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10.13.16

Fixated in Stone

Sculptor and stoneworker Eben Armer has a passion for granite, as poet and dock builder Steve Ewing discovered one hot summer afternoon.

I met Eben Armer, stonemason and sculptor, one day after work. He told me, “Go down New Lane a bit and turn at the stone pillars; you can’t miss it.” I have some customers down
on Tisbury Great Pond, and over the last few years, driving to work for them, I’d noticed some activity off in the woods near where I figured he was directing me. I was curious to see what lurked back there.

It was a hot and muggy July scorcher. I was a wreck. Dirty and burnt after a long day on the barge building docks. As I pulled in between the two pillars, there stood Armer. He looked young and cool standing in his driveway. He must be doing something right, I thought.

He led me straight down the driveway. On our right, we passed a small, beautifully constructed little storybook stone house. Behind the house, dug into a bank, we came to his work area, a high three-sided stone enclosure. One of his employees was leaving for the day. As I introduced myself, Armer showed me a fire pit the fellow had been working on.
It was a ring of brick laid on a precast concrete cover. Armer’s day job is running his business, Contact Stone. He employs mostly young Island guys and specializes in building beautiful stonewalls and structures.

Standing in his work area he said, “I was going to roof it over, but I kind of like the openness and the fresh air.” I agreed with him; it made sense for a stone sculptor to look up at the sky. In this dirt-floored work area rested a small excavator. Near the machine were two
tall granite sculptures in progress. As I started to take in the space and the pieces, I realized here is a hardworking, thoughtful, very talented young guy. The walls were beautiful. They were constructed of long, thick slabs of cut granite that reminded me of slow, sweeping swells in the Sound. The big pieces were broken up by more fanciful yet equally structural smaller stones at whimsical angles, like a short chop. What could have been called a basement was a massive work of art.

Elizabeth Cecil

The two sculptures in the middle of the space were equally compelling. They were both vertical; one was a single block. Armer works mostly in granite. The piece had been broken strategically and put back together, to form his rendition of a Japanese garden sculpture. It allowed light to pass through chiseled, opposing angles. He said he plans to partially fill the void with smaller stone. The other sculpture was comprised of two upright slabs, higher than me, placed as if ready to dance a tango. You could feel a real tension between the two tall stones. He needs to figure where they will lead him, he said.

Now thirty-eight, Armer grew up on the Island. His dad, Eric Armer, is a welder who worked at Ralph Packer’s waterfront yard and built that remarkable Chinese junk that came out of there years ago.

“Dad was a good welder, but he didn’t really grind down his welds much. He was more interested in the quality than the look of his work,” he said. He showed me an aluminum skiff his dad had made. It sure looked well made to me. It had a real nice shape to it, too.

“Dad’s up in Maine now.” His mom, Deborah, lived next to him on the Island until she passed away unexpectedly this spring. “We worked hard to put this property, about three acres, together,” he said. “It’s good it turned out like it did.”

As we walked around the lot, we got to his house. “It’s insulated concrete,” he said. “Got little air bubbles in it. It really works well.”

Elizabeth Cecil

The house is a large two-storied affair. Armer said it’s an Italianate design. The place sits sweetly on the partly wooded lot. To the side of the house is a stand-alone (in more ways than one) outside shower. Three sides of the shower are of well-constructed typical wooden slats. The end wall, with the shower head and the valves, is made of seven massive vertical fingers of – you guessed it – granite. It reminded me of the Dolomites in the Italian Alps. Spires of stony non sequiturs, their boney massiveness takes on a spiritual quality in the outside shower. Like the jagged mountains in Italy incongruously frame the lush alpine meadow. Talk about a brick outhouse.  

How does he find the time to create all this, I’m wondering.

Armer’s patio is comprised of huge slabs of...two-inch-thick granite. “They were ordered for a job that didn’t pan out, so I had to eat the stone,” he said. It is one of the more impressive patios I’ve ever seen. It also reminded me of places I’d been to in Europe, where it seemed this kind of work was done with a very different sense of time than here in America.

