Richard Harrison is self-described “hardscaper”

By Amanda Miller

A guy in flip-flops and board shorts is looking for a pump. He wants to hook up the fountain-and-fireplace combo in his Louisville backyard to show this reporter.

He’s lived and worked here for 25 years. It’s part of how he’s grown as an artist.

“I just started tinkering with this house, and I’ve been tinkering with it ever since,” says Richard Harrison, the self-described “hardscaper” who started a stonemasonry business and has made Boulder County backyards his showroom.

Harrison was interning in architecture when he felt like he was being “pigeonholed” as a draftsman. He realized the cubicle life was not for him.

He went to work for a stonemason—“I absolutely fell in love with a hammer and a chisel in that moment”—and he’s turned blank-canvas backyards into works of art ever since, putting in waterfalls and fire features, plus his first love—stone walls.

“There’s something magic to a man about building a stone wall,” he says.

Having ridden the wave of backyard water features about 15 years ago, the lifelong surfer is philosophical about it. “If you’re going to have a waterfall,” he says, “you’ve got to light it.”

And it must have a drain.

“It’s got an anatomy—it’s like a body.”

We navigate an artist-dad’s bygone fragments—a rusted-out dune buggy toy, a grounded quadcopter, a lot of suns made from saw blades—and load up for a tour of some of Harrison’s work.

Elaborate backyard features, such as backlit waterfalls, are the artist’s trademark. (photos courtesy Douglas Gritz Photography)

Building with Boulders

The 5-ton granite boulder in a backyard off West Cherry Street in Louisville is right where Harrison left it 20 years ago, flanking a fountain that looks like a spring trickling through a mountain cave, faced with what he calls a “formal sitting wall” of quartz flagstone and Colorado sandstone.

This yard started as an empty slope and is now a meandering retreat with mature trees.
Size is one of the secrets to building with boulders. “The larger the rocks are in the beginning, the prettier it is,” Harrison says. “Everything I do is heavy and labor-intensive.”

One of his favorite rocks to build with is sandstone from Masonville, Colo.

“It’s got a really nice, natural sand color. Maybe it’s the surfer in me, yet again.”
Across town in Lafayette’s Indian Peaks subdivision, an LED-lighted waterfall is the focal point of a 2-year-old, whole-backyard installation complete with a covered patio and putting green that Harrison built over a winter.

He’s relieved to see that another client in the neighborhood has been watering the plants on a back patio where he’s bridged a 4-foot drop-off with a turquoise-stuccoed, circular staircase that doubles as a fire pit and benches.

Metal Inspiration

Our destination is the rooftop bar at the Waterloo restaurant in downtown Louisville, where flames shoot out from the tuning pegs of a metal guitar sculpture.

Harrison’s work involves more welding nowadays, as this is the second fire guitar he’s made for a Waterloo location. Meanwhile, an 8-foot stainless-steel marlin is underway in his garage.

He gets new business by word-of-mouth. For the first time, he has a team working for him—his son and a friend.

Metal sculpture represents a new outcropping of his rock art, and a skill he could only learn with time.

“I let the piece tell me what it wants to do. I just listen and I pay attention,” he says. “I test a concept, let it develop and just turn it into something great.”

Previous articleMusa Starseed Explores Surviving Racism
Next articleDemystifying science and making it more accessible