In 2008, Michael Grab (Soc’07) and a friend casually gathered rocks from Boulder Creek and randomly stacked them to make sculptures. Within a few days, Grab found himself at it again.
“I fell in love with it,” he says.
Grab, who is originally from Canada, was drawn by the precision and concentration necessary to make rocks of varying shapes balance on each other and stay put. In time, the search for unique stones and the challenge of making interesting new formations became his form of meditation.
Now Grab creates stone art — he calls the projects stone balances — every day he can, even in the winter. Only forceful winds keep him away.
When he’s not traveling, he’s in Boulder Creek each afternoon for three to five hours. He feels each stone for a minimum of three contact points, the number typically necessary to get one rock to balance on another. When he finishes a new sculpture and emerges from a trance-like state of concentration, he’ll often look up to see a crowd of people watching him.
“A lot of people ask if it’s glued,” he says.
For a while, Grab worked in a shipping warehouse, which he found deeply unsatisfying. After he began posting photographs of his stone art to his website and social media channels and developed a wall calendar featuring his work, he attracted a large and growing pool of fans. Today he has more than 215,000 Facebook followers. His renown in Boulder led him to pursue ways to make money from his art.
Grab’s work has now taken him around the world. In 2012 he offered a stone balancing demonstration on a beach in Italy before an audience of about 600 or 700 people. He has offered shows at art festivals in Sweden and the Netherlands and, in early 2015, at a private party during the World Economic Forum in Switzerland. In 2014 he released a book, Gravity: Arts of Rock Balancing, in Japan. He’s now beginning to work on films of his spectacles.
“It’s a universal art form,” he says. “All you need are rocks and gravity.”
Some days Grab prefers to work in private. He’ll travel up Boulder Creek until he finds a quiet spot and falls into a rhythm: Search, feel, stack, repeat.
“When I’m by myself, I’ll experiment more,” he says.
Other times, his work is decidedly public. In late October, the chilly Boulder Creek flowed under a snow-dusted arch he constructed from hundreds of stones. In November, he hiked the Woods Quarry trail in Chautauqua Park and created a large orb of rocks in the span of six hours, the collective weight of the rocks balanced on a single stone.
Sometimes Grab’s balances topple mid-creation. Other times, they hold firm. For three days the orb stood, even after several inches of snow blanketed the top. Then he knocked it down, and hundreds of rocks lay crumped, ready for their next molding.
“It’s this constant dance with nature,” he says. “It’s always an unpredictable experience.”
Photos courtesy Michael Grab