How often have you skipped a stone or dumped a rock from your shoe without thinking any more of the pebble in question? Beyond studying them in earth science or maybe using a painted stone as a paperweight, most people don’t ponder rocks all that much.
Tyler Borchert isn’t most people.
The artist behind Stonestyling, Borchert uses found sticks and stones to craft eye-catching sculptures in the Hudson Valley. It’s something that began as a hobby nearly 10 years ago and has slowly morphed into a part-time business and full-time passion
“The whole downtown thing started it,” says Borchert, explaining that the revitalization in Kingston was his impetus to get out and create along the Hudson River. “For nine years every Sunday or every other Sunday I was building sculptures from sticks and stones.”
As longtime Kingston residents can attest, Borchert’s sculptures are a regular presence in the city’s riverside landscape. For years, they could often be seen along the walkway between Mariner’s Harbor and Ship to Shore near the Hudson River. More recently, Borchert’s Teardrop sculpture popped up repeatedly on Instagram, thanks in part to its unusual open design and its prominent location by the waterfront. The piece took him about two weeks to build from stones he sourced responsibly throughout the Hudson Valley and required a close watch of the daily tide schedules so as to create no disruptions in his work.
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The 2019 Teardrop is actually the sculpture’s third incarnation. Because Borchert’s sculptures stand on their own in public settings, they’re regularly knocked down.
“It’s just part of the process,” he says, adding that the cycle of building up and knocking down is part of what attracted him to his unique creative style in the first place.
“I saw some stones and started to stack them,” he recalls of the first impromptu sculpture he made in 2010. When he returned his project the next day, however, he noticed the rocks had been forcibly toppled down. He built them back up, only to have them knocked down all over again.
This happened for five or six years.
Of course, building sculptures along the Hudson wasn’t all Borchert was up to at the time. A self-taught builder, Borchert assisted with barn renovations throughout the Hudson Valley. Along with constructing the barn-to-house structures, he also began building waterfalls and stone landscapes as part of the properties. Now, he serves as a groundskeeper for a handful of homes in the region.
About four years after Borchert’s initial foray into stone work, he launched Stonestyling, his stone sculpture business. Through it, he designs and builds everything from smaller pieces like lamps and candle holders to large statement fixtures for businesses and households. He only uses materials that are as organic and toxin-free as possible and sources in accordance with environmental protection laws so as not to infringe upon the beauty of the Hudson Valley landscape. In addition, he regularly crafts pop-up designs throughout the region, preferring to build in unexpected places like near waterfalls and in quiet alcoves.
One of his most notable works, The Stairway, was first built in one of the most unlikely places of all: the Hudson River. It was located in Kingston, in the same place that the 2019 Teardrop stands, and attracted so much attention that Northern Dutchess Hospital eventually acquired it through the O+ Festivals “Medicine of Art” programming. Nowadays, it lives at the Rhinebeck hospital for all to see.
Although sticks and stones are his materials of choice, Borchert has tried his hand with other objects as well. Right after completing The Stairway, he received a commission to refurbish a 550-gallon oil tank. After discussing possibilities with the owner, he transformed the tank into a functional cow to store firewood for her house. With a head made from two 1940s milk jugs, a body that incorporated hydraulic struts from a VW bus, and eyes and nostrils designed to light up at night, the cow was a masterpiece of found art. It took him a year to complete, and he only signed off on it when he felt every single detail was perfect.
“I tell my clients, if you’re going to hire me, I’ll build it until I feel it’s done,” he says.
So what is it about stonework that appeals to him?
“Once I find the center of balance and the friction of two stones,” he begins, “they’re like magnets. That feeling of that energy is almost like a drug now.”
Just as Borchert loves the grounding energy within the stones themselves, he also appreciates the connection they establish with nature. As a strong proponent for environmental protection, hesees his art as a means of fostering conversations about nature and its preservation.
“One of my biggest things with my art is to raise people’s awareness of the environment and the protection of it,” he explains. “I never take anything from embankments or the side of walls. I make sure I scavenge.”
Looking ahead, he plans to continue building and rebuilding his creations in the Hudson Valley. He has a quiet, word-of-mouth studio in Kingston that he hopes to eventually use to host a multi-media exhibit to showcase his works. Until then, he looks forward to inviting local artists and musicians for casual afternoon gatherings in the warmer months. And he’ll always make trips down to the river to build, stack, and craft as only a stone sculptor can.