Tuesday, March 20, 2012


I’m totally excited about our new wall. The experience was positive from start to finish. Here is a picture of our backyard before the project began.

The wrought iron fence in our backyard matched the fencing in front but it wasn’t practical in terms of affording us any privacy nor did it provide an adequate barrier against the pesky critters. We decided to replace the iron fence with a stone wall instead. The historical fence would be moved to the front on the side where the wrought iron fence was incomplete.

First of all, we were fortunate to have one of Bisbee’s master stonemasons on the job. Years ago, I observed Matt’s first major project in town located on Brewery Gulch. I was a renter then but I made a mental note that if I were ever a homeowner and needed a wall on the property, he would be the person I would employ to do it. Not only does he produce beautiful walls, he is also active in the Bisbee artist community through his poetry. How can you not feel good about hiring a local independent craftsman with the added bonus of supporting a local artist?

Matt’s reputation has increased in time and his work is in high demand. The challenge was to fit into Matt’s schedule. Knowing this, we proposed our project to him with the understanding that he would contact us when his schedule opened up. Once he contacted us a whirlwind of activity commenced. My partner immediately set to the task of releasing the iron fence from its cement footing. Then he busted out the remaining foundation and dug a trench for the footings of the new stonewall. While he was focused on removing things, he also tackled the task of eliminating the rusty poles that functioned as a clothesline. He had been putting this job off for years yet he cursed about bashing his head on the poles. I’m sure his immediate concern was to protect Matt and his assistant Matt from injury.

At the same time, we were required to make decisions about the materials and the arrangement for delivery to be set for the next work week. The materials were a point of serious consideration. I originally wanted local rocks to be used for the project. Not only because I absolutely love our local rocks but also the use of local materials for construction was a tenet of the Arts and Crafts movement. Although our environment is made up of more rocks than anything else, there were several issues to be considered. One was the question as to where to harvest the appropriate sized rocks. We mentioned a friend on the outskirts of town who had offered us as many rocks we needed from her property. He knew the location and felt that there wouldn’t be enough rocks large enough for the job. He knew of an old quarry further out but again, he couldn’t be sure that there was enough material. I asked about our local mining company, Freeport-McMoRan, as a possible resource. Their employees were moving a lot of earth around lately. Matt responded that he had already tried that resource. Years ago, he had made an inquiry at the local Freeport-McMoRan office about the possibility of buying the stones displaced on the company’s property but was curtly turned down with the response “we are not in the rock selling business”. This attitude is utterly absurd. Especially since they are currently paying people to bulldoze huge amounts of earth through a canyon not more than a 5 minutes drive away and dumping the earth that contains very beautiful stones in a rock crushing machine. The crushed stones are then funneled onto some large sort of conveyer machine to transfer it under highway 80 only to be spilled into the Lavender mining pit. What a waste. If they need to fill the pit then I would prefer that they use the dirt that originally came from the pit piled near Warren.

Matt then discussed the time and cost added to the project if we were to pay him to load and unload his truck the several times it would require to amass the right amount of material. It didn’t take long for me to perceive that he would prefer us to choose the option to purchase the stone directly from a rock and sand company and have the materials delivered.

We chose to give up on the idea of using local rocks and allowed Matt to take us on a tour around Old Bisbee to look at his previous work and see the examples of the stone that he knew were available at Cochise Stone in Sierra Vista. The relaxed tour provided us the scope of his workmanship. Unexpectedly, one stop just so happened to be at the home of one of our acquaintances. We took the time to appreciate their home improvement projects while we were there. How would you like to stay in a guesthouse that has a door that opens into an old mine shaft entrance? Returning to our task at hand we reached the final destination where the stone resembled our local rocks. Hey, we found the winner!

Before I continue on about our project, Bisbonian and I would like to take you on a photo tour of Old Bisbee. We'll include a bit of history to give you a better appreciation for our project.

Most of the walls serve as retaining walls to prevent the homes from sliding down on the neighbor below.

Who or which ethnic group created the oldest remaining walls in Bisbee is not exactly known. Some think that since the Mexicans were not allowed to work in the mines until the 1920's, they could have been employed as stonemasons.

Another obvious group would be the Cornish miners or Cousin Jacks who where imported for their superior mining skills.

Bisbee was a multicultural town. Mostly the citizenry comprised of European immigrants of British, Scottish, Irish, Swedish, Norwegian, Finish, Croatian, Serbian, Italian, Czech, and Austrian descent. Long ago a small Chinese community once lived here although like the Mexicans they were not allowed to work in the mines either. Their community quickly disappeared after 1908 when a law was passed to prevent them from staying overnight in town. Although racism is an ugly part of our town's history, we shouldn't ignore it. Who ever the stone masons were, the beauty and endurance of the product of their labor remains with us today.

This wall appears to have been repaired with different materials and techniques
throughout the decades. See the bricks on the upper right. The stones on the
left could be one example of the dry stonewall found throughout town.

Walls that incorporate existing stones.

Metal braces and openings for drainage.

Hand drawn borders etched in the cement around the stones.

Work Projects Administration USA-WPA stamps in concrete are found all over town.

Peace Wall mural by Rose Johnson (1960-2009).

You would think that after all this time, I would have had a clear picture of a design in mind but I didn’t. The only detail I had set upon was to include a niche. In the many years of studying, practicing and teaching art, I felt reluctant to develop a clear idea for the finished product in fear that I might stifle creativity. I wanted to allow Matt the absolute freedom to approach this project with fresh ideas. Hence we would become the benefactors of that spirit. In this case, Matt wanted some suggestions so I decided to cruise the Internet to gather ideas. Not surprisingly, I was attracted to the walls that had bricks mixed in with the stone. You see, in the last few years, I have developed a love for old bricks and their history. I showed Matt several different examples and that succeeded to spark the inspiration he needed. As it so happens, we had access to a large amount of Mexican bricks offered by a friend who lost her beautiful home last year in the Monument Fire. Although at times it feels eerily opportunistic, I remind myself of the reason she offered us all the bricks that we could use. The quoted cost to haul the debris away was beyond reasonable. Here is the Facebook page that supports the community affected by the fire. Sadly, it is a much slower process to rebuild their lives in contrast to how fast everything is lost. When I look at the relocated adobe bricks at my home I’m reminded of the power held within the survivor.

On delivery day, I learned from the driver that the stones were probably taken from a quarry near Texas Canyon. At least they came from within our county. Texas Canyon is so awesome that I have mixed feelings that a quarry is operating somewhere in the vicinity. A sampling of the magical rock formations can be viewed from a rest stop on Hwy 10 near the Dragoon Mountains, home of Cochise Stronghold, and final resting place of the Chiricahua Apache chief, Cochise.

The canal was originally Hovland Street. Notice that the far end of the wall is
attached to a garage. Since vehicles no longer has access to it, it will
be a cozy workshop for the production of Mule Mountain Banjos.

Completed in two weeks.

The final act of winter. Quan Yin pouring the soothing
waters of mercy during a snow flurry.