Dan Snow on Forgotten Stone Fences

Dan Snow is one of those rare craftsmen with this awesome talent to create great work, and be able to talk and write quite eloquently about that great work.

I found this essay written by Dan on Boston.com about the life of stone as they go from one owner to another, from one purpose to another.

Here’s the photo from the essay. this kind of work takes some real experience, skill, patience and understanding of the stone you are working with.

Snows Stone Bridge taken by Peter Mauss
Snow's Stone Bridge taken by Peter Mauss

Dan on the importance and history of the stone fence in New England

Stone fences were an important tool of order for early American farmers. They were the warp and weft of the cultural fabric. Rules for height, location, and maintenance of fences were strict. The laws of the day were truly written in stone. A town’s “fence viewer” held a powerful position in the community. Even now the office sometimes survives as an unpaid, symbolic appointment.

These original builders were not stone mason but farmers trying to find ways to use stones that were cluttering their fields. Tough, hard, underappreciated work.

Thankfully most folks look at stone work today and see/appreciate the beauty in the stone work whether it be walls, fences, out-buildings, bridges, etc. Even then, most miss how tough, how hard and how much skill is needed to work with the stone.

It’s tough work but when you find a pile of stone and are lucky enough to get into a rhythm with the stone as your placing/building it’s . . . it’s like a magical thing.

A derelict old wall can be restored to its original profile, but even when the same stones are used, it can never be the same wall twice. Every builder will handle the stones differently, resulting in a unique creation every time.

Man, how true is this. Spend some time with a collection of stone masons and whatever the number of guys is, is the number of opinions you will get on how to put a pile of stones together.

To get a true appreciation for Dan’s work read In the Company of STONE

Categorized as stone Tagged

By Rick Anderson

The Whispering Crane Institute was originally formed to act as the umbrella organization for the Philosophy of Design Symposium, and other seminars and workshops given by Rick Anderson and Richard L. Dube’. In the year 2000 WCI became a sole proprietorship owned by Rick Anderson. Today the WCI provides design and consultation services for Landscape Contractors, acts as a Green Industry think tank, and provides training for others in the form of workshops, seminars, and individual consulting. The WCI also provides written material, opinions, case-studies and how-to articles for industry trade magazines.


  1. Rick, I’ve been an admirer of Dan Snow’s work for a long time and loved this essay. A few years ago I was waxing poetic about Snow’s artistry to my big brother, who replied, “Oh, yeah, Dan.” I said, “Dan? Like you’re on a first name basis?” And he said, “Sure. He was my college roommate.” They both went to art school at Pratt. Now if I could just get my brother to get Dan to let me hang around like a groupie…

    Great story, I’ve met Dan at several different events over the last few years and he’s a real quiet guy.

    All those years spent with stone in the field lead to some of these guys becoming very introspective, and philosophical in their singular pursuits.
    He’s a very interesting guy, a wealth of knowledge and thoughts on stone work which he is not afraid to share.

    You’d have a hard time picking when it comes to groupie status.

  2. Hi Rick,

    You might want to check out Lew French if you haven’t already. He wrote a book called “Stone by Design” which is pretty incredible.

    Chris Heiler
    Editor- http://www.landscapeleadership.com

    I met Lew when we both spoke at the Stone Foundation symposium a few years ago. Lew does very nice work, very exacting. I had a nice appreciation of his outdoor pieces.

    An aside, Lew’s technical side brought up a lot of “discussion” amongst the stone masons in attendance, actually turning into quite a heated exchange, it was kind of funny to see those guys going at it.

    Stone masons from all over the world arguing over the style and stack method, plus the way the walls were backed, etc. Lew held is own though he was taken aback by the level of intensity of questioning from the crowd.

  3. I live in upstate N.Y. near lake george, I consider myself an artist, although waller- dirt farmer is generally more like it, I see coffee table books etc. and say to my self I’ve done that or i can do that, its as if you should almost reserve comment on a “peice” unless you built it, its either thumbs up or down,all the rest is b.s. or conjecture, some idiot started saying ,”it is what it is” ,a few years ago, another good one is -judge not….

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