STONE project.

STONE project is funded by: Arts and Humanities Council Logo.

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 Within this project the material of stone is accepted as elemental.

As the substance of our earth, stone is intertwined with human history; within the traditions of working stone are embedded an ancient and significant reservoir of cultural knowledge.

The oldest substance can somehow feel new.  In spite of a vast inherited history, all new practitioners feel as if they are immersed in the process for the first time ever.  They make innovative discoveries through subtle observations, haptic processes, and reductive modes of thinking.



Methodology Overview

In both art and scholarship what is ultimately achieved depends on how a subject is approached.  The chosen mode of access determines a stratum of potential; this in turn determines what material is collected, what gets overlooked, and how it is processed. A frequent hazard is that habit or assumption can make relevant things invisible to the search.

The research structure of STONE Project grew directly out of identifiable characteristics of sculpture.  Sculpture exists in the round.  A sculptor learns that any single source of information distorts one’s perception. Knowing that our world is prone to misreading, the sculptor sees the dangers of a single point of view everywhere: in politics, demography, taxonomy; in anything that requires unreflective loyalty, membership, or initiation. Sculptors develop the habit of checking their work from different directions, under different kinds of light, and even over time.

The sculptor’s wariness of a single view led indirectly to our own research methodology. Our approach, like the approach of sculpture, is peripatetic. We gather information by regularly shifting our position, learning more because we are in motion. The plural approach that results from this shifting provides a double-check on every position.

Assessment from different positions finds its roots in human physiology. When we look at anything our gaze jolts from one place on the object to another. Every third of a second our eyes will ‘saccade’ or jump from place to place. Our vision is always cumulative; our knowledge of the world is built from a multitude of little fixations. 

Even while this is happening our two eyes, spaced slightly apart, see slightly different scenes, and the combination of these two views confirms a knowledge of three dimensions.

Butterball, IndiaButterball, India

Sculptors, as we noted, regularly check their work from different directions.

Just as sculptors have learned to distrust the single view, they have also learned that apparent boundaries are rarely the real ones. Consequently there develops a tendency to see things within the next larger context.

A significant part of our project’s efforts has been to document traditional stone-craft skills. Such skills are a rich cultural repository that has accumulated over a long period of human history. We wanted to preserve attitudes and wisdom as well as any techniques that might be in danger of being lost. Throughout the entire process we were concerned that we might miss something that was important.  All the while we were doing so, we kept looking for wider margins. 

We interviewed quarry workers, stonemasons, artists and others. We were seeking to discover the most significant areas associated with working stone. We asked about beginnings, backgrounds, training, lineage, tools, techniques, processes, links, superstitions, dreams, contexts, positioning, stone moving, and the troublesome question of violence in carving.  These key areas will be threaded through discussions on Artists, Philosophy and Techniques.

Sculptor Jean-Francois Demeure in his studio, Paris

Why Photos

In real life things pass too quickly to take a careful look. We learn more about the shape of something from a fixed image. In a fixed image we start to notice things that we otherwise would not have time to see. A frozen moment can also be shared with others in different way than something that is in flux.

In over three years we have accumulated over 14,000 individual images. These photos have been taken from multiple angles and alternate points of view. Frequently they preserve simultaneous records of a place or event. There are also cases where the photographs record same technique,  in a different cultural geography.

We discover content in comparison.  Some things about a particular action are more likely to appear through differences between two images. Intervals also can be richly rewarding. We can also look for similarities in parallel actions from different countries or cultures.

Most of the photos in the archive were taken by Professor Jake Harvey, the project’s lead researcher.  Throughout the research travels he also photographed the hands of stone workers and recorded the number of years they had been working with stone.  Even his casual photos tend to reveal unexpected things that later became relevant to our project.


Requests to use these images for scholarly or non-commercial purposes can be made by contacting

Images of stone craft workers world-wide, by Jake Harvey


Why Film

Film is important to the stone project archives because it is able to capture the sequences and movements of a process, something that our huge archive of still images does not do well.   Movements documented by film are less also likely to be misread (or aestheticised) than is a still image. 

Our aim has always been to capture an entire procedure.  To do so we frame things with enough distance to include the context of any motion. That means recording the craftsman’s entire body, showing how placement of the feet determine force and balance, and how stance and balance might change as different movement of an action change.

We also film the point of action as an extreme close up, perhaps revealing more than the actual craftsman sees.  We want to capture enough information on film so that others in the future, who will certainly have different research questions and powers of observation than we do at this moment, can also use our raw data.

Attention to tool use allows us to study several sets of interacting relationships: the role of the tool within a process, the relationships between the tool and material, or the tool and the body of the craftsman. Throughout our investigation viewing two things at once has opened up insights that isolated investigations would not have revealed. Tools do more than expedite a process. Whenever a person uses a tool it shifts the balance of the body. This establishes its own oblique approach and a fresh perspective.

There are 150 hours of unedited film footage in our research archive.  Most of this been recorded through the lens of the award-winning filmmaker Professor Noe Mendelle, who has edited this material into small films.

