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Lessons that Stone Walls Teach

Dry stone wall in the Burren, Co. Clare, Ireland

 I've just returned from teaching a Workshop in Wild Places class in the Burren in County Clare, Ireland. Writing this post, I'm reminded of another post I wrote after visiting Inishmaan, the middle of the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland several years ago. Stone walls crisscrossed the island in tight webs like a fisherman's net. I wrote then that the web of stone walls made me think of the idea of putting limitations on our painting as a way of exploring more deeply and how walls give limits against the limitless. You can read that article here.

As our group hiked in the Burren with our guide, Marie McGauran we learned that the walls are stronger because of the holes in them. The wind can pass through. The oldest stone walls, estimated to be 3500 years old are at Skara Brae, a Neolithic site in Orkney. Most walls were built in the 18th and 19th century, marking areas of private ownership and resulting in poverty for the poor and working classes as there could be no more communal grazing.

But back to the holes in the walls to let the wind pass through. These imperfections actually make the walls stronger because of this flexibility, this breathing space. A rigid wall tries to hold back the wind. The walls remind me of an artist who allows for mistakes in their work, who accepts their imperfections. We want to see an artist's hand in the work, their humanness. We want to see the rawness of their work, their deep emotional connection to the land.

Earth's crammed with heaven...
But only she who sees, takes off her shoes.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning


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