Monday, February 1, 2010

Cairn Building

We recently profiled the work of jewelry artisan Mannybeads in the daily spotlight feature on our Mind Body Spirit Facebook Fan Page. It occurred to me after I wrote the piece that many people may not be familiar with what a Cairn is. I recalled a beautiful blog post that Manny had written some time back discussing Cairn history and how this exquisite art form relates to her work. Manny was kind enough to let us republish her piece.
Manny's wonderful jewelry can be found at:
Manny's Etsy Shop:

Cairns have been used for centuries as path markers and landmarks. I first happened upon them many years ago when hiking in the Green Mountains. There they are at service...courteously pointing the way when it might otherwise be unclear.
There is a place on Monhegan called "Pebble Beach" and Cairns there are intuitively stacked by visitors to artistic effect. The word "Pebble" is deceiving...The expanse of beach at this favorite spot for seals and the likes of us is filled with large, smooth, round, oval, and oblong rocks...big rocks. They are so perfectly smoothed from the passage of time, earth-plates shifting, and the infinite movement of water, water, water that you just want to wrap your body around them...especially if they've been soaking in the afternoon sun. They are the most beautiful rocks I have ever seen.
When we land on the island it isn't too long before we head for Pebble Beach. When we arrive at "Pebble" we have a ritual of looking for our favorites and shouting out to each other "here it is", "I found Mosaic Rock" or "here's Speckled Egg". After saying hello to old friends, propping them, adjusting them, removing the ever encroaching wild sweet pea, we almost unconsciously and silently begin Cairn building.
Sometimes my partners' family will join us. They have grown to love the island and they are delighted and appreciative Monhegan-ers and we delight in sharing it with them. They are an interesting tribe of creators, my in-laws...painters, mobile-makers, sculptors, writers...and Cairn-stackers. We often vacation together and share a love of rocky beaches, water and woods.
As a day spent on pebble beach is approaching it's twilight I look around me and see the most amazing rock-stacks. They are all around...stacks and stacks of rocks ascending from large, capable anchor to smaller stone, held aloft. I like to think that each of the cairns we create serves to mark these moments of our creative joy together and delight in the stacks as we wander about each to the others' smiling, complementing, asking questions about choice and technique and success at balancing a seemingly impossible stack. Of course there is also a bit of variation...Our physics inspired and mathematical artist Andrew will have inevitably created a number of perfectly balanced arches with a well-settled center stone marrying the left, and the right legs of the structure.
I am a happy soul amongst this group as my own "tribe" has no apparent fiber that leans toward the artistic. These folks are known to break into song, dance and poetic recitation! My mother in law never travels without a stack of poetry books, sketch pads and song books. It is deceiving, however...the heft of her bag would suggest she's well provisioned. Truth be told said "heft" rarely includes a stitch of clothing. Now we rely on her to bring the evening entertainment and we pack a few extra t-shirts and shorts.
My new Cairn designs are inspired by these art-spirited folk. They have helped to crack open my own artistic spirit in unabashed and delight-filled ways. I can't imagine better company for cairn building...or singing...or dancing...


  1. Thanks so much for posting this Diane...

  2. Wow, what a wonderful post. The beauty of an activity such as cairn building is that it is free and can be done almost anywhere. I live in beautiful Boulder, Colorado and in the summer my family and I love to pile rocks in the Boulder Creek. If you are interested, here is a link to the post I wrote on the topic: Thanks for spreading the word about this amazing art form!



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Artist,Writer, Jewelry Design