the law of gravity

 “I am not an artist, landscape designer or stone mason.  I call myself a worker”.  This statement by Lew French set the tone for his talk, Elevating Organic Shapes in the Landscape.  He spoke to the Landscape Design Students and Alumni at NYBG on Tuesday, November 14th.  French was unassuming, straightforward and engaging.  He declined the podium on the stage and preferred to talk at eye level with the audience.  “I am not a lecturer.  I prefer if you interrupt me and ask questions.” And we did.

Photo from Fine Home Building. Stone “house” built by Lew French.

Photo from the New England Historical Society. Leverett, MA.

A stone hut in Ireland

French explained his working method: no drawings, no maquettes. “I ask my clients to go see my work. I get to know them.  I walk the site. I don’t want to have any problems later.”  This unique working method has seemingly resulted long-term relationships with clients.  French said he  prefers to work slowly and to see how things develop. It’s all about balance, scale, portion, flow.  “There is nothing more powerful than nature.”

Photo from Fine Home Building. Fireplace by Lew French

Question from the audience:  You must have a pretty big inventory of stones?
Answer from French:  How many stars are in the night sky. That’s how many stones I have.  Lew French is not a dry stone practitioner.  He uses concrete to anchor his pieces.  It is his feeling that concrete will stabilize his work: making them immune to frost and other kinds of movement.

French lives on Martha’s Vineyard and uses driftwood in his work.  Between the small stones and pieces of driftwood, many of his pieces have a mosaic feel about them.  A lover of moss, lichen, the shape and color of stone (no cutting here), French manages to balance the intricate with the monumental.

Last question of the afternoon was from Susan Cohen, Program Coordinator for the NYBG Winter Lecture Series:
What in your childhood contributed or influenced your work with stone?
Answer: My father was a woodworker.  We made things.


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