Standing in front of the enormous stone structure, Montclair resident Larry Bloom observes, “It doesn’t have that much further to go.”
Driving on Park Street in Upper Montclair is a study in standard suburban architecture and landscaping. Green lawns, tidy picket fences, and the occasional handsome stone wall guarding the gates of some of Montclair’s prettiest houses. All in all, you will see some gorgeous real estate, but nothing that you would describe as a meditative piece of installation art.
But then you arrive at Bloom’s unique stone wall at 517 Park Street. Unlike a standard wall cast in concrete or bricks, soullessly slapped together with piles of mortar, Bloom’s 100 foot plus long wall is more akin to a living organism. The wall is comprised of thousands of variously sized stones, driftwood and seashells that Larry has hand stacked, re-stacked, shifted, tweaked, re-positioned and fussed over for almost a decade.
The stones that make up the wall have been collected from dozens of locations from all over the world, some acquired by Bloom himself, others given to him by friends and family. “There are stones here from all over, some from friends and neighbors. Many of the stones I can remember the particular people that gave them to me.”
Bloom can’t remember why he started building the wall in front of his house. When asked about its origins, he riffs on a line from the movie Field of Dreams and says a voice told him, “If you build it, and it will happen. …..but nobody specified what the ‘it’ is though,” Bloom chuckles.
Bloom, a psychiatrist and a clinical professor at Mount Sinai in Manhattan, does not describe himself as an amateur mason, and this is not a do-it-yourself project gone awry. Unlike most walls that are used to delineate a home’s property line or to keep kids or dogs inside the yard, Larry’s wall is intentionally a form of artistic expression. He uses his time on the wall as a way to meditate and to focus on something other than everyday life.
The father of three adult children, Bloom quipped, “A project like this isn’t major league creative work, but other than procreation and its massive followup, I had never created anything before.” “I consider it art….minor art….I don’t consider it great art”, Larry responded when asked about how to best classify his wall, “It is art in the sense that I approve of it as a piece of art. I believe anybody has the potential to do creative things.”
Three years ago, Bloom’s daughter tragically passed away from cancer. After a period of mourning, Bloom’s renewed work on the wall allowed him to process his loss and to begin to work to move forward with his life. ”Such a loss is inconsolable and is a lonely, terrible process. I look at working on [the wall] as a creative outlet that was very helpful to me while going through the pain of my daughter’s death.” He compares working on the wall to the mentally restorative nature gardening saying that it helps him “step out of space and time and get into a meditative flow.”
“I don’t really have a plan. I look where I am placing the rocks when I am working, but I feel like it is not really me doing it, but that my hands are being used.”
Bloom’s artistic endeavor isn’t limited to the exterior of his home. Entering his living room is an almost overwhelming experience due to the elaborate stone and mixed-media arrangement he has assembled in his living room. Hundreds of stones are arranged around Bloom’s fireplace, with some stones tucked into crevasses of the brick mantle. Photographs of family members adorn the top of the mantle, while Christmas lights, art work and other objects are arranged around the installation.
“When I sit in the living room and meditate, my whole field of vision is my creation. It is an experience of benign primary narcissism, where I am the creator of this world. I enjoy my creation, and I never see the same wall twice. Each time I look, another part gets my attention and I put myself in a state of contemplation in which I don’t allow my ego to direct my thoughts and just try and stay in the moment. Doing that can sometimes revive me.”
As the completion of the wall approaches, Bloom appears to be taking stock of his creation and its temporary nature despite its heft and sprawl. “I don’t see the wall being here in 20 or 30 years. I don’t use mortar, so sometimes I’ll work for hours and a stone will fall, causing a shock wave that knocks stones down a hundred feet away. I can work for hours and end up with more stones on the ground than when I started.” Bloom isn’t discouraged by these intrusions of gravity, instead he looks on the bright side and paraphrases Shakespeare by saying, “Ruined walls, when built again grow fairer than before and stronger.” “We are all works in progress and to go forward, we sometimes need to go backward.”
After a decade of working on the wall, Bloom is looking to focus his energy and time on a new endeavor — writing. After a lifetime of studying a wide swath of literature, including Shakespeare, Kierkegaard, philosophers and psychiatry texts (many of which he can quote at length, accurately, from the top of his head), he is setting his industrious mind and energy on the written word.
While discussing literature and philosophy and the limits of language on the ability to express emotions, Larry commented, “The interesting things in life really can’t be talked about but by the great poets and mystics.” Bloom is an admirer of the philosopher John Keats and Keats’ concept of negative capability. Citing Keats, Bloom sees the benefits of the ability to, “live in doubts, uncertainties and mysteries without an irritable reaching for answers or conclusions.”
The French poet Antoine De Saint-Expure said that “a rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.” In that same vein, Bloom’s wall ceases to just be a wall when you learn a bit about the man who built it. While some of us may be uncomfortable with the idea of somebody constructing a wall, which by its very nature can never actually be finished, abandoning that “irritable reaching for…a conclusion” could open your mind up to appreciating the staggering result of Bloom’s decade long art project.