luck that I stumbled on them, but I loved working with them. They’d be a little slippery for a more conventional patio with regular traffic, but they work great up here. I cut a few of the pieces in order to align the joints and edges but they came with mostly regular dimensions and went together lickety split, the quickest, cheapest patio I’ve ever built. Carrying up the dog statue, made of solid concrete, was the hardest part of the whole project.

A couple of photos with the grass cut back are below.
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Meadowfoam Path

MeadowfoamPath

Springtime is Meadowfoam time in our garden. It has been blooming since we got back from Baja. I love this plant. It is such a cheerful yellow to greet me when I get home. This path, leading from the top of our steps to the potting area, is the most convenient place to stash leftover materials from our jobs so it tends to get covered up, but when the Meadowfoam is blooming I make a point of keeping it clear.

MeadowfoamandPoppies

I made the path with leftover stone from several projects. There are four different types of stone; a few pieces are flagstone, but much of it is wall stone and extends quite deep into the ground. The path was dirt, then mulch, then halfway paved for about a year, and finally completed last winter.

MeadowfoamPathDetail4:16

There is beach and woodland strawberry growing with the Meadowfoam, but this is the thickest the Meadowfoam has grown in, and I am curious to see how the other plants have held up beneath it.

MeadowfoamPathDetail

BirdbathMeadowfoam4:16

The Meadowfoam is blooming well around our birdbath also, but not as full or as dramatic as in the front. It gets less sun here and has less space to spread and the plants look a little more leggy, a little more messy, as a result. Judith Larner Lowry at Larner Seeds, where I originally bought the seed, recommends giving it a space at least three feet wide for best effect. The plants are getting pushed out of the raised gray water bed by the Scarlet Monkeyflower and the Juncus, and I think it will only come back at ground level next year unless I actively make space and resow it in the raised bed.

NativeMix4:16

The rest of that planting has filled in pretty well and I don’t think it will need the Meadowfoam next year. These plants are one of my goto combinations, I think of it as ‘green native mix’ or ‘native woodland mix’ and use it fairly often. Iris, Mahonia, Sidalcea, Tellima, Asarum, a few other plants such as Heuchera come and go with essentially the same effect.

I have more photos of the Meadowfoam below. (more…)

Chaco Canyon Stonework

Last February Anita visited Chaco Canyon in New Mexico. Beautiful place, the photos fascinate me. I love seeing the different eras of the stonework as the masons became more skilled and ambitious, and it’s wonderful how the ruins display the cross-sections of the walls. A place I need to some day see in person.

Stonework Symposium in San Francisco

stoneworksymposiumflyer

I’ve mentioned the Stone Foundation a few times over the years. It’s an organization whose mission is to honor stone and stonework. Once a year it organizes a symposium, and this year, in January, the event will be in San Francisco and Gualala. I haven’t been to one of the symposiums before, but I’m of course going to go this year. The Stone Foundation website has details about the event as well as reports from past symposiums.

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