A Little Piece of Joes.

Shifting the space and spirit of a place through art and architecture.

Nikki Pike
Jun 3, 2014 · 17 min read

How it all Started | the email that came in | 11.21.2013

Hi Nikki,

I have a total “art crush” on you based on your steps towards artistic democracy — you’ve eloquently put into words how I feel about the creative process — being an artist — community centered approach…

Anyway — onwards from my gushing I would like to ask you for help.

I am working on a community project in Joes, CO (2 hours east of Denver on Highway 36) — a rural depopulating community with limited wellness and cultural opportunities. We are building a multi-use trail and xeriscaped sculpture garden. Thus far we have installed a 1/4 mile paved loop trail and painted a mural on the roadside bathroom. I have raised some money for local workforce development opps for teens to build benches for the area, trees, lighting and some landscaping.

What I would like your help on is — building an ‘earth ship’ wind barrier wall similar to your Moon Gate, incorporating seating, sculptural arches etc. into a wind block using cob, hay bales, bottles & mud etc.

I am picturing a workshop style building session where art / architecture students who want the experiential building opportunity work with Joes community members who also want to learn how to build this way work together at the trail site to build this wall. So far I have the funding to pay for supplies / food / shelter and possibly a small leadership stipend.

Thanks for your time and I look forward to hearing from you.


Maureen Hearty
metal transformed
www.mauxheartdesigns.com

——->this is the email that came in from mauxheart (mo’ heart) <———


Image for post
Image for post
aerial view of the site (that BIG arrow is the wind — yeah, like 70mph or more)

Design | Don’t Be Careful What You Wish For

In our months of planning and preparing, Maureen and I would play around, dream and envision how we thought our project could look and feel. Who knew these dreams would come true…


Day 1 | Lay of the Land

Here we are outside the Grassroots Community Center — The Prairie Walk. It’s real now. All the months of planning and designing. Today we set forth to build. And by build I mean use the labor of creation to build community — as we work together, we play together. We grow. Together.

Image for post
Image for post
special thanks to Shawn Hastings for preparing foundation trenches (yep, all the way to freeze line 18-34")

Day 1 | Sourcing Materials Locally

The idea behind cob building (mud or natural cement) is you can build your home from the ground you walk upon.


Image for post
Image for post
Arikaree River Sand

Day 1 | Use What You Have

What better way to start than by using that which would otherwise be discarded. The cement rubble gathered helped to clear out neighboring waste piles and keep material out of a landfill. Yep, one woman’s trash another woman’s treasure. Win — Win.


Image for post
Image for post

Day 1 | Build It and They Will Come

Maureen and I moved confidently ahead in the project not knowing whether the community would reject or accept us — whether they would share our dreams of building community and celebrating the land in this natural building process. In our first day, we got our answer.

Maureen and I joke “good thing we forgot the sledge hammer that first day”. With one phone call to Rich Meade to request a sledge hammer, our day unfolded with a fountain of gifts and visitors. Folks appeared — introduced themselves— and offered their time, knowledge, materials. Most of all, they brought along the best damned attitudes a couple of gals could ask for.


Image for post
Image for post
from left to right: Skip Mitchell, Dan Underwood, Ozone (dog), Rachelle Underwood, Kevin Felty, Maureen Hearty, Rich Meade

Day 2 | Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

If it’s community you’re trying to build, especially here where the population is on the decline, it’s important to directly funnel money into that community. Maureen hired and provided jobs for four young adults to assist in the construction of the cob wall. Special thanks to El Pomar Foundation and The Colorado Garden Foundation for the workforce development components.

Meet Our Foundation | Meet Our Team


Image for post
Image for post
(from left to right) Nikki Pike, Kayla Weaver, Aurora Rothbauer, Sophia Mendoza, Maureen Hearty (Dalton is missing here, stay tuned))

Day 2 | The Other Foundation

Takes a little more time and patience than tumbling cement and pouring into a fill. Piece by piece with jigsaw puzzle skills and balance beam acts, the looks of a sturdy foundation appeared.

