Wineka column: Brick mason made home a laboratory for his art

  • Posted: Tuesday, June 25, 2013 12:06 a.m.
    UPDATED: Tuesday, June 25, 2013 12:07 a.m.
Brick mason John Grimes describes the work that went in the ornate brick and rock above the fireplace at his home in Salisbury.
Brick mason John Grimes describes the work that went in the ornate brick and rock above the fireplace at his home in Salisbury.

SALISBURY — Several years ago, John Grimes built a two-story addition to his home off Deer Road in eastern Rowan County.

The interior became a laboratory for Grimes’ creations, which are experiments with brick, rope and wall ties that often have a primitive feel to them.


He has incorporated his “art” into fireplaces, walls, moldings and valances — and that’s the one drawback. If he ever sells the house, he can’t take all this with him.

But Grimes, 50, says he’s not a material person anyway. He just tries to create something unique.

“I don’t even consider this mine,” he says.

The one thing you can’t help but ask him about is the addition’s interior fireplace. It seems part Aztec, part Egyptian, part Viking and all spiritual.

It’s even inspired partly by Biltmore in Asheville, Grimes says.

About 20-feet high, the fireplace flows upward into the second floor and features a “battle cross” at the top.

Grimes said he employed a “freehand” approach to the work — no lines or levels — and never depended on a drawing. “What I did was I thought of the opening,” he says, “and I tried to make things as difficult as possible.

“... This may not go down as the prettiest fireplace, but it’s one of the most different pieces in the world.”

A brick mason by trade, Grimes built the interesting fireplace years ago when the economy was good and things were booming, so it took him about 18 months, working on it in his spare time.

The type of battle cross he fashioned at the top is what ancient tribes, before Christ’s time, would take to collect the souls of the dead, he says.

“It’s a soul collector,” he adds. “That’s just my take on it.”

Grimes is often drawn to crosses. He made a divinity cross for the stairway wall leading to the second floor.

He also embedded a solar cross of brick and shale pieces in a wall outside, near the swimming pool.

Grimes marvels at something he realized after the solar cross was finished. It took 84 pieces to encircle it, and there were 84 pieces inside the circle.

Part of the upstairs to Grimes’ addition is a large practice area set aside for his son Chase’s band, “Skyfold.”

“This is my side, this is their side,” Grimes explains. “They’ve got that takeover mentality for sure.”

Grimes has started a brick dragon at the far end of the practice area, and he wants to wind its long body all the way down the outside wall at least 25 feet.

On his side of the upstairs, Grimes often lays out practice designs of his brick creations on the carpet.

“I do this all the time,” he says, looking at a couple of the ideas on the floor. “If I see it’s going nowhere, I’ll just clean it up.”

The walls hold pieces such as his brick portrait of Clyde, the well-known Salisbury artist and collector.

“Clyde couldn’t pick me out of a lineup,” Grimes says. Still, he has always admired the artist, and has even asked himself on certain pieces, “What would Clyde think?”

No, he doesn’t talk to the brick Clyde on his wall.

“I’m out there,” Grimes says, “but I’m not that far out there.”

In his creations, brick usually dominates, but Grimes also might incorporate U-clamps, wall ties, rope, Mason jars — anything he can trade for, barter for or pick up free.

“This material found me,” he says. “I didn’t buy any of the material. If I had to buy any of this, it never would have happened.”

Upstairs, Grimes has started a self-portrait in brick, and on the same wall, has fashioned a hot-air balloon out of brick and rope.

Elsewhere, he has made rope valances for the windows and a unique patio fireplace with a water feature at top and a flame-inspired design in the concrete piece at the bottom.

A screened-in room off the rustic, covered patio includes a wall covered entirely by brick wall ties, which Grimes pieced and glued into a colorful beach scene.

Grimes never considers any of his pieces finished, and he says he struggles with the materials he has to use sometimes.

“As soon as I get an idea, I jump on it,” Grimes says. “It takes a lot of troubleshooting.”

After high school, some odd jobs and a stint in the Air Force, Grimes learned basic masonry as a laborer for Marvin Bost. He became hardheaded after a couple of years and thought he could strike out on his own. Along the way, Grimes adds, he learned a lot of lessons.

Things for an independent brick mason were great when people had money to build, remodel and expand, but that time has passed.

“It’s the worst it’s ever been,” Grimes says.

So he has time for more ideas, more brick creations — things to add to his hardscape.

“It’s an outlet,” Grimes says.

And the wheels keep turning.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka@salisburypost.com.

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