There is an echo of the reductive approach of carving as Noe searches throughout the hours of footage for the human heart of the story, editing out whatever is superfluous to that view.



Why a physical collection of tools and related objects?

Touch is important to how we interrelate with tools.  The most important things about a tool cannot be known from an image. We need to interact with the physical object. A tool’s weight and balance are extremely important, but just as important are a tool’s dimensions, temperature and the way it connects with our bodies.

Much of a physical presence cannot be translated into a representation without losing part of what makes it what it is. Our relationship with the external world is often determined  by touch. Because of this we felt that building an archive of physical objects was important.  Objects encapsulate their identity within a physical presence. They also have stories to tell, embedded in the objects themselves. 

When enough tools are gathered together it is usually possible to see evidence of the tool’s making or repair. Sometimes the repair of a tool shows a resourcefulness that reveals a deeper understanding of the principles. A collection such as ours can show how one material can be adapted for a purpose different from that originally intended: the transformation of car springs or rebar into working chisels, for instance.

Newer tools show the design and fabrication.  Older tools show places and intensity of work wear. The comparison of equivalent tools reveals differences that would be invisible with single examples.

Our collection extends beyond tools to includes samples of stones. Stone samples allow the comparison of stones that in photograph might look the same because of scale, reflective qualities, weight, and touch — all the things that get dropped out in a photo.

Geographic differences can be seen in mason’s clothing and tools and their evolution over centuries.  Cultural differences allow the comparison of, say hammers, and reveal subtle but different understanding of a tool’s principles and use.


Mariano Andres Vilella is a sculptor and recently retired Professor, Faculty of Fine Arts, Barcelona - here he holds marble tungsten carbide tipped tools in his teaching workshop, Barcelona 2008



Why texts?

The essence of every sentence is sequence  – the words start in one place and move the reader to a different position. With words, our minds can travel as our project explores reductive techniques, tactility, and reductive skills.

We even use words to explain the non-verbal areas of our search when we think about tacit skills. Within our archives, words can serve as captions for images, expanding what is seen with additional details about context or principles. A text can explore ideas that are inherent, or perhaps latent, in the investigation.

An effective text is more than simply a container for ideas; it can begin to generate, rather than simply record, thought. In this way a text can function as a tool of transformation.

All texts exist in the present.  They are tools of communication. We all know the experience of reading the words of a writer who has long been dead and feel as if we are talking directly to the person who wrote the words. Like stone itself, words sleep until activated. They can be as present next week as they were a thousand years ago.

Words can begin things bigger than themselves. Joel Fisher’s original text was the source for the structure for STONE Project. He refined these ideas through discussions with Jake Harvey. 

Throughout the project, Fisher’s words have been as a tool of exploration, pulling information into the heart of the project, including carving a number of quotes out of different texts.  Most of the texts on this website have been written by Joel Fisher. 

 Jessica Harrison,  the PhD associate of the Stone project, has written a text  entitled Tactility, the Body and the Senses. Her text serves several important functions.  One is how it presents an extraordinary account of her first experience in carving stone.  Over the course of the project, Jess, who never imagined she could be interested in carving stone becomes committed to the process.


Graffitti found in a marble mine, Carrara Marble Museum, Carrara, Italy 2008Graffiti on marble, Italy



Why quotes?

Since the beginning of our project we have been creating ‘quotes’ by ‘carving’ them out of sentences from texts we have been reading.   The process is a bit like the way that a specific block of stone is removed from the quarry. When the action is completed the sense of it being a fragment disappears. 

Both the quarried block and the quote asumes a feeling of independence. Either one might suggest a further step or become the source of a new beginning.  The fragment in isolation seems more complete than it did in its original context.  Quotes, once launched into the world, become autonomous, with an identity that is not strictly determined by their place of origin.  Quotes become relational, changing according to context.

"Between the end of the Jurassic and the beginning of the Tertiary era a great amount of chalk was formed.  It was such a striking episode that the whole period has been called the Cretaceous Age.  Minute an innumerable oceanic animals, called foraminifera, floating about near the surface of the sea, sunk to the bottom when dead, and then accumulated in a slowly solidifying ooze.  We call the resultant accumulation Chalk.  If we examine a handful of it under a microscope we find that it consists of the casing of the foraminifera - really shells of the most delicate and beautiful design, six thousand to a square inch.  In view of the fact that such deposits are only found today at a depth of about twelve thousand feet, it would seem that this Dorset hill was once in the abysses of the sea whose surface flowed where the low flying clouds float now."

— John Stewart Collis

The Worm Forgives the Plough 


Image shown at the Brancusi Studio, Pompadou Centre, ParisImage taken during visit and interview with curator at the Barbara Hepworth Museum, St Ives 



Why interviews?

