MOUNT DESERT — It all began with the stone wall that David Stillman built.
“Then, he had all these rocks that didn’t fit for the wall,” his wife Dotty Kay said about what began popping up around their Hall Quarry yard next.
First, there were a few cairns and then the stone sculptures became a bit more involved. Some have taken on statue-like characteristics and others have been inspired by the inuksuk, a human or cross-shaped cairn traditional to the Inuit culture. According to David, inuksuk (pronounced inook-shook; plural inuksuit) means taking the place of a human being.
“This one’s a wimp,” said David, who is 81, about a forward leaning inuksuk that fell over and has been tentatively put back into place. “This guy needs surgery.”
Now, there are a couple dozen stone creations on the west side of the Stillmans’ property that can be seen from the intersection of Hall Quarry Road and Shipwright Lane
“Fairly often, people coming and going to the boatyard stop and take pictures,” said David, referring to John Williams Boat Company at the end Shipwright Lane.
According to Dotty Kay, the property they have lived on for nearly 37 years had five boarding houses for the Italian immigrants who worked in Cyrus Hall’s quarry at the beginning of the 20th century. Granite from the quarry was used to make the foundations of the buildings and portions of the quarry wall still remain on the east side of the Stillman property.
“That’s where we got a lot of the paving stone, out of that foundation,” said David. He points to a circle of stones laid out on the ground, outlining where one of the buildings once stood.
Lots of small ‘chips’ of granite were found in the area of the old quarry on the property. They became essential for supporting stones in the wall and for the lawn sculptures.
“They were good for chinking them together,” said David, explaining there are no other added elements holding the formations in place. “They’re all free standing.”
For that reason, some of the sculptures have been vulnerable to the elements.
“Sometimes I put these on top and then we’ll have a good breeze and it will fall off,” said David pointing to a capping stone. Dotty Kay has taken photos of all 24 of them not just for posterity but also to record the details. “Several blew down and I didn’t want to forget. Sometimes there was a little inspiration in building it.”
Work on the 100-foot stone wall began in 2014, when David was 75 years old. He worked on it during the summer, completing it in two months. A friend tallied the accomplishment in a mock award noting, “At 100 feet long by 2 feet wide by 3 feet high, that’s 600 cubic feet. Granite weighs 168 – plus or minus – pounds per cubic foot. That’s 100,800, or 50.4 (+/-) tons he lifted, moved and set. WOW!”
“Most all of these stones are quarried, meaning square,” David pointed out about the ones used in the wall and for his sculptures. “I’d get a group of stones together and visualize what I might do.”
With the help of a small tractor and a custom-designed grappling hook, David maneuvered many of the stones into place.
“The inuksuks took a little longer because there were certain key stones you had to have,” he said about his process. “Most of the inuksuks I could muscle up into position… The ones on top, those are pretty heavy. I had to use the tractor.”
After muscling one creation into place, David said he “lamed myself up for a couple of weeks.”
Looking over the lot, more details emerge with each sculpture over time. At first sight, the stone formations can elicit thoughts of an artistic graveyard. That’s fitting, in a way, since Stephen King’s “Pet Sematary” was filmed just across Shipwright Lane years ago, according to the Stillmans.
During the last five years of putting together the creations, David, who was a minister for nearly four decades and then a bus driver, didn’t necessarily have a plan.
“There’s no particular meaning, I just like working with stones,” he said. When asked if the group of large cairns is complete, the answer is typical of any artist and their work. “I might get inspired sometime, but I think it’s sort of finished.”