Defying gravity: Devola artist behind rocks

When 38-year-old artist Roger Mason first saw a series of cairns-gravity-defying rock pilings-while hiking as a child at Mt. Shasta in California, he knew some day he had to try the art for himself.

Splitting his time between a private artists’ retreat compound in Parkersburg and his home in Devola, the California native now has his very own gravity garden along the bank of the Devola Lock, an intricate sight that passersby might have a hard time not doing a double-take for.

A painter by trade and a meditator by lifestyle, Mason came forward after his rock cairns turned up as a local mystery about a month ago.

“It’s a medium of art called cairns, and they’re all over the world,” he said. “I watched a video of a guy doing it once, and he put it up in a matter of seconds, and I knew then I had to do it.”

Featuring towering rock spirals and bridge shapes that resemble what the lost City of Atlantis might look like if it were set alongside the river, Mason started the project over the winter after only just moving to the area in October.

“I was stuck here with car troubles in winter, and I have a hard time sitting still, and this helps my hyperactive behavior,” he said. “It’s a lot of twisting and turning, and eventually the rocks will fall into place.”

The concept is tied to the Fibonacci sequence, what Mason describes as “geometry in motion,” that allows spiral forms of rocks to properly balance and counter-balance weights to withstand the idea of gravity.

“Any time I’m in nature-kayaking, biking, running-if I see a stack of rocks, I’ll stop and do it,” Mason said.

The concept is also tied to meditation, as Mason explained that he chose the location and placement based on where the sun was shining in the winter, allowing him to become one with nature.

“It was the most intensely meditative experience I’ve ever had; very addictive and very empowering to hold a stone in an unnatural position, find its zero point, and suspend it to unstable equilibrium,” he said.

Though he also spends time building his cairn structures at Old Man’s Cave in Logan, Mason mostly works as a painter, and will soon have his work on exhibit in Thrive Cafe in Marietta within the next few weeks.

Mason took the occasional college-level art class and has been in the art profession for 18 years, but said the balanced rocks provide a whole different feeling than his more traditional work.

“(It’s) powerful stuff for sure, and it’s free, and anyone can do this in their yards or gardens,” he said.

Mason explained that the concept is passed through folklore with a relationship to the Dero, a race of beings that live below Mt. Shasta in the subterranean city of Telos, and was thought to be used for navigation.

Local archaeologist Wesley Clarke said though he is not too familiar with the concept, the art form is by no means isolated.

“We go up to Lake Eric for a week with family, and along the rocky shoreline, I’ve often seen those kinds of structure made of stone,” he said.

With the thick summer foliage, it can be difficult to see the garden from River Road in Devola, but for the passing kayaker, it would be hard to miss.

Clarke had a theory that the rock group Rush, which uses the cairns on its album covers and as one of its symbols, might have inspired some people to begin making them.

“It’s almost as if this guy is part of a bigger movement, though I don’t know how organized it is,” he said.

Mason said he is never sure how long his cairn structure will stay up, but is always willing to build more.

“Maybe, some day, someone will pass them and think they’re some sort of supernatural creation, which I would love,” Mason said.