Friday, September 25, 2009

Cob Bench takes shape

Our Cob Bench project at Evergreen Community Charter is taking form! Rains over the last week or 2 seriously interrupted our progress but little by little is it getting there. This week I worked with Tony on some final shaping. The above picture is the before work started on Thursday picture.
Here a detail of the foundation made of brick and urbanite with the cob seating area and the central "back rest".
Another shot of the bench before we began our final shaping work. Sculpting. The idea is that the bench will be in the shape of a bee hive.. albeit a bit flattened to facilitate it's function as a back rest and to fit a maximum number of sitting kids. Built into the central core is an arched space with a wooden door to hold the garden journal that the kids will, as a community, keep notes on the garden (what's blooming, which birds, bees, animals, etc they see.. and other observations. There is a bird feeder nearby and the raised bed garden too. Pretty cool!
The sculpting consisted of adding and subtracting cob and rubbing and shaping with water. Slowly but surely it took shape as we worked.
The opening is guarded by Sammy the Snake, formed of cob, who is the keeper of the garden journal. After the plastering is done, some elements of the bench will be painted. Sammy will be more defined when he gets a paint job!

Next step is the process of plastering the cob structure. It will be an Earthen Plaster and will put a finishing coat over the entire bench. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Ritual Mud Face Painting

Once the cobbing had begun in earnest with Rebecca's Third Grade Class, Tony got out a bucket of clay... Wouldn't you know it, Rebecca was the first in line to get her face painted!
They both look pretty pleased with the painting, I'd say!
It wasn't long before the kids were lining up to be next! They seemed both surprised and delighted that an adult was painting on their faces with mud!
Most of the children left their "cob paint" on for the rest of the day.. A badge of honor of sorts!

There is something magical about about working with the primordial materials of clay, sand and water.. The magic certainly was not lost on these kids as they took their turn to work together to MAKE a special place at their school to share with the whole community. I find myself wondering what impact will this project have on their choices.. what ripples this experience will stir in their lives further down the road...
And then I find myself with the lyrics of a song spinning in my head and heart.. while we are not working with clay as potters (a role I have had in my life...with my BFA in Ceramic Arts) we are working with this magical stuff, this creative force...
The words of the "Potters Wheel" always bring on a huge response from my heart. I was first introduced to this powerful song at a concert by my friend Freyda Epstein. She sang this song on one of her albums... she is gone now.. but her voice, singing this song haunts me still.. it is how I remember her!
Potter's Wheel

Words and Music by Bill Danoff

The world is fast becoming younger;
The news is all they've ever known.
They've seen the wars, the hurt, the hunger.
How will they choose when they are grown?

What do you tell forever's children
When it's their turn to hurt and heal?
Whatever spins a grim tornado
Can also turn a potters wheel.

Take a little clay, Put it on a wheel
Get a little hint how God must feel.
Give a little turn, Listen to a spin,
Make it into the shape you want it in.

Tell with your life the bloody story,
Teach to their dreams, not burning steel.
It's not in bombs where lies the glory,
But in what's shattered on the field.

The potters wheel takes love and caring,
Skill and patience fast and slow.
The works it makes are easily broken,
Once they survive the potters throw.

Take a little clay, put it on a wheel;
Get a little hint how God must feel.
Give a little turn, listen to it spin;
Make it into the shape you want it in.

Some day some children will be digging
In some long forgotten ground.
And they'll find our civilization
Or what's left of it to be found.

They'll find the weapons of destruction.
But buried deeper in the hole,
They'll find a message and a promise,
In the sand, the potters bowl.

Take a little clay, put it on a wheel,
Get a little hint how God must feel.
Give a little turn, listen to a spin,
Make it into the shape you want it in.

Earth and fire and wind conspire,
With human hands, and love, and fire.

Take a little clay, put it on a wheel,
Get a little hint how God must feel.
Give a little turn, listen to a spin,
Make it into the shape you want it in.

