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Dan Snow, Always Unnecessarily Well Made

Discover a superb dry stone sculpture in the gardens of Glenmorangie House

Dan Snow has created a superb dry stone sculpture in the gardens of Glenmorangie House in the Scottish Highlands beside our distillery.

Across four decades Dan Snow has been building dry stone constructions in his native Vermont USA and far beyond that too. He humbly identifies himself as a dry stone waller, a seemingly simple craft to the uninitiated. In fact, dry stone walling is a considerable skill, a lifetime’s learning, and Dan, it turns out, is much more besides. He is variously described as an assemblage artist, an art-builder, a sculptor and a stone-worker. He is also a Master Craftsman as well as teacher, lecturer and writer. In fact, his books have seen him described as a poet.

Dan explains how his career took shape:

“I studied art and design, majoring in industrial design actually, and I spent my spare time working for other sculptors making artworks. It was studio art, drawings, paintings, sculptures sometimes. Being in New York City it seemed that art meant mostly making a collection of works which could be shown in a gallery, but I often felt art should be able to live outside too. “Back at home, at my parent’s property where there was much stone lying around, I’d created some stoneworks, my first flirtations with Environmental Art or Land Art. And then, still a young man, I spent a summer in Italy helping to restore a castle. That’s really where I started to learn my craft and became totally immersed in it. In Italy I began to feel that I could make an artwork which wouldn’t just occupy an interior space.” Working in Scotland, at Glenmorangie House, has been something of a homecoming for Dan. He’s worked in Scotland before and it’s a place where the dry stone construction tradition continues.

“Scotland has a high reputation for quality and quantity. Look around and the landscape is organised by a lot of dry stone work,” he says. “Nowhere else has that intensity of impact on the craft that Scotland has.” As a member of the Dry Stone Walling Association of Great Britain, a Master Craftsman who both instructs and examines, he is active in helping other craftsmen – other wallers and dykers - get better at what they do.

What is the difference between an average piece of drystone work and an excellent one? “You can point to reasons a wall is unsuccessful. It might be the materials, the foundation, maybe a failure to get things right from the start with the very best natural resources available. Without the perfect beginnings the finished result can only be imperfect. Perhaps too you can criticise someone for not doing something as well as they might, something simple in the way the joints are set in the construction for example. Solid beginnings and skilled assemblage are necessary. A good craftsman will always be doing the most they can, not the least they can get away with. A good craftsman will seek perfection in every stone. The fine craftsmen at the distillery have much in common with this approach,” he adds.

And looking beyond simpler stone constructions to what makes a successful sculpture, Dan believes that these complex creations require a sense of place to complete them. A meaningful example of Land Art will convey the essence of its location into a new form through the manipulation of natural materials, he believes. Dan works hard to always make his sculptures the very best they can be, sculptures that are beautiful and thrilling in the present and which will last far into the future. “You know, I thought I was good at stone walling by the time I was 25. But I wasn’t really. There was so much more to learn. Every collection of stone still humbles me. You’ll never hear a dry stone waller say they’ve mastered the craft. Simple accomplishment is a struggle. I’m a Master Craftsman because I’ve gone through that process, that certification. Yet that was 15 years ago that I qualified and it was 20 years before that when I started on level one!”

Dan is someone who seeks perfection in his work, which is exactly why we wanted to work with him. His high standards made him an ideal partner for Glenmorangie. Each stone placed carefully and correctly upon another stone represents a small gain. The small gains add up and the cumulative effect is something Unnecessarily Well Made, something which will stand the test of centuries.


The Essence of Stone

Discover a new stone sculpture with ancient origins, the result of a cultural collaboration between Glenmorangie and a distinguished dry stone artist.