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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Mud, mud and more mud

Day 3: Today was a muddy one. We began under the blazing morning sun executing some standard gardening. The front entrance of the church was, as I noted before, a bit of a mess. The wall lining the entrance was drastically bowed out in the center; the earthen steps leading to the entrance were overgrown with weeds; and the adobe archway needed re-mudding.

Thus, we got on our hands and knees and yanked weeds out of the dirt, we hoed and we dug deep with our shovels to get to the roots of some trickier growth. We laughed at the fact that we were probably using the same tools as the original workers on the church here in Trampas. We had nothing but shovels and hoes – and luckily a basic aptitude for gardening.

After clearing a truckload of dirt from the front lawn space and finishing our gardening procedures, we stood back to realize that we did, in fact, make a great improvement in a short period of time. The adobe brick wall at the entrance was not yet rebuilt, and this will also make a significant aesthetic difference upon completion.

As we struggled to push dirt-filled wheelbarrows up a wobbly ramp and into the bed of the truck trailer at the onset of this task, we heard the distinctive clamor of heavy machinery on the nearby road into Trampas. A decently large Caterpillar front-end loader pulled into the parking lot of the church. Our group of mud-encrusted laborers dropped shovels one-by-one and stared at this miracle in both disbelief and relief – Until we realized that the driver mistakenly took a wrong turn, and simply used the church parking lot to make a U-turn. This was undoubtedly the letdown of the week.

Nonetheless, we regained momentum. We worked on the side stretch of wall parallel to the main road. Since we’d completed deconstruction, we embarked on Day 2 of restacking the adobe brick wall. This time, the entire class participated.

Fun with mud
Kelly, Sam and Kelsey started by covering the top layer of bricks in the adobe mud. We had a great deal of mud to work with, and the churner was in motion all day. Mr. Martinez posted up near the churner and instructed students to throw necessary ingredients into the mixture. Professor Herring did the bulk of brick lifting and moving.

By mid-afternoon, the entire class experienced the glory of sticking your hands into a wheelbarrow of warm mud. It’s liberating, I swear. Hayley and I experimented in mud ball throwing as well. Some batches of mud were better for this pastime than others. Kelly modeled her own adobe pottery. In fact, she made an adobe donut. Upon finishing, she placed it in the sun to dry until tomorrow.

Mr. Lopez and Mr. Martinez oversaw this collective effort and gave instruction only when necessary. They were impressed. I could tell.

Say Cheese – slowly
A gentleman approached the group in the late afternoon asking if he could shoot a photo of the group with a large format Civil War-era modeled camera. He is a photographer for NASA, and travels in New Mexico annually with his wife to take photographs of the architecture and landscape here. He posed the group and demanded that we stand perfectly still while he slowly shot four frames. The image that he saw through the viewfinder on the camera was upside-down and backwards, so as you may imagine, this whole process took some time! He promised to send a print to Professor Herring.

We also received copies of our very complimentary article in the Albuquerque Journal. We made the front page! The photo is an action shot of Stephanie throwing an adobe brick down from the wall. The article explained how Professor Herring became involved with Cornerstones, and quoted Sam, Sarah, Preston and Kelsey concerning their ideas and opinions about the project. The tone of the article is supportive and appreciative of our efforts. Professor Herring was pleased with the press coverage so far!

-Eiseley

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