Image for post
Image for post

Day 2 | Quietly Together

It felt as though we were a family of many years, quietly working on puzzle of a sky. Really, we shared tidbits of our lives with one another. Conversation and silence throughout the day, slowly we are coming to know each other. Together sharing in this ancient and natural building practice.

Image for post
Image for post
our hats are the design of the future, purchased, of course, at a choice thrift store in denver — the ARC, who knew? the underside is tweed

Day 2 | Foot Print Peeping Out

Slowly and intuitively we work to find the perfect curves of the foundation. If you look closely, you can see our three part structure starting to take form.

Image for post
Image for post
from left to right: Kayla Weaver, Maureen Hearty, Sophia Mendoza, Aurora Rothbauer

Day 2 | Glue

It’s called cob. An old English word translates to “lump”. Nothing much to it — cob is a mix of sand, clay and straw. Very similar to the cement we use today but not chemical mumbo jumbo. In the foundation, you leave the straw out and work the cob in between your foundation pieces.

Image for post
Image for post
sand from the Arikaree River, and clay in the bags behind
Image for post
Image for post
first mix by hand
Image for post
Image for post
then mix by feet
Image for post
Image for post
then flip the whole batch — we call this the burrito — repeat as necessary for consistent mix

Day 3 | Almost There

The foundation is almost set. Kevin Felty visits every day. Boy, were we happy to see him today: 90 degrees, sunscreen filled eyes and 30mph winds. He brought the Otter Pops. That brought the smiles.

Image for post
Image for post
otter pop cheers
Image for post
Image for post
same as bricks, really. first you mix your cob, then you ball it up — just like a snowball.
Image for post
Image for post
best friends — Sophia and Aurora
Image for post
Image for post
Sophia’s got this down.

Image for post
Image for post
meet Debb Behrendsen, visionary of The Prairie Walk

Day 4 | Moving on Up

Now we got it, foundation laid, and on with the cobbing. We lay it like bricks, only we don’t dry em out and they’re round. Ball it up and pack it in.

Image for post
Image for post
that’s Greg, Maureen’s Husband — navy hat | also Michael joined us today left front

Day 4 | Up Up and Away

Lookie there. Four days in and we already got something substantial. That’s gotta be 30" high. Architectural wind break — coming soon. Stay tuned.

Image for post
Image for post
did you meet Dalton yet? that’s him putting on his boots — also Rachelle and her son Dylan came around again, left and center — lovely folks.

Day 5 | Rainy Day

Sometimes, the weather just has a mind of its own. Can you believe it’s fifty degrees and raining? Well, that’s a little chilly for cob feet. No worries, we have other preparations to make. Like, catch up on the blog, social media stuff (like us on facebook: Grassroots Community Center), build the arch support, talk design.


Image for post
Image for post
We have a special guest in Joes this week to help with the build: Tom Dodds. once upon a time, Tom built an adobe house. here we are scavenging for wood to construct the arch support.

Day 5 | Repurposing

Keep your eyes open, you never know when you might need materials. Maureen and I saw this stash of pallets on the first day of the build when we were hunting for sand. Note to self, pallet source.

Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post

Day 5 | Gateway Prep

Next week, we will be building an archway over the sidewalk. As the cob wall raises up in height, we will place this structure on the side walk and pack the cob up over this support. When the mix completely dries, we will remove the support, and Viola! The gateway to the The Prairie Walk will appear.

Day 6 | Vision and Design

After the rainy days, we were ready to get cobbing again. With the form starting to take shape, we started the day brainstorming what the structure would finally become. We tossed around ideas about color, material (glass, found objects), overall shape and curvature. Inspiration is flowing in from the colors and layers of the sunset or sedimentary layers of the earth. We really hope to create a glass feature where light passes through the wall.

Image for post
Image for post
this is how we make blue prints with earth building

Day 6 | The Community

Lots of visitors in today. It’s clear there is a community of people here who care about one another and care about Joes. Each day we are elated by the number of visitors to the site, and just about everyone strips off there shoes, or packs a cob ball to contribute to this community build.

