You probably won’t find Lew French at the beach, but if you do, chances are he will be looking for stones and driftwood to add to his enormous stockpiles on the Island.

“I don’t like the ocean that much,” said Mr. French, a renowned stonemason and designer who moved to the Vineyard about 30 years ago. “The only way I can go is if I’m walking, collecting, looking. I can stand about 40 minutes of it. I need to have a purpose.”

Mr. French grew up around farms and rivers in Minnesota and considers himself more of a “mountain and woods” person, although he still considers the Vineyard to be the foundation of his work.

His new book, Sticks and Stones, a collaboration with Island photographer Alison Shaw, catalogs much of his work over the last 10 years: fireplaces, walls, landscapes, and his second home in Brazil. A Chilmark patio may bring to mind Stonehenge, a Japanese garden and regional geology all at once. His work evokes glacial time and moves in sync with the processes that created the raw materials.

Mr. French moved the the Vineyard 30 years ago. — Jeanna Shepard

“I try to alter it as little as possible,” he said, contemplating an enormous millstone dappled in lichen outside a modern farmhouse in Chilmark. The furrowed stone was just one element in a large patio made from irregular slabs and smaller stones in between. A few yards away, another stone structure that enclosed a Weber grill doubles as a modern sculpture.

As with all of his work, the scene invites you to slow down and appreciate the natural surroundings.

One of the first things you see when entering the house is a large recessed panel above a fireplace — one of Mr. French’s driftwood and stone sculptures that seem to flow like water in a stream. Each element was meticulously chosen and fitted together with the others, forming a tight puzzle but creating a sense of movement and harmony. A strip of smooth pebbles in the middle provides a faint impression of a stone hearth.

“If you feel an energy to my work, or a power to my work, it’s because I try to leave the stone natural,” Mr. French said. “How am I going to improve on nature?” He may round an edge here and there, he added, but the objects themselves often guide the design.

His 40-year career has attracted a number of imitators who often alter their stones to their liking. “That’s okay,” Mr. French said in his soft but sure way. “But I know it diminishes what you experience and what you see and what you feel. The power is in leaving it alone and the power is in combining.”

Although he doesn't like the ocean, Mr. French spends days combing the beach for driftwood. — Jeanna Shepard

It took him three months to create the panel above the fireplace, not including the collection of materials. Larger projects may last a year or more. But for the most part his clients appreciate the process and leave the artist to his work.

“I really need to get to know my clients,” Mr. French said, noting that trust plays a big role in the process. “And then at some point, you are just doing what your instincts tell you to do.”

He counts pre-Christian European structures and Japanese landscape as among his influences, although the Vineyard community and ancient landscape have left perhaps the deepest impressions. “I totally believe in fate, and it was just this incredible good fortune and luck for me to end up here,” he said.

His recent work includes a reconstructed natural landscape in the Adirondacks, where he felt he was truly in his element. For more than a year, he lived in a former ski resort, directing a crew of up to 15 who hauled boulders up the mountain and exposed the cascading bedrock. A system of trails now extends through the woods, where he added boulders, ferns, logs and half a football field’s worth of moss. It was a stonemason’s dream, he said, with unlimited choices and free reign over the mountaintop.

“If you look at this place now, people don’t even know what you did because it just looks like nature,” he said.

Another project, in Boston, reveals his love of Japanese landscape, with flowing water and large stones in precise arrangement. It includes three well covers (large slabs with a hole in the middle) arranged on end or lying flat in a raised long tank of water. A second phase of the project never materialized, although one of those well covers now helps enclose an outdoor shower at the Chilmark home.

Mr. French and Ms. Shaw will attend a book signing at the Vineyard Artisans Fair at the Agricultural Hall on Saturday, Sept. 3, from 2 to 5 p.m. — Jeanna Shepard

Since his 2005 book, Stone by Design (also with Ms. Shaw), Mr. French has found himself experimenting more, doing more landscapes and enjoying a greater confidence that comes with experience. During that period, he also completed his house in Brazil, which includes stone and adobe walls, a traditional wood cookstove and a number of stone and wood sculptures. A series of nine-foot doorways open out onto the tropical landscape, with tall waterfalls and lush rainforest nestled in a valley. His outings to Brazil are at once a getaway and a deeper immersion into his work.

Mr. French finds meaning in all of his work, although the lines between symbolism, spirituality and aesthetics are often crossed. “It’s hard to explain,” he said. “I like to think that if you are in the right place when you are doing your work, it’s spiritual, it’s symbolic, whether you take credit for it or not — which you shouldn’t. I do strongly believe in a higher power. There is something that’s driving our lives. And if you can take your ego out of it and the I-hood, then the power comes through.”

Back outside, he moved between massive granite stones from Maine into the small courtyard with an outdoor shower. The early evening sunlight brought out the texture in the warm stone walls and a wavy wooden fence. Moving through a Lew French creation is the only way to experience it fully, and each one is designed for repeated visits.

“I try to build spaces that I feel comfortable in,” he said, surrounded by his recent creation. “It’s about heights, it’s about distance, it’s about all these different elements — some that you can explain and some that are just intuitive and you don’t question.”

Lew French and Alison Shaw will attend a book signing this Saturday, Sept. 3, from 2 to 5 p.m. as part of the Vineyard Artisans Festival at the Agricultural Hall in West Tisbury. For information, visit or