A Yahoo Above Goldsworthy's Roofs

An observation of Andy Goldsworthy at work While mapping out my round of appointments in the District the other day over breakfast, my friend Margaret suggested squeezing a few minutes in my schedule at the National Gallery of Art, a few blocks from where I was headed. The artist Andy Goldsworthy was finishing a permanent installation. Goldworthy is a Briton with a Scot's attachment to land expressed in massive pieces hewn of native stone, wood, and other natural material. He was at the National orchestrating "Roof", nine domes made of thin layers of Virginia slate, carefully dry-stacked by a team of wallers imported from Scotland. It's a massive project, weighing 400 tons, and the biggest commissioned by the museum in 25 years. The construct of the domes, built up and in like igloos, each sheath of slate carefully measured, chiseled and chipped and nudged into place, designed to stay that way forever.

Margaret directed me to the second floor, otherwise closed for a changing exhibit, where I could gaze down on the seven finished domes and the two being completed. Leaning against the glass, the shapes were timeless, clearly connected to kivas I've walked into at Chaco Canyon, to the simple custom of sitting in a circle around the campfire. The four men known as wallers practiced an ancient art-disguised-as-craft that requires precision, strength, and artistry. They were strapping men with strong hands and burly forearms, and worked patiently alone for extended periods, then gathering together as they fetched materials and consulting the other wallers and with Goldsworthy, who looked almost as strapping and burly as the wallers themselves. Together they carried themselves as if they all were in on a time-honored ritual only they understood, enhanced by the fact I couldn't hear what they were saying from the other side of the glass.

Around here in Texas, dry-stacking is still practiced though in limited numbers. A German tradition in these parts, the artisans now are mostly from the Mexican interior, where dry-stacking is still prevalent.

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