Image for post
Image for post
Andy, Tyler and Kylie stop in to learn about the build.
Image for post
Image for post
a natural born cobber, Tom Dodds.
Image for post
Image for post
Kylie has the sweetest sparkly boots in Colorado! Maureen and I are hoping to find a pair in our size! Miss Fashion Joes!
Image for post
Image for post
Karen stopped by after Bible study. Kayla and Josh are the youngest cobbers yet!

Day 6 | Fortress

Today we can see how our sculpture will unfold. The curves, the mass, the height all reveal what’s just up ahead. The group is feeling pretty proud now as our efforts are really showing through. We kept calling this wall our fortress. And it is, will be, a place to sit, to rest, protected from the wind. A place to share — to just be — a fortress for you and me.

Image for post
Image for post

Day 7 | Thinking Ahead

Last night, we started to prepare the lime plaster and putty for the finish. It is beautiful — imagine the whites that you see when you look at pictures of Greece. Here, Tom is finding the overall square footage so we can prepare enough plaster. We estimate ~ 375 square feet.

Image for post
Image for post

Day 7 | Cob Mob

Here’s the whole gang. We’re trying to come up with our team name. So far, we’ve got: Cob Mob or The Mud Stompers.

Image for post
Image for post
Cob Mob or Mud Stompers OR???

Day 7 | Yes, Everyone Can Cob

Karen and her grand children returned and made their own batch of cob. You should know, Josh, The Piston is a professional squisher. Kayla also appointed herself a professional today. Watch out construction industry — we have some up and coming VERY capable and independent youths…(that goes for you too Sophia, Aurora, Kayla, and Dalton).

Image for post
Image for post
guess who came back for a visit? swim suits and all. thanks Karen Josh and Kayla.
Image for post
Image for post

Day 8 | Cob Balls for a Penny!

You won’t want to miss the the Flea Market this Saturday. It’s your chance to get a cob ball for a penny. Yeah, we’re not really in it for the money…

Today was the day Maureen and I saw the community come out of the woodworks. It is totally incredible the folks that came to show their interest in the progress of our build — and lots of people jumped in!

Image for post
Image for post
this is Marti Dodds, Tom’s sister. she spent a lot of her life as an artist and landscape architect. she is a dear friend and mentor to me. feeling special her and charles took the time to stop by on their way out east.
Image for post
Image for post
the Mason Family showed up and took on cob like professionals!
Image for post
Image for post
this is Zara! she joined us for a full week. she is taking advantage of VPO. that is volunteer paid time off where her employer supports 40 hours of community service a year. Paid! Yahoo!!
Image for post
Image for post
Wayne joined us all day during the Flea Market. He is a force! he’s on the Grassroots Community Center board. Very knowledgeable about local earthen materials.
Image for post
Image for post
meet Vicki and Karla. Karla has brought support and has visited throughout the project.
Image for post
Image for post
Dylan Underwood came back to chip in. quite a change from setting the foundation on Day 1.
Image for post
Image for post
Rich Meade, President of the board at Grassroots. broke out the guitar. What a treat! (and that brought out the other board members.)
Image for post
Image for post
some of the board members in action: Shane Weaver, Lori Mitchell, Terri Pepper.
Image for post
Image for post
Saturday was a big day! check out how much work happens when the community comes together. Joes is an amazing. people and place.

War Memorial Dedication

A major part of the Grassroots Community Center this summer is the installation of a magnificent flag pole and surrounding sculptural features. This totem serves a commemoration for all those of have dedicated time to war efforts for our great country. Special thanks to the Heinrich Family.

Image for post
Image for post

Night 8 | And then Came the storm

Last night all of the windows on houses facing West across town shattered. We lost electricity and worked together to get boards up over Judy’s windows. The neighbors stopped by to check on Judy’s house. There’s a different sort of community here than in the city…

Image for post
storms a brewing
Image for post

Day 9 | Friends, Community, Collaboration

This week we have a huge support network joining us from Denver. Various friends, interested builders, artists, philosophers, professors, and architects will be joining us to participate in learning and building. We are very proud to host a group willing to bring their efforts and spirit to contribute to this project and show Joes that their community matters beyond the boundaries of their county.

