Art Is…

 

The following essay is from the Introduction to Dig Your Hands in the Dirt:

“Art is…”

Art is many things, but here what I mean by “art” is that kind of experience by which humans learn.

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.…

the upside down fire

You can greatly improve how your oven performs by how you lay and manage the fire. Here’s how and why I build what Pat Manley calls “an upside down fire.” (Follow the link to an overlong video version). The first principle of fire requires applying to heat to fuel. When the fuel gets hot enough, it bursts into flame. But if you pile many pounds of wood on top of your kindling, it will take a long time before all your fuel can really start burning. Meanwhile, you’ll get a lot of smoke in your (and possibly your neighbors’) eyes, and you’ll lose a lot of fuel (all that smoke counts as unburnt fuel).…

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

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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.…

Two-tier yurt with Bill Coperthwaite

Here’s the lovely, two-tier yurt that Bill Coperthwaite helped us build in October of ’09. (And here are my followup explorations that adapted the design by going back to traditional sticks and basket as well as incorporating earthen plasters — simpler to build, and better performance and comfort in wetter climates.) 

It’s on the grounds of the Ancient Arts Center near Alsea, just a long leap over a couple of ridges, into the next drainage south of us (the Alsea River). We finished the woven willow and mud walls in May of ’09. If you want to come help, we’ll be having more workshops (see http://www.ancientartscenter.com for more info).…

A Work of Art: Rediscovering a Way of Working for Beauty

Stories and lessons learned about the hows and whys of living by a traditional understanding of art — not as object, but as activity, as a way of life. Included are essays about principles of design, measure, and proportion, as well as social and economic aspects of working as an artist — earning money, working for community, teaching, learning…. You can read it in it’s entirety below, and download it free or buy a paper copy ($20, full color, w/photos) through the bookstore. There’s also a forum at theworkofart.org.

The ideas aren’t new but, like seeds, they must be adapted to each environment, and they only live on if we plant, tend, harvest, and share them: We engage in the work of art when we fit our unique and individual selves into a whole life and landscape, into our communities, into our common stories.…

stix ‘n mud can make a hug

A new charter school in Corvallis commissioned this mud project as the initial step in creating an “outdoor classroom.” All 60 kids, K-5, participated in 2 days of playdough brainstorming and design, and six days of mud. Parents and neighbors contributed random prunings of willow, fruitwood, and forsythia that we wove into a rough hut; the mud came up out of a hole in the ground, and we ended up making a lovely cob bench and this “hug hut.” Â

The hut is intended to be temporary. It will probably “last” for at least one winter, but my hope is that teachers and parents will replace or augment academically defined “art curriculae” with a culture of creativity, where every year, individual students not only get to “express themselves” and “make things,” but where all the citizens of the school will share in re-making the school into a warm, inviting place to be and to learn—rather than the cold, factory-like institutions that we’ve inherited from industrialized systems thinking.…

Jumping bricks, or: inside out oven building

I built this oven for a local CSA farmstand restaurant (gathering together farm). We held a public workshop; folks came to make mud and learn and we built the basic oven in a weekend. BUT! (and this was my fault for not watching more closely), the dome came out a little flat. Usually, when it’s not quite right, I tell folks, “OK, time to tear down and rebuild.” This is a great way to conquer the fear of doing it wrong—

and it’s the only way to prove to folks the truth of my favorite oven-building adage: “the second time is easier and faster.” But I let myself be convinced that the dome was adequately curved.…

We The People vs The Western Diet

I just finished reading In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan. Part of my pleasure in reading it was remembering my grandmother, Evelyn Sayre Norton, and meals at her table — the eggs she fried in bacon grease, the lamb fat she savored, and the produce she brought back from local farmers for whom she saved and recycled her shopping bags — long before anyone would give you a nickel credit for such things. Eating this way, she lived into her 90s.

I also appreciated the methodical way in which Pollan justified choices I have made because, well, probably because I am happier eating with the memory of my grandmother — and her local farmer friends — than I am eating at the industrial cafeteria.…

waterglass for binding earthen surfaces & pigment

“Waterglass” for protection & paint Waterglass has become my preferred binder in places where it’s needed. The chemical name is sodium or potassium silicate. It’s an inert mineral compound similar to window glass, but under heat and pressure, it’s soluble in water. I beauty get it from a ceramic supplier for $9 a gallon. It’s clear, viscous, and pours like heavy cream. It dries into a clear, brittle substance cheap jerseys that crushes to a fine powder, wholesale mlb jerseys but it has significant binding power, and is used in some refractory cements, as well as numerous other industrial applications.

I’ve only discovered it in the past few years, so I’m still learning, but it has made murals possible in less protected areas where I might not have risked it before.…