The children we are growing in our Evergreen Community are amazing beings, they give me hope for our future!

Evergreen Cob - Day 2

Day two of our Mud Fest was a beautiful sunny day, not too hot.. real nice. We started off the morning with a Third Grade class... my daughter Rebecca's class. They got an introduction from Tony, removed their shoes, rolled up long pants to the knees and were grouped into teams and sent off to a tarp to await further instruction.
Sand and clay were dumped on each tarp and the kids got to work. I had the pleasure of working with a group of girls that included Rebecca... they were SO funny.. all squeamish and giggly and shrieky! But after getting their feet used to the new sensations.. they joined hands and made up a mud dance.. circling left and right while jumping up and down.. I wish I had had my camera handy to capture that moment! We also worked with the two 5th Grade classes that day.

The older kids got to get in the tub of clay and mix it up with water and feet..
No hesitation here! Lots of squeals though! When the sand and clay were mixed it was time to add straw.. "sprinkle the cheese on the pizza"..Says Tony... now make it all dirty! The Cob is flipped in tarp several times to bring the bottom up to the top and facilitate a more through mix.
Now that our cob is mixed and ready, Tony demonstrates how to form a cob ball to carry to the bench.
Everyone joins in the fun of adding cob to the bench structure.. Still hard to tell how it will really look when it is all finished.. I keep telling the kids it is a "work in progress"!

At the end of Day 2... after 5 classes have added their touch... here is what the bench looks like.

Hummm... wonder how it will be in the end! Stay tuned...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Evergreen Cob - Day 1

Last week we built the foundation for our cob bench project. We dug the shape of the foundation down 8 inches or so, then dug a drainage ditch and filled both with gravel. Then built up 2 courses of "urbanite". Urbanite is recycled scrap concrete.. it is beautiful in it's own way, each piece unique and rugged. The center part is more urbanite and gravel.. The kids will add their cob right onto this form.
We started to working with the kids yesterday at Evergreen on their cob bench project. What excitement! Mud Days are here.
Tarps are laid out and ready for the kids to arrive. Each tarp has a bucket of sand poured out and a bucket of very wet clay measured out and waiting to be dumped.
Straw is added after the clay and sand are mixed by foot. Funny to see how many kids don't want to get dirty.. You would think that they would not need much encouragement to jump in.. and most do.. jump in that is.. but a few were tentative and some would not even touch the stuff... FUNNY!
More pictures to come!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Next Chapter on My Cob Building Experiences

So it seems that I am learning to build a cob oven from the outside in! Funny how opportunity presents itself when you express an interest.
I took that Earthen Plaster Workshop last month and learned about the outer skin of these Earthen Ovens. It really got me excited. So I started searching for more information on the web. I found out that AB Tech is offering a Cob Building class this fall.. but it is on 4 Saturdays, and I have gigs on 3 of them so it would not make any sense to take the class this time around..
Well.. enter happenstance! My daughter's school has gotten a grant to build a cob bench and a straw-bale playhouse. I contacted the teacher in charge of the project and offered to help. They were delighted and put me in touch with Tony Beurskens, the builder.
Back to the oven.. I went out to the Pisgah View Peace Garden to spend a day working with Tony on a project at the garden. It was an Earthen Oven ready for it's outer layer of cob and middle layer of insulating perlite. So as you can see.. from the outside in...
Funny... we see something that we like.. and we see it from the outside.. closer examination brings us to the next layer and then the next and so on until eventually we uncover the "bones" of it. I like that I am getting the chance to work with different builders, at different locations, on different projects.. what a great way to see into this method of building with cob and get a nice well rounded experience!
Last week we built the foundation for the cob bench at Evergreen Community Charter School. It was a bunch of digging, moving gravel, and chunks of urbanite to create the foundation and base for the bench. This week the classes will each get a chance to build the bench. What an exciting experience this will be for the kids! I can't say that we ever did any projects like this when I was in school. I am really looking forward to working with the kids and watching the magic unfold for them.