Stone Hill: beauty both local and global

The south end of the central room features a floor-to-ceiling stone wall and hearth, and locust ceiling timbers that came from the 18-acre property off Crest Hill Road. Photo by Liz Oliver.

This is the first of three features on the homes included in the 54th annual Dried Flower Sale and House Tour sponsored by the women of Trinity Episcopal Church Parish on Oct. 16 and 17. For details about the weekend’s program, call 540-937-4279.

From contributed reports
“Most people gravitate either to water or to mountains. Ann and I are attracted to mountains.” John B. Henry’s comment delineates a simple truth. Here in Rappahannock County, John and Ann Henry have molded their 18 acres of hills, hollows, hayfields, forest, stones and ponds into a unique landscape and home called “Stone Hill.”

Two miles away, the Blue Ridge mountains wrap around two sides of the property, and six foothills provide views in all directions. The house is situated on the commanding height of the property, overlooking adjacent farms.

The Henrys enhanced the site off Crest Hill Road (two miles from Flint Hill) by redistributing 15,000 dump truck loads of soil, adjusting the lengths and heights of hills, smoothing precipitous drop-offs, and constructing stone structures that please the eye. Dry stone walls, anchored on their ends by mammoth boulders, encircle the property. All the stone, some 8,000 tons, came from a quarry on the site. And now the quarry is being turned into an amphitheater, equally suitable for a modern concert or a Druid bacchanal. The stone mailbox on Crest Hill Road marks the driveway, and the pool machinery is hidden inside what looks like an ancient hillside tomb. In the field to the west are a dozen standing monolithic stones from Indonesia placed in a 64-foot circle. The stone circle is a favorite place for New Year’s Eve bonfires, and other celebrations. Three interlocking sheep folds are embedded in a 12-foot-wide stone wall that widens to 40 feet at a corner of the property.

Located to take full advantage of the surrounding mountains and foothills, the house is wrapped in stone walls of three heights — knee-high, waist-high, and full height.

In the central room, as well as the great hall, large windows showcase the view outside, and the use the same locust and stone materials in the exterior and interior of the house ameliorate the distinction between the indoors and the outdoors.

In the great hall, a handmade London dining room table seats two dozen people; a giant Rumford fireplace provides a grand setting for before- and after-dinner drinks. In the central room, six large locust posts supply more structural support than the walls they replaced. The kitchen, eating area, powder room, library and open staircase flow seamlessly into one another. The dozen steps of the staircase are constructed of halved locust logs which are generously spaced to allow see-through views of the whole room. Grapevines serve as banisters.

African textiles downstairs and American quilts upstairs are draped on the stairwell. Chris Bird, Jeanne Drevas, Carl Aplin, Lance Huber, Ed Wilman, Bruce Westfall and Peggy Schadler are among the many local tradesmen and artisans who have contributed to the interiors.

Upstairs, the feeling of openness continues. Textiles from Ghana and Togo are used for bed coverings. Painted American chests, Ming Dynasty scroll tables and rustic benches hold parts of an extensive collection of African pre-coin currency.

The first stone work done at Stone Hill was this hundred-foot, half-moon shaped installation at the southwest end of the house. Photo by Helen Williams.

John Henry began collecting African pre-coin metal currency in the early 1990s. Of two thousand West African currencies, he focused on about a dozen types whose shapes visually interested him. He chose strong forms, regardless of the currency’s use (bride wealth or chattel), method of manufacture, material (iron, copper or bronze) or image (hoes, weapons or adornment).

The currencies are placed throughout the house and make strong statements through the use of repetition of the same forms in imaginative installations. The Henry collection was featured in the 2000 Smithsonian exhibit, “The Artistry of African Currency,” in a 2001 special exhibition at the International Monetary Fund and in a 2002 Wall Street Journal article.

One form of currency is made into the coatroom doors in the front hallway, just across from the native stone floor to ceiling wine rack. Nigerian hoe forms, Congolese crescent-shaped currency, and curved blade forms from Gabon are only a few of the currencies displayed. Mona Gavigan, an African art dealer in Washington, D.C., worked on the acquisition and placement of many of the pre-coin currency installations at Stone Hill.

The home and grounds showcase local, natural materials and artists alongside materials and artists from all over the world, making Rappahannock County not only the source but also the destination of Stone Hill’s beauty.

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