Jordan at SMU-in-Taos

Jordan is a senior from Atlanta studying cinema/television and music. He 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 4: A living church

We loaded into the van again on day four for yet another fieldtrip. At this point in time, I was convinced that I had enrolled in the best possible class for summer school. I couldn’t remember the last time I had gone on a fieldtrip for school.

That day, we headed to Ranchos de Taos church. It is an old adobe Spanish Mission church and is one of the most painted buildings in the world. Before going inside, we sat and observed, photographed and discussed the structural aspects and elements of the church.

While the front is a beautiful example of Spanish Mission architecture, it is the back of the church that is the subject of so many paintings. Void of doors and windows, the leaning and curved lines of the adobe walls provide a simple form of freeform shape against a big sky background. The image changes dramatically throughout the day and season just as the Taos Pueblo did.

The church is made of sun dried mud bricks with a layer of mud stucco. While this style of building is durable in sunshine, during the rainy season it suffers significantly. The annual mudding requires an army of volunteers who apply a new outer layer to the entire church. As we learned in class, the process of re-mudding the church gives a secondary theme to the art seen in the building; a religion that is constantly being built – a church as a living architecture dependent on members to continually maintain the physical, community and spiritual structure.

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