LEAF: Get down in the dirt
It started in 2015 in Llano, Texas, as a tribute to her father. But even Binky Morgan can’t believe how in five years the Llano Earth Art Festival (LEAF) has grown into the world’s largest stone balancing event and home of the World Rock Stacking Championship.
“My father had just passed,” Morgan said. “I was looking at Pinterest and saw this beautiful cairn. It was a conical-shaped rock stack, with a garland of flowers wound around it, in a shallow stream that looked like the Llano River. I thought that would be a beautiful monument I can make for dad.”
She realized she could not do it alone. What if, she thought, we had a little festival, and stacked rocks in the water?
And so they did. That first year Morgan did a lot of talking, begging, and scrounging, asking bands to play for free, and for the city to provide access. Surprisingly, 500 people showed up at Grenwelge Park. Last year, more than 6,000 came to enjoy a weekend of balancing stones, building fairy villages, tracing mandalas in the sand, and just getting back in touch with nature in a creative way.
That is exactly the point, according to Michael Grab, recognized as one of the top “balance artists” in the rock stacking world.
Grab, who will demonstrate his art at LEAF for the fourth time, discovered rock stacking by accident and made it his full-time profession in 2012.
People have been balancing rocks since, well, the stone age. Simply put, stone balancing consists of arranging rocks in a vertical fashion, using only rocks. There is no cheating, or introduction of adhesives or external supports.
The appeal of the art, however, goes beyond merely arranging stones in three dimensions.
“I just fell in love with the therapeutic aspect,” said Grab. “It is relaxing and meditative, while at the same time challenging, as you problem solve a way to make rocks work together. The nature therapy combined with the practical aspect is the big reason I became attached to it.”
Ironically, this natural art form did not really take off until the rise of social media allowed people around the world with similar interests to connect. The start of LEAF coincided with this online boom, as people began sharing photos of impossibly balanced stone sculptures in glorious natural settings.
When you attend LEAF, you are encouraged to submerse yourself in the experience. I got Michael Grab to share his approach to building an object designed to be destroyed by gravity and entropy.
The first step? Sink into the environment.
“First, you have to physically get to the place,” Grab said. “Go to wherever you feel inspired, then stop and hang out.”
Next, study your materials. When you find rocks that inspire you, you start building.
“It just kind of happens, by losing myself in the environment that I am working with.”
The actual art of balancing is a skill that anyone can learn, according to Grab.
“It is a very intuitive feeling, and just in the nature of the human body,” he said. “We have an innate sense of balance. The technical skill can be learned by anyone with enough practice and patience. But the unique aspect of each person is the artistic input they bring to the equation.”
There is also something more happening along the river, when a small plot of land along the Llano River becomes the nexus of the rock-stacking universe for four days. Again, ironically, one reason to attend this internet-caused event is to get away from the internet.
Grab describes it as “cultivating my connection to the natural world.”
“For me, it’s just getting out there, and turning off the language and logic side of my brain, integrating my consciousness with what is happening in the moment — the river flowing, the birds singing. I feel that is a powerful thing to share, especially nowadays, when our culture is disconnected from the natural world via technology and living inside a house all the time. I like to encourage having this direct meditative connection to the world around me. I think learning to have that connection is a very useful tool for anyone in any life.”
Looking back, Binky Morgan has honored her father in ways she didn’t anticipate.
“Sometimes I don’t know how this happened,” she said. “Locals told us we were plumb crazy that first year. It was just the right idea at the right time, with the right people making it happen. I’m amazed that it worked.”
But work, it did. And Morgan invites everyone to come to Llano to “get down in the dirt.”
“The main thing is that this is an interactive festival,” she said. “We want people to participate, to bring a crazy costume, to join the parade, to bring a guitar. Make some art from what the earth provides. Be involved!”
Llano Earth Art Fest (LEAF) and World Rock Stacking Championship celebrates its Fifth Annual celebration Friday through Monday, March 15-18, in Grenwelge Park in Llano.
Friday, March 15: Noon to 11 p.m.
Saturday, March 16: 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Sunday, March 17: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Monday, March 18: (Free Day), 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
LEAF Tickets are $15 in advance or $20 at the gate, good for all weekend.
Admission includes all art, music, workshops, VW Show and rockstacking championship spectating.
Kids aged 15 and under are admitted for free, when accompanied by a parent.
Information, details, directions, tickets online at www.llanoearthartfest.org
Phil Houseal is a writer and owner of Full House PR, www.FullHousePR.com.
Contact him at email@example.com.