Image for post
my dear friend Matthew came this week with his niece Dakota. she flew all the way from Florida to have a “service” vacation.
Image for post
who says you can’t have fun at work?
Image for post
Image for post
James Grabner flew in from Tennesee for the Black Black moto rally. he took his last day to come to Joes and cob! — and he brought my motorcycle! Yahoo!
Image for post
Image for post
Matt came along to visit his sweetheart, Zara. he works in Fort Collins as an engineer in river conservation.
Image for post
Image for post
the queen

Day 9 | Sand Castle

Well, if you need a break — why not build a sand throne and ROAR like a lion. Dakota brought the spirit of youth and play to remind us that nature has all the toys we need for happiness — don’t forget your imagination.

Day 9 | Glass is Half Full

With all the extra helpers, I’d say we’re half way there. Yahoo! From here on out, our work will show dramatic results each day. Very rewarding.

Image for post
Image for post
half way there!
Image for post
Image for post
Zara Brussel, she got the brawt! Yum!

Day 9 | After Hours

It’s not all about work. And you should know that a good job incorporates play. Here’s some of the characters and ongoings. What’s the recipe? Chatting, BBQ, Firepit, Whiskey, Smores. The usual.

Image for post
Image for post
Matthew Rowell, get your polo on!
Image for post
Dakota Rowell, expert camper.
Image for post
Image for post
Nikki Pike, preparing to tell ghost stories…
Image for post
Image for post
James Grabner, shish kabob guru and master of keeping it cool
Image for post
Greg Hill, humble host, author of East of Denver, and leader of awesome rock band: The Babysitters

Night 9 | Farm it Up

Well, those farm tools sure come in handy when you need to set up a bon fire. Seems to me Greg and Maureen have done this before.

Image for post
Image for post
fire pit delivery!
Image for post
Image for post
Ozone, Matt, and Maureen resident lumber jackers and pyromaniacs
Image for post
Image for post
there’s cob, and there’s cob. normally it’s rock n roll, but tonight — get your hip hop on
Image for post
Image for post
t-shirt design by Tyler Moody. “I Love Bruce Price”.

Day 10 | I Love Bruce Price

Once upon a time, Bruce Price, the Director for the Institute for Experimental Studies invited me to share the cob process to students. He funded the build. My installation class designed and built an incredible structure. Moon Gate inspired Maureen to bring cob to Joes. So, today, I am cobbing for Bruce Price. Special thanks to Alex Erskine, Joey Coniff, Dmitri Obergfell, Drew Englander, Stefan Herrera who designed and built Moon Gate five years ago.

Image for post
Moon Gate, 2009

Day 10 | Rainbow up Ahead

This week we brought the arch support. This is the moment we have all be waiting for! The framework will help us align the wall and eventually we will build up and over this structure joining the walls.

Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Andy takes us up and over…

Day 10 | Getting Dolled Up

With all the extra help and building moving along rapidly, time to step away, take a look, and start to do the final shaping. We want this baby to look good!

Day 10 | Keep on Truckin’

It’s amazing how everyday, we keep getting unexpected visitors. The local kiddos showed up and cobbed all morning. Parys is a real pro. You wouldn’t believe her hard work and great attitude! That’s Asher and Tucker. Power Fist!

Image for post
Image for post
Parys Asher and Tucker — natural born cobbers. (Maureen too!)
Image for post
Image for post
check out all this support: Sandy Ceas, Ron Zito, Zara Brussel, Eben Casperson

Day 11 | Visioning

Here the team is searching for the shape to come on our experimental wall. We are embedding glass to invite light to pass through the north wind break. A curve here. A curve there.

