Stonemason Lew French thinks small

Lew French at The Granary, explaining his preference for using stone in its natural form. — Photo by Yoojin Cho

A summer house overlooking Squibnocket Pond has Lew French written all over it. From the stone walls that line the driveway to the very foundation of the house, Mr. French designed and built everything around the property.

In fact, for the last 25 years, many people have regarded Mr. French as one of the great stonemasons who work on an extremely large scale. His architectural pieces feature stonework over seven feet tall.

But now for the first time, Mr. French is exhibiting his fine art stone sculptures at The Granary Gallery in West Tisbury. The pieces vary in size from about six inches to four feet tall.

Mr. French told The Times that the idea of producing smaller pieces isn’t completely new to him: “The sculptural pieces are always present in my bigger pieces. Even though it’s a big design, it’s still a sculptural piece.”

His process entails collecting thousands of pieces until he finds the right stones for the right project. There is no telling how long it might take to find the perfect stone that would match the others in his collection.

“I’ve collected many, many pieces just knowing that they are incredible stones,” Mr. French said, “but not knowing what project they will be for.”

Positioned at The Granary’s entrance is a tall stone sculpture that conjures a warrior. The piece on top that represents the face is connected by a metal rod to the bottom section, representing the body.

Mr. French found these two pieces at different times with many years in between, and the only alteration he made to the stones was drilling holes to connect the two. “When you are going to make a statement with a stone, it has to be the best possible stone for that statement,” he explained.

“What I’ve established over the years is try to let the stone be in its natural state. I do all kinds of different techniques, but I like to recognize the stone for what it is — not try to alter it, not try to cut it, not try to chip it or reshape it into what I think it should be. Stone is so much more powerful if it’s left in its natural state.”

Claiming nature as his inspiration, he said he respects the history of each stone. One triangular sculpture he made has marks on the side of the stone that he thinks were probably made more than 50 years ago by someone atttempting to drill into it. While the piece maintains its shape, it now contains Mr. French’s own lines and interpretation.

He seldom assigns titles to his pieces, explaining that although it’s his work, the audience should be able to analyze it and come up with their own interpretation.

“I can tell you what it is for me, but it’s a question for you,” he said. “It should always be something that’s interesting. Maybe I see it this way. In my mind there is a name I give to it, but as individuals it should always be what it is for you.”

Many of his sculptures embody this concept. They are movable and often can be rearranged to meet the viewer’s taste. One rectangular sculpture has small pebbles and wooden sticks in a boxed frame and is designed to be able to be arranged in three different ways.

“It should always be visually pleasing,” he commented. “Whether you want to analyze it or not, it should still have that ‘Wow-look-at-that’ aspect.”

He plans to continue creating both architectural and smaller constructions. “It is a new direction, but I don’t really see one necessarily being dominant,” he said. “I still do large projects and individual installations. Doing the right project and doing something I know I’m comfortable with is my work pattern. If something’s right, then something’s right no matter what size it is.”