In August 2001, British artist Andy Goldsworthy completed Stone River, a 320-foot-long sculpture on the Stanford campus. Constructed of sandstone from university buildings destroyed in the 1906 and 1989 earthquakes, Stone River is the largest work of outdoor art at the university. It is made of more than 6,500 stones, including about 700 triangular coping stones weighing between 20 and 50 pounds each that top the sculpture. Each coping stone was individually shaped at a different angle to fit the wall precisely. The total weight of the piece is about 128 tons.
Stone River is set on about three acres of land at the northeast corner of Lomita Drive and Museum Way, across Lomita Way from the Cantor Arts Center.
It was Goldsworthy's vision to employ stone that had a relationship to the university. "I strive to make connections between what we call nature and what we call man-made," he said. "I hope that the sculpture will reside somewhere between a building and a quarry. It will bring together the stone's geological and social nature. Many of my stone sculptures incorporate previously worked stone. I like the relationship to the past life of a material – of one hand placed upon another."
Set in a trough in the earth, the sculpture gives the appearance of an archaeological excavation. Over time, the land around the work will return to its natural state and animals will settle into the site. The stone has traveled full circle: quarried initially for Stanford University buildings, it now returns to the earth in another form.
For more then two decades, Goldsworthy has created works of art from natural materials such as leaves, grass, branches, snow, ice and stone The works made from these natural materials interact in different ways with the environments from which they were made. As Goldsworthy noted, "Movement, change, light, growth and decay are the life-blood of nature, the energies that I try to tap through my work." To Goldsworthy, nothing is certain but change, "My sculpture can last for days or a few seconds – what is important to me is the experience of making. I leave all my work outside and often return to watch it decay." The artist was particularly pleased with Stone River and the changing appearance of the work as the sun shifts overhead during the course of the day.