canelo projectThere’s a rare and wonderful tribe of individuals practicing “natural plaster artistry” – raising the ancient skill of adobe building to new and even fantastical heights!

I learned the craft from Bill Steen at the Canelo Project (logo to the right) in southern Arizona, back in 2006, just before moving to Silver City.

And I hired Gavio [no last name] of Sebastopol, California, to help me implement a design in my home under renovation.  As soon as I began removing walls, I discovered my home had 9″ deep buttresses in every corner and every nine feet along the walls that had been hidden behind drywall.  These not only robbed my home of valuable space, but ruined the passive solar potential* of this home – unless I could find a way to incorporate those buttresses in my design.

The photo below shows part of a buttress sticking out from the corner, mostly hidden by the cream-colored drywall on the right, with the concrete wall painted green on the left.

tree beginningThis is Gavio, beginning the first adobe sculptural tree in my home.  Notice I’ve brought down electricity for my inspirational contribution – a lighted “moon” fixture.

tree branches 3I have no idea what he’s designing, so I hold my breath.  On the other hand, I’ve seen photos of his work, which I like very much, so I hope and pray.  I like very much the branch he’s installing that will cross in front of the moon!

He uses a variety of hardware to attach to the old concrete.

(The original green wall has been painted with a mix of Elmer’s Glue, sand, and water to help the future adobe stick to it.)

tree base 4

Here’s the base, where you can see we used all sorts of random scrap debris to hold things together, fill in the space so we don’t use more adobe than we need, and to have a rough surface to apply to.  We used scraps of chicken wire, hardware cloth, lumber, rope and more – whatever was around, rough-textured, and malleable.

tree mudded 5I’m still g0ing on faith here, as we begin adding “rough plaster” from the wheelbarrow. Looks rather ugly to me.

I’m still really not sure about this, but Gavio’s in charge.

tree mudded 6Still needing faith….

tree wall moonThen we make up a batch of “finish plaster” to finish the wall, and I still worry about that tree.

wall scupture unfin

We “finish plaster” the tree and it all begins to dry – back to ugly again!

tree sculpture

I’m unsure, but keep my feelings to myself.

office fin

We paint the wall and archway with alises – two paints we made with natural earth pigments, white clay, glass sand, mica, and wheat glue.  Then Gavio finishes the tree trunk with three different glazes made of earth pigments and milk casein.  Casein paints are more transparent than alises.

I love it!  Reminds me of a gnarly old oak in an ancient forest.


* Above, I mentioned that the drywall “ruined the passive solar potential” of my home, which might require some explanation.  When a passive solar home gains its heat in the winter daytime, it needs to store it to last through the night – which it does in its thermal mass.  Thermal mass is anything heavy, like adobe, brick, stone, and tile, which my home had plenty of, but which must not be buried beneath elements like drywall, which would keep the heat from being absorbed.  Therefore, the drywall had to go.  (And the exterior of the house had to be insulated, but that’s another story for another time.)