Devotee of stone Jonathan Piasecki, ASLA, tells how he
builds walls, makes art, and tries to respect the land.
By Marty Carlock
Courtesy of Reuben Cox
Jonathan Piasecki, ASLA, has a mystical feeling about walls.
At the Bronze-Age roots of our own culture, he says, the wall was “a fusion of
stone, earth, and ritual,” the place where raw and perhaps hostile nature was
held at bay. Basic to Piasecki’s work is an attitude of respect for the earth
and for stones as the bones of the earth.
From the beginning of a project, Piasecki approaches the
design of a landscape backwards. Instead of imposing his plan on the land, he
walks around a site, gets an idea of “what the landscape wants to be,” and to
some extent improvises as he works. Piasecki muses, “If you draw first, the
drawing tells you what it’s going to be. If you just go out and look, there’s a
process of discovering what [the landscape] could be.”
He does some other unorthodox things. He makes his own art
from the materials he finds on site. You won’t find fountains, benches, or
cherubs sculpted elsewhere and plopped into place. For him and for users of the
place, the art works as directional signs and place markers.
Most radically, he builds his own stonework. Sometimes he
has help, but when he’s working on a project he’s on site, dust and dirty
fingernails and all, cranking come-alongs and working tractor front loaders.
He’s particular about the way he wants his dry walls built. “There are not many
landscape architects who do stone. Masonry people know how to set it but don’t
have the design thing. It’s pretty rare to fuse the two.” Piasecki takes
satisfaction in laying every stone himself. The macho component to wrestling
with and subduing tons of rock is balanced by his creativity.
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