Eiseley at SMU-in-Taos

Eiseley is a senior majoring in art history from St. Petersburg, Florida. She is helping restore the Catholic church of San Jose de Gracia in Las Trampas, New Mexico, this August at SMU-in-Taos as part of Professor Adam Herring’s course, Art and Architecture of Hispanic New Mexico.

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Day 1 in Las Trampas: Hard work

I don’t think that any of us expected to work as strenuously as we did today. When we arrived at San Jose de Gracia at 8:30 am, we met our supervisors: Mr. Martinez and Mr. Lopez. I’d say that these two older gentlemen were skeptical of our commitment and ability at first. Nonetheless, they put us to work right away.

After a brief tour of the church grounds and the stunning interior, our first task was deconstructing the outer perimeter wall, one adobe brick at a time. Over the years, rainfall caused the wall to bow out at the center. Many of the adobe bricks are crumbling.

Our group of 11 (plus Professor Herring) split up to perform varied tasks. Some took shovels, hammers and picks to the wall itself and loosened the mortar-like mud in between the bricks to disassemble one piece of a time. Once these bricks were free from the wall, we stacked them, by propping each brick up diagonally against a center pillar of stacked bricks. Then, bricks were stacked on top of these diagonal rows. This method allows the bricks to sit on the ground without becoming waterlogged and soggy after rainfall. It rains often during a New Mexico August. Since we’ve been here, it’s usually once a day.

Other students piled bales of hay into a chopper numerous times to end up with small and fine pieces of hay. Hay is an essential ingredient in traditional adobe mud. Another ingredient, of course, is a combination of sand and clay. Before adding this, however, students shoveled a large pile of the essential adobe component into a sifter to remove gravel and debris. Mr. Lopez and Mr. Martinez then assisted some in mixing the dirt, water and hay in an industrial-sized churner.

I aided another student in restacking and mudding one shorter side of the wall, which was basically demolished when we arrived. This was my favorite part of our experience so far. We did everything with our hands in an all-inclusive team effort. While Sam and I globbed about an inch of mud on top of the cement base for the wall, other students handed the 35-pound adobe bricks to us. We placed our bricks half an inch apart and covered them with another inch of mud, while also cramming it into the crevices. Once we reached 4 layers of mud and brick, we stopped to allow our wall to dry for a day or so.

During our refreshing lunch break, we received a visit from Polly Summar of the Albuquerque Journal newspaper. Ms. Summar is a journalist for the Albuquerque’s Journal North Edition. She sat and chatted with Professor Herring while we ate and rested, and stayed to observe and converse for approximately an hour. She recommended that we look in the paper tomorrow to see our story. We were all very psyched to attract so much attention from the local and state community. Although, many of us feared the photos that the Journal‘s photographer shot. By 1 pm, dirt was an integral part of all us!

In addition, many members of the Cornerstone Community dropped in to observe our progress. They all seemed enthusiastic about our presence in Las Trampas, and encouraged us in our work. This morale-boosting was essential in getting through the first day, as the unshaded church courtyard became hotter and more humid as the hours passed.

We finished our day around 3 pm. Once we cleaned our trash (water bottles, etc.), we bid farewell to Mr. Lopez and Mr. Martinez, and climbed into the SMU van caked in mud and exhausted.

- Eiseley

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