Best solution for a large hearth in a cut-away colonial cabin - 1750's ?

To my favorite creatives on the internet....

I'm going to design and implement a 4' H x 5'W x2'D colonial hearth for a local museum's 1776 exhibit.

I've been wanting to do a vertical carve for years since finding Nathan's Vertical Artisan's site and so this may be the time I finally get to do so with someone else paying for the materials.

Looking for input from forum members; experts and DIY hobbyists alike.

Portable and Modular:

This has to be built off-site and moved on-site via pick-up truck and dolly so it will have to be modular, relatively lightweight and assembled on-site, and then disassembled and removed a few months later.

Looking for framing and lathe suggestions.

Looking for clever/simple techniques to build this in small sections that puzzle-fit together very well.

What kinds of simple but effective connectors would be good for such a project?

Technique and Materials:

Museum guests will not be touching this rock work but I would still want the finish to be durable and dent/chip resistant.

Avoiding the cost of a foam gun system or or even a sprayer for this, especially since it will be done in small, modular pieces. Hawk and trowel will suffice unless you have ideas as to the modular carve solution that would benefit significantly from a sprayer.

Would a traditional lightweight acrylic fortified mix-design with Styrofoam beads and poly fibers on an an old-school wood-frame. metal lath be good for this or should I be thinking about a carved Styrofoam block base(that requires the sprayer though right?).

I have watched the Moongate videos a few times which might be the best lightweight solution for something like this but I think that would be quite a bit more expensive for the respective kit and equipment. I would love to be wrong here so I hope someone can help me understand something I've missed there.

As much as I'd prefer to sculpt this from scratch, with deeply carved joints and large apparent boulders in the 1'x2'  range, would it be smarter, cheaper and lighter to just buy and glue light weight facade material from the local big box home supply store to thin plywood reinforced with battens? Would these materials be more expensive than doing a carve?


Looking at colonial reenactment pictures on the web and some research on colonial hearths of the 1700's, I see a great variety in size and building methods used.

Do any of you have handy knowledge of the specific type of rock that would have been used in the first thirteen colonies to build hearths? Could you point me to additional web-based or other sources for additional research? I'd much prefer to use authentic texture stamps for the respective type of stone but having good, high resolution pictures would be helpful for simulating those textures. Such images would be really helpful for correct coloration as well. Most museum guests will not know the difference but for the handful of geologists or folks out here in the Pacific North West who have seen actual colonial hearths back East, I'd like them to be impressed by the accuracy or at least my attempt at it.

I imagine some of you may actually have good resolution photos of actual colonial hearths for your own research so I would love it if you would consider sharing those with me, even for a nominal fee.

Looking forward to your creative thoughts and recommendations on the matter.

p.s. As this is a non-profit community museum and all of my time will be donated, any donated materials, texture stamps, tools or instructional material would be most appreciated and the museum would of course be delighted to include a statement of appreciation for the individuals and/or organizations who helped to fund or otherwise support the exhibit(s). I would also be happy to provide photos of such a recognition plaque with the exhibit for your use on your business website or elsewhere.


Kevin L. Collins

Museum Exhibit Artist

(408) 963-8937

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Hi Kevin, 

I'm probably one of the least experienced carvers on this site, but I'm wondering if you couldn't do a heavy plywood/lath substrait in sections, and then carve on top of that.  Depending on the final design, you could attach the sections together with metal bands and screws from the backside of the exhibit before sliding it in to place.  You'd just have to be conscious of where your sections meet when carving the stones -   I'm thinking of something very similar to the hidden drawers training that is on the VA Core training site.  You can search "concrete hidden drawers" on Youtube for some examples of what I'm talking about.  Good luck with it, and please post some pictures when you're done!  

Thanks Aaron!

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