A trade and a woman as tough as stone

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by Joel Balsam on May 28, 2014

Dry stone waller Jo Hodgson and her apprentice Stephen Soullière place a stone on top of the 'kail yaird' Scottish garden at the Fairbairn Heritage House in Wakefield on May 9. The exhibit is now finished and on display. Joel Balsam photo

Dry stone waller Jo Hodgson and her apprentice Stephen Soullière place a stone on top of the ‘kail yaird’ Scottish garden at the Fairbairn Heritage House in Wakefield on May 9. The exhibit is now finished and on display. Joel Balsam photo

Imagine a puzzle with thousands upon thousands of pieces and no instruction manual. Hard, right? But that’s essentially what Wakefield resident Jo Hodgson has to deal with every time she takes on a new project for building a dry stone wall. “It’s sort of like a puzzle, but you don’t know if you have all the pieces and if it will fit,” she explained.

The process involves placing carefully selected stones on top of each other ¬– without cement – to create retaining walls for banks, steps, pathways, and stone decks. And when Hodgson builds something, it is meant to last – as in: more than the approximately 20 years North America infrastructure lasts. When Hodgson builds a dry stone wall, she expects it to stay intact for at least 100 years. “The selection and placement of the stone,” she said, “is what makes the wall strong.”

You might not have heard of Hodgson’s trade of dry stone walling, but it has existed for hundreds of years in the United Kingdom. And even though Hodgson is from the U.K., she learned the trade completely by chance.

You can see examples of Hodgson’s work at drystonewaller.ca.

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