An important part of our research took the form of interviews.  Time and financial restraint have limited most interviews to a single conversation but in line with our general methodology we would have liked to interview each person several more times.  This technique was used to great effect by anthropologist Edward T. Hall when he wanted to discover the effects of a new building on its workers.  He conducted three interviews spread over several years and found that the real information often surfaced in the second and third interview.  As each new conversation carves deeper into the material, it creates multiple ways to enter into any subject with t a rich plurality of insights. Revisiting has the flavor of the multiple-view but one that is spread over time. Had we been able to apply it here, it would have been consistent with our general approach.




Ignacio Chillida being interviewed at the Chillida Leke Museum, SpainSaint Clair Cemin being interviewed in his studio, New York



Why a public carving event?

Milestone was a ‘live carve’ event. As STONE Project’s main public research output, it is the only public aspect of the project that could be considered innovative. Over a four-week period in August 2009, ten sculptors gathered on the grounds of the Edinburgh College of Art and sculpted beside each other and in public, sharing knowledge with each other and observant visitors.

In sculpture, there is a tradition of sculptors helping each other, and this tradition has helped to perpetuate a sculptural inter-dependence.  Each profession, it seems, develops its own personality, in response to the qualities of the material they use, the shape of the problems they face, and the rhythms of the work they perform, and the social constraints of the work.  In the past sculptors learn their craft by observation; they would work together in studios where they could learn both from the master and older apprentices. Formal education has slowly eroded this ‘family’ aspect of learning. MILESTONE reclaimed some of these qualities for both the sculptors and the public.

As STONE Project progressed we became increasingly curious about education in general. We became willing to rethink educational structures. to We did not feel bound by either the organization that existed in the past or the ways that contemporary education is being structured. It became increasingly evident to us that observation is more central to both structured and unstructured learning than has recently been acknowledged. For observation to be possible, demonstration whether formal or informal has to be part of the process. During milestone both participants and public learned from each other because they were engaged in observing and demonstrating,

It is safe to say that most members of the public had never seen a sculpture taking form. Anyone who attended MILESTONE now knows more about sculpture than they did before but they are also likely to know what specific tool-marks might mean on stones they see around the city. They know how stone is split and how heavy things are moved.  The public was clearly learning from the artists but also the artists were learning from the public, who were compelled to share their observations, stories and knowledge with the sculptors and with each other.


Milestone carve villageMilestone carve village



Why links to other sites?

The digital age is opening up our world in important ways. More and more information is now being shared horizontally rather than vertically.  By vertical transmission, we mean the passing down of skills from a master to student or from one generation to another. We have great respect for this tradition and an important part of STONE Project is intended to document this, but we also recognize advantages to horizontal transmission, which is how sculptors often relate to each other. Sculptors are always sharing their muscle and experience with other sculptors. We think of our links as another form of horizontal transmission, as sharing.

In the interest of expanding a sense of community, we are including links to websites that may be of interest to our viewers in a number of different ways.  STONE Project is bigger than any strict definition of its boundaries.


 500 - sculpture created at Digital Stone, New JerseyPascal Mychalysin at Gloucester Cathedral demonstrating the use of a stone axe - a tool that has been passed down through generataions of stone masons and still used today


Why an Archive

An open archive is important to the spirit of our project. The archive is resource that can be used as a tool An unfulfilled hope was that the core of the archive should be duplicated and maintained in three widely separated geographical locations, on different continents, each slowly augmented by those who use it.

Multiple locations and independent application could be seen as a vehicle for passing on our research results and specific methodology to future generations, but also as a way of gathering information that may geographically particular.  Three separate archives would allow the project to remain generative and not fossilize. Until appropriate partners can be found our entire material archive will be housed in the library at the Edinburgh College of Art, where access can be requested by anyone who wishes to examine our un-edited research film footage, transcripts, individual images, tool samples and other material and notes.

This website is being constructed as a limited virtual archive.  It includes edited short films and selections from the texts.  The STONE project website will be sufficient for most people and will eliminate the inconvenience and expense of travel or the need to spend time watching 150 hours of unedited film.


Stone cutting tools from ScotlandSTONE travelling exhibition at The Pier Arts Centre



Why news items?

In this section we offer selective news items sometimes as ‘seed’ to allow us to expand the information or discuss a topic within a larger context. These might be stories about issues as wide-reaching as industry, safety, art, anthropology, archeology, quarries or tools demonstrate the liveliness of thought opened up by the world of stone. 

1. News specific about STONE project itself

2. General news and comments 


Flyer for Milestone live carve event, Edinburgh, 2009 Poster for STONE travelling exhibition 'Milestone' at The Pier Arts Centre, Orkney



Why a bibliography?

In scholarly work a bibliography indicates the context in which the research grew.  Our bibliography does exactly this.  The reader can understand very quickly how our research fits within a particular matrix of thought.

Beyond giving a sense of context, we want to direct our colleagues toward information that might prove to be useful to them.

Not all of our books are strictly about stone carving. There are references here to several texts that we found either inspirational or important to our greater endeavor, or both.  The bibliography suggests possibilities for further reading but it is also as a place of inspiration.  As a reader you are likely to find that a book that is personally important to you that has not been listed, and you are welcome to suggest its inclusion. Engaged contributions will make this list more broadly useful.




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