Image for post
Image for post
imagining the north windbreak
Image for post
Image for post
tape two jars together at the mouth — bury it. viola!
Image for post
Image for post
oh! and we wanted blue too.
Image for post
here we go!
Image for post
still cobbing, still shaping
Image for post
Image for post
meet Sandy Ceas. she is a dear friend, colleague, and mentor. she is also an incredible artist and humanitarian. look for yourself— http://www.sandrajeanceas.com/
Image for post
Ron Zito shaping. You should see his art: http://ronzito.com/ He’s all about the Eastern Plains, you won’t believe his paintings. great photos too.
Image for post
Papa! surprise visit!!

Day 11 | Found Objects — Found Treasures

You can see how Ozone plays a major role in organizing the treasures that will be featured over the archway as you walk South. Tucker is offering his plastic robot as Sandy and Maureen arrange how the objects will be featured. The objects have been collected and donated by local folks. It is important to us that the community understands — this build, this sculpture is for them!

Image for post
Image for post
did we mention Ozone is the Director?

Day 11 | Center Piece

David returns with a magnificent bell. Our found object alter is complete. Horse shoes, claw foot tub feet, hay hooks, transistors, eagle trophy, toy gun, antique brush — special thanks to Skip, Rich, Deb, David, Greg, Elden and Judy for contributing!

Image for post
Image for post
David contributes the center piece.
Image for post
Image for post
there’s our bell! check out all the cool treasures.
Image for post
Kayla and Maureen work to embed the objects into the arch gateway.

Day 12 | Visitors

Folks keep dropping by. Curiosity is our strategy to bring folks around. These folks were extremely inquisitive and spent some time learning about our project.

Image for post
Image for post
Alison, Ammon, Andrea, and Jacey share their experience working with cob
Image for post
Kim, Arlo, and Alison packing some cob balls!
Image for post
Image for post
Andrea Moore, artist and activist in from Denver! you can tell she’s a cob enthusiast by her shades. Check out her work at http://www.andreamoorearts.com/ her work with the Wayfaring Band is incredible — you have to see http://thewayfaringband.com/

Day 12 | Could it Be?

Here we are. Cannot believe we are almost at the end. The structure has taken shape, the hard work is written all over this wall in fingerprints, footprints, stories and laughter. Wow.

Image for post
Image for post
you can imagine what your house might look like if you built it by hand — a beautiful organic hand build sculpture. love the contrast of the poured sidewalk and the hand built cob gateway.

Day 12 | Sunlight Invitation

Admiring the contrast of earth and glass. Our experimental wall is developing its personality and beauty. Wow.

Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
spirit wall

Day 12 | Coming around the Bend

With our major building behind us, we feel major sense of accomplishment. Our hard work is visible and undeniable. We have physical and literal affirmation of what a people can build and create when they set their intention to it.

Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
super builders

Day 13 | Sex Appeal

With the glorious structure in place announcing its presence, time to make sure we are completely satisfied with the design. Time for making minor adjustments for the perfect personality to shine. We found our East edge a little droopy. And with a little lift — Boom!—We have our shark fin mohawk. Much better.

Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
this was the edge before.
Image for post
and after. (north side). much better!
Image for post
Image for post
our spiral tail needed an edge to match the mohawk.
Image for post
to protect the cob from rain, we cover it in lime plaster and lime puddy — just like Greece. besides its function, its gorgeous
Image for post
Image for post
time to remove the arch support. the local town folks still think it could collapse…
Image for post
Image for post
success!

Day 14 | Final Makeover.

Time to make sure all of our aesthetic choices are highlighted and extremely visible — to see the bigger picture. Oh! And let’s add color while we’re at it.

Image for post
Image for post
Dalton the archeologist. if we’re not careful, we’ll lose those objects in the lime finish.

Day 14 | Sediment Sunset

Color. At first we hesitated, but we know what white looks like from Moon Gate. Maureen lead — let’s take a risk and give this cob sculpture its own personality.

Image for post
Image for post
color mixing and design
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
bring on the color. (and oh! look at that shark fin mohawk. Yes!)

Day 14 | Finito

Now it stands. Our sculpture. Our architecture. Our community spirit — embedded in this glorious windbreak to serve the community of Joes for a long time to come.

Have a look, and take a walk around…

Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
testing out the spiral bench. job well done!
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch

Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore

Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store