Bushcraft weekend – spoons, baskets, fire! Sept 22/23

Sept 22/23: Learn basic bushcraft

Carve a spoon from greenwood, weave a cattail basket, make fire. Includes a wood-fired pizza potluck, and whatever other projects we can fit in around the evening fire.

Myron Cretney is a regular teacher and inspiration at primitive skills gatherings throughout the west. In addition to cattail and all the other things he knows how to do, Myron is really good at teaching friction fire with a hand-drill — he’ll help us light fires, and maybe make traps to catch some of the gophers eating our garden.

Kiko Denzer has spent decades teaching various crafts to kids and adults.…

Earth-Art: Maia’s Mud Mural

Earth Art in Oregon

Maia Fischler and friends made this mural on Maia’s house using local earth and powdered concrete tints mixed with waterglass. Maia said “I hadn’t planned to paint the brown areas but as time wet by the mud turned a pretty boring color so I decided to do it at the last minute. Sadly, [the masonry supply place] was closed for the weekend, so I went to Home Depot and got some liquid concrete tint, which wasn’t as nice. (You couldn’t control the consistency so it was pretty runny when mixed — a little less than 1 to 1 — with the waterglass.)

Beautiful work!…

Mud Mural at Colorado State University Pueblo, with Kiko Denzer

Maya Aviña teaches fine arts at CSU in Pueblo, Colorado. For about the past ten years, she’s been immersed in natural building, which she has also made into the focus of her research at the college. Last year, she invited me to come be an “artist in residence” and do a mural project. The challenge was to bring life into dead space: a bleak, harsh, hard-edged, institutional (college) courtyard of grey and yellow concrete pressed down by massive, overhanging soffit walls of more cast concrete. It looked (and felt) like a pen in a zoo designed so the animals below couldn’t hide from viewers on the high, overhanging walls.…

Tribal Genealogical Patterns: A Universal Language?

[download this pattern as an envelope design here]

’the folk has thus preserved, without understanding, the remains of old traditions that go back sometimes to the indeterminably distant past, to which we can only refer as “prehistoric”…’ Had the folk beliefs not indeed once been understood, we could not now speak of them as metaphysically intelligible, or explain the accuracy of their formulation.

Ananda Coomaraswamy, “The Nature of ‘Folklore’ & ‘Popular Art,’” Quarterly Journal of the Mythic Society, 27, Bangalore, 1936.


Carl Schuster, a little-known art historian, spent about thirty years of his working life wandering the world, often by foot, talking to traditional (or “primitive”) people in remote places, collecting and/or recording the things they made, or that their ancestors had made.…

School murals / the joys of mud

Murals offer a quick and dirty way to introduce a school to the joys of mud. Unlike play sculptures and benches, they require no foundation, minimal prep, and not much mud, either.

The typical approach to murals demands a narrative theme — on my first one, I suggested “creation and the four elements” (we were working with earth, air, fire (sun), and water, after all…).

It worked fine with the kids, who made something that looked much better than the industrial brick wall under it. Some parents got a bit worked up, but by the time I heard about it, a creative volunteer had welcomed them to teach an impromptu unit on comparative religion.…

Teaching with Mud, Sand, and Straw

Working with mud, sand, and straw is a way to teach geology, engineering, physics, history, drawing, composition, and design. It is also a way to teach social skills, like cooperation. But more important than just what it teaches is how it teaches:

Jon Young is a wilderness educator who takes kids into the woods, and teaches them to identify and track wildlife, among other things. He cites Microsoft research suggesting that tracks in the mud were an original source of writing, that alphabets are like birdprints, and that reading a set of tracks, from a brain science point of view, is the same as reading a bunch of symbols written on a page in ink.…

Low-Relief Mudwork

I cut these low-relief directly into wet mud smeared on sheetrock panels. After they are finished (and dry), I apply colored washes, which also make the surface more durable. Click on the thumbnail to see the entire image, uncropped. They range in size from about 16 x 24 inches to the big mural, which is about 8 x 20 feet. All were part of an installation/show at the Bush Barn Gallery in Salem, OR, in 2004. Note the wall made of temporary gallery wall panels that we assembled into a gateway, covered with cardboard, and then plastered with mud. The finger pattern was copied directly from a photograph of an actual African wall, in the book Butabu, about west African earthen building.…

Dig Your Hands in the Dirt: A Manual for Making Art out of Earth


As you might suspect, a book with this title features many photos of barefoot kids happily stomping in the mud. Mud huts and mud pies conjure up pictures of primitive peoples and childish pleasures. But then you realize that the kids aren’t in Africa, but in Washington DC, Chicago, Portland (Oregon), and Berlin. And they aren’t all kids!

Looking past the pictures of giddy, muddy fun, here is substantial and serious inspiration and practical lessons for artists, teachers, students, and designers, as well as builders interested in natural materials like adobe (and, more recently, it’s British counterpart, “cob.”)

The book begins with a color section of stunning murals based on traditional south African pattern design, a monumental labyrinth and sundial, a whole earthen park (in Berlin), large-scale sculpted benches and structures, model villages and even tiny bird-houses of mud sculpted on woven frames.…

more images of wooden sculpture

more images of sculpture: The reddish leaf pattern is one of a pair of relief pieces in earthen plaster, which were done to decorate side panels on one of the performance stages at the Kerrville folk festival in Kerrville, Texas. It was a shared project that came out of a decorative plasters workshop at the Texas Natural Building Colloquium — many folks took part, all drew up various ideas, and the group chose this pattern, which is one I’ve been working and re-working in various materials and various settings for several years. This is the biggest!

Wooden Sculpture

The tall cedar piece I just finished for a friend who had experimented with growing wheat; she asked for a vertical sculpture to fit a space in front of her house. All the grasses were just coming up when I started, so my model was a very early stage of growth when the first leaves are just unfurling. I started w/out drawings, which meant that when I needed a second look, the grasses had advanced to a completely different stage, and I had to work from memory and imagination. The piece of cedar was probably cut from an old snag by a local homesteader, sometime in the early 1900s, and split into a post that held up a barn.…