Saturday, June 18, 2011

Mud Mural part 1

Around these parts, this time of year, seeing a bamboo construction might lead a person to think about waterfront tiki bars and other summer delights. On the grounds of the Boatworks in Belmar, it's a sign that we have begun this summer's community art project, a cob wall mud mural. Area artist Kat Heitman is leading the Belmar Arts Council and any interested volunteers and participants in using a very ancient building technique to create a contemporary artwork. It's a pretty big project, to be spread out over two weeks. Today we started the first part, building the basic structure of the wall.

The construction technique (which has been used for thousands of years) is sometimes called wattle and daub, combining upright wooden branches interwoven with flexible twigs, and then covered with a mud mixture. For our project, Kat decided to use locally grown bamboo as the wall's framework, with the slender shoots and leaves as the weaving material, as seen in the photos above and below.

Such walls are often built on foundations made from gathered stones. Here we substituted some cast concrete sculptures, broken remains from a previous community art project from several years ago. Our crew arranged these pieces at the base of the wall, both front and back.

Although the bulk of the surfacing will be done next week, securing this foundation called for us to make our first batch of cob, a mix of clay, sand, straw, and water. Buckets of sand and dirt high in clay were soaked with water, then dumped onto a tarp for mixing.

Using hands and feet, our volunteers worked the clay and sand mixture, bringing it to the proper consistency.

Next, straw was added. The sticky mud and tough straw combine to make a very strong building material.

Above, Kat does the "cob dance" on the mixture, further incorporating the straw and mud components of the cob. Below, the resulting mix is rolled in the tarp to complete the process.

With the cob ready to go, our volunteers lined up and passed balls of cob hand to hand from the mixing area to the bamboo wall.

The mud was packed on and around the concrete pieces, to create a kind of cement to hold the pieces together. When it dries, the result will be a strong foundation that will help support the mud coated wall above it.

By a little past noon, our crew had completed the day's work, and the resulting structure can be seen in the photo below.

A lot of great work was done today, but much more remains. Next Saturday, June 25, 2011, the whole wall will be coated with more of the cob mixture, and a mural created on the surface of the wall. The event will happen, rain or shine (we can put a tent canopy over the wall if we have to), beginning around 11:00 am and going until around 5:00 pm. Hot dogs and watermelon will be available from 1 to 3 pm, and we'll have live music through much of the afternoon. Kids are welcome to participate at any time, but the best time for younger children (ages 3 to 7) would be to drop by between 2 and 4 pm. Expect to get dirty, so wear some clothes suitable for mud. Come early, late, or anywhere in between, and be a part of this exciting project.

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