He was showing me some of his gear, including a big hydraulic crane truck, and we were bragging to each other about construction equipment when a lovely lady walked up with a bowl of freshly cut greens. He introduced her as his fiancée, Elizabeth Cecil. (The couple married last August.) I recognized her as the professional photographer who will be taking photos of Armer’s work for this article. Being married myself for more than thirty years, I could immediately see Armer needed to “get a move on,” as they were expected somewhere. I figured, judging from the bowl of salad fixings, somewhere included supper. Exchanging “Nice to meet yous” and “Good byes,” I exited the same way I came in.

As I got in my truck, I couldn’t help but feel how it never ceases to amaze me that these woods and dirt roads of our tiny little Island hide some of the most industrious and creative people I’ve ever met.

There was a time when I thought the younger generations didn’t seem to have the work ethic or drive we thought was needed to get by.

Boy, was I wrong.

Granite contrasts with wood to create a one-of-a-kind outdoor shower at Armer’s West Tisbury home.
Elizabeth Cecil

The Bottom Course

By Steve Ewing

I have seen

the bottom course

of stone

laid long years ago

stout and solid

bearing the whole load

along its rugged length

Wide and flat

it squats

shifted slightly

from the massive press

as it grew

and settled

Moss and lichen cover up

flecks and smears

the sweat and blood shed

in the ancient cause

of wall

 

I look for each

bottom course

forever destined

forgotten

overlooked

Way below eye level

Windowless

No soaring tower framing

drifting clouds

No view beguiling 

wistful watchers

from some high

romantic

corner perch

The bottom course

thrums with strain

nestled in packed earth

quietly binding

ground to sky

The base of wall

laid by the backs and

minds of men

long gone

Singular and silent

recumbent

weathered and reflecting

 

So today

as I fix my stare

on your fresh

bottom course

down there

at my feet

I dream

a new wall dream

I hail the care

and grace

portending your shape

yet to be

How you hold your

growing family

of stone so easily

and how this young man

knows them all

by name

Each part of you he has

thoughtfully arranged

as he chips

his young life

into you

He makes his mark

and rises up

in kind

along your roughhewn

wavy lines

Shifting

as pieces of your

granite puzzle

thunk in place

And as he stacks more mass

that you must bear

upright and true

the man grows solid

working next to you

 

For all our time

we have cut you out

dug you from

the earth

we are both formed from

pushed you standing

ever since we could

stand ourselves

You have carried our

blessed souls

due West

heated with the

slowly setting sun

You mark our place

of rest

in peace

We’ve watched

you track

the planet’s path

sighting our spot

down the cosmic route

we stream along

Your bold and timeless

lines and circles

humble and

define us

 

So now you choose

this fine man

and guide his restless hands

to coax

your freckled stones

that sing a far off chiseled tune

He has learned to make

you dance

and share your gift

graciously

with care

so silently

he turns you loose

to stand alone

and gaze

across the field

With your soft rock breath

you hum the simple truth

We all were there

as that first course

was laid u.

Comments (2)

Jessica von Mehren
West Tisbury, MA
Eben is a true arist on an island full of pretention and pretenders. We grew up together and I have had the privilege of watching him grow as an artisan, businessman, and, well,as a man. He deserves everything auspicious that comes his way both professionally and personally. His craftsmanship is unparalleled on Martha's Vineyard.
November 4, 2016 - 10:39pm
Jessica von Mehren
West Tisbury, MA
Eben is a true arist on an island full of pretention and pretenders. We grew up together and I have had the privilege of watching him grow as an artisan, businessman, and, well,as a man. He deserves everything auspicious that comes his way both professionally and personally. His craftsmanship is unparalleled on Martha's Vineyard.
November 4, 2016 - 10:39pm
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