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Steps & Stairs Workshop: Sept. 12 & 13, 2020

In a usual year, our Steps & Stairs workshop accommodates eight participants who work together and in pairs to strip out and rebuild existing steps. This year, instructor Michael Wietzner taught seven people over two consecutive days. In consultation with other Stone Trust master craftsmen, Michael built new teaching infrastructure and established a foundation for revising our Steps & Stairs curriculum to meet contemporary needs.

Day one attracted an experienced, largely professional group of four. Three of them earn at least part of their living in various aspects of landscaping. A Master gardener came to add dry stone techniques to his repertoire. All had already participated in at least one TST workshop, most in several. Mollie and Ben will test for Dry Stone Walling Association of Great Britain Level 1 Initial certification later this week.

Participants arrived at Sunday’s workshop with similarly deep experience, though only Kim pursues stone work for professional development. The others have big projects at home and aspirations for working on community restoration projects. Day two activity differed from the previous day, because participants on day one had built steps for Sunday’s builders to examine and deconstruct. By 10:00, these three wallers were stripping out!

What do you learn at a Steps & Stairs workshop? After introductions, Michael led a discussion on bases and foundations.  Some participants plan to build freestanding steps, others are building into a slope. Michael talked about selecting materials and preparing a site depending on design specifications and soil conditions. He drew connections with students’ knowledge of the basic principles for building a structurally sound freestanding or retaining wall. He engaged participants in a  inquiry about using a level as he addressed the physics of building to take into account the dynamics of interacting with stairs: force of people’s motion, the movement of earth, and the impact of water.

As the days progressed, students learned methods of safely moving large stones. They worked with a variety of stone to construct four unique (three on day two) sets of stairs, each personal to their own needs and interests. Visitors picnicking in the evening attested to the stable immovability of each set of stairs!

Participants and instructor agree that the COVID-19 site needs to be refined. A look at the photos make that clear! Experience of workshops since July tells us that participants in each future workshop will improve on our social-distancing infrastructure, which went up in a hurry, when they get here. That’s great synergy!

People at the Steps & Stairs workshop appreciated personal attention, the instructor’s ability to adapt teaching to student needs, and hands-on experience. People also liked the new format, which creates an autonomous learning experience that mirrors more accurately real-life processes. Finally an observation that working with imperfect stone raises questions about necessary compromises. Building with stone seems to present many opportunities for reflection that may transfer to other aspects of life.

Three spots remain in our October 18 Steps & Stairs workshop. The October 19 workshop is sold out.