LEAF rocked weekend on the Llano River

Frank Shubert/The Highlander

Last weekend thousands of people descended on Llano River to enjoy the Annual Llano Earth and Art Fest. Participants from around the world participated in the 2018 World Rock Stacking Championship. Arts, crafs and food booths and displays of rock balancing were available for viewing throughout the river bed. More images can be found in the album on The Highlander page on Facebook.

By Glynis Crawford Smith

The Highlander

Crowds estimated at more than 6,000 people flowed to the banks of the Llano River over the weekend for the fourth year of the World Rock Stacking Championship, the Llano Earth Art Fest—LEAF.

Last weekend, March 9-11, LEAF 2018 delivered arts, crafs and food booths as well as the competition and displays of rock balancing throughout the river bed and the river itself.

On Saturday, Belly dancing and the wild and wacky Fashion Circus took the music stage that saw 28 other performances over the three-day event. Downtown in Llano, attendees could re-visit their Volkswagen favorites at "Free Flow on the Llano," a juried vintage VW show.

The 32 seminars, designed to appeal to every age and interest, continued into the week, as late-comers made their way to the river to see the creations that remained on display.

What began as a local festival in 2014, it was billed as a national championship in 2016 and captured the international ranking when rock stackers from other countries began to take notice. More than 50 stackers entered the 2018 competition.

“The categories are Height, Balance, Arches and Artistic,” said Terry “Tex” Toler. Llano Main Street Manager. “Of course, all categories involve balance to achieve a standing stack, but in the Balance category the objective is to create those balances that seem to defy gravity—if not all belief.”

Balance competitors had only winners for 2018: Cade Largent of Fredericksburg, first place; James Craig Page of Dunbar, Scotland, founder of the European Stone Stacking Competition, Robert Santa of Fredericksburg, third.

In the Solo Height category, Pedro Duran of Arcos de la Frontera, Spain, won with a stack of 6 feet, 6.5 inches. Duran is also was winner of the European Stone Stacking Competition. Robert Santa of Fredericksburg, Texas was a close second, with a stack measuring 6 feet, 4.5 inches. Llano’s Ceto Desai took third with his 5-foot stack.

New categories were Team Height, Team Arches and Junior Height.

First Place Team Height winners were the team of William Larsen, Desai and Charley Jordan for an amazing stack topping out at 8 feet, 3 inches. Second, was the team of Terry Schroth and Rhonda Schneider with 7 feet, 7 inches, and third, was the 6-foot 7-inch stack by Santa and Josh Smith.

Contestants have only 10 minutes to build their stacks. Again this year, contestants experienced collapses late into the competition, so the tension and excitement of the competition is intense up until the time is called.

Junior Height winners were all Llano youth: Denton Machuga, first at 5 feet; Remington Hipp, second, at 2 feet, 9 inches, Corbin Hamm, third, at 2 feet 7 inches.

Solo Arches competition winners are Desai and Rich Houston of Llano, first and second respectively, and Duran, third.

“Team Arches might seem easier, with multiple hands helping, but proved to be as difficult, if not more, than a single builder,” said Toler. “First place was won by Rich Houston, Chris Tisdel of Kingsland and John Foster of Austin. Second place was Terry Schroth of Llano, Joe Ackerman and Carla Church of Winnipeg, Canada.”

The Quantity Competition resulted in a tie for first place between Llano’s Desai and Spain’s Duran. Second Place was Rocio Agar of Spain.

“Artistic is the most subjective and difficult of all of the competitions,” said Toler. “With international earth artists competing, the range and variety of earth art and rock installations, it is as fascinating and astounding as it is creative.

“Competitors may choose locations for their art installations anywhere in the park grounds, including the river, and may include any manner of found, natural objects, but must include stacked rocks in the creation. Llanoans, Texans, Americans and artists from around the world competed for the judges’ collective decisions, and this year was the toughest yet.”

First place Artistic was won by internationally-recognized earth artist James Brunt, of Wales, with his spiral rock design and balance on twigs. Second place was Jon Foreman with his tall rock spires and concentric circle patterns. Third place was Pennsylvanian Patrick Catalde’s balanced rock field, which covered boulders over a half acre of space in the Llano River rapids.”

Duran was making his debut at LEAF. Other featured foreign artists were James Brunt from Yorkshire, England, and Richard Schilling from Bolton Le Sands, Lancashire, U.K.

Slovenian land artist Miha Brinovec and Norm Ohlhausen from Midway, British Columbia, made their first appearances.

Among the home team (meaning Llano and Fredericksburg) were multiple championship-winner Desai, Lou Quallenberg, Debra Mastenbrook, Marcus Hammons, William Larsen, Katy Hodgkins and Robert “Rock-Man” Santa.

Californian Kathy Clarke may have been seeking native status with her fourth return. Michael Grab, a balance artist out of Boulder, Colo., was back, joined by returning artist Travis Williams of Madras, Oregon and first-timer Robert Bernal of Roseburg, Oregon. Barry Minor returned from Pleasanton, Ca. rounded out the west coast contingent.

Others from afar included Kai Drachenberg of Fayetteville, Ark.; Sterling Gregory, returning from Vandalia, Ohio; Tim Anderson of KeyStone Balance in Acme, Penn., and David Allen from Sebago Lake, Maine, artist in residence at Wells Reserve at Laudholm.

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