Meet 2015 New England Design all of Fame Inductee Lew FrenchText by Erin Marvin
Lew French was drawn to nature at a young age while growing up in small-town Minnesota, spending summers on the lake and in nearby forests. He started building houses after high school, and it was while doing stonework that he felt a powerful energy propel him in an entirely new direction. In pursuit of this new calling, French moved to Martha’s Vineyard for a change of climate and the chance to work with clients who he felt could appreciate his artistry.
Whether indoor fireplace, walled garden, intricate water feature, or artistic wall panel, French’s work has a nuance and subtlety rarely found in stonework. Along with his careful attention to scale and proportion, a natural rhythm and balance run counter to the characteristics one normally associates with stone, and imbues his work with an almost feminine quality.
Critical to his designs is his dedication to keeping each stone’s shape intact. Rather than chiseling, cutting, or manipulating stone to fit his design, French uses what he calls a “dry stack” method of stone-to-stone contact. “Stone is a powerful natural element, and if you’re finding the right stone to create these patterns, and you’re leaving that stone alone, it creates even more energy and makes more visual sense,” says French.
Not only artist and designer but architect and builder, French hand-selects every piece of stone and wood and installs it himself. From fourteen-foot-long quarry rocks to penny-size pebbles, weathered driftwood to reclaimed lumber, each piece is placed because it’s a meaningful part of the pattern. “I try to take my ego out of it and let the stone speak for itself,” says French.
French’s stone creations have been speaking for themselves on TV shows such as CBS Sunday Morning and HGTV’s Modern Masters, in the pages of renowned shelter magazines such as Architectural Digest, House & Garden, and House Beautiful, and in his own book, Stone by Design: The Artistry of Lew French.
Thirty-plus years after French felt the pull of working with stone, his energy and passion for his art have yet to subside. Sticks and Stones, a new book featuring his work, will be published by Gibbs Smith in spring 2016.
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