“There’s something of folklore about the whole story”, said Francine Stock when introducing American academic and dry-stone-waller Whitney Brown today. Brown turned to the rural craft as a form of stress relief and fell in love with it when working at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington D. C. She was writing her MA dissertation at the time, put the project on hold and moved to Wales in 2009 to learn the skill.
Welsh hills are a world away from Brown’s South-Carolina background, but “once I picked up a sledge hammer and had my first taste of wielding it, I wasn’t particularly interested in finishing my Masters thesis”. She said there’s something timeless and magical about dry-stone walling and compared the improvisatory nature of her work to jazz music.
Brown found walling hugely satisfying compared to academia. “To anchor myself in an ancient craft, in a big heavy thing, in the landscape, in that tradition was incredibly important to me”. She said, “I needed the sun, I needed the rain” and loved the fact that “at the end of the day on a wall you can actually climb up and stand on it”.
She gained qualifications in walling and with “a website, a couple of tools and a strong back” and began her own business. Brown often moves six to eight tons of stone a day, and two to four on “lighter” days.
While in Wales, Brown blogged about her experience for friends and family at home and her story was eventually picked up by a publishing house. “Memoir is difficult, memoir is very exhausting, memoir causes problems in your personal life,” she said about writing Between Stone and Sky
If you missed this, you might like event 332
, Creativity and Life with Laura Carlin on Friday 1 June at 4pm. And
visit our Hay Player for the world’s great writers on audio and film; https://www.hayfestival.com/hayplayer/default.aspx?