Next meeting:
Natural Building Legends in Brattleboro, 9/1/06

This is thrilling—

Matts Myhrman and Judy Knox have agreed to come and chat with the Brattleboro Area Natural-building Group on Friday, September 1, at room 2E in the Marlboro Tech Center (next to the museum, kitty-corner from the co-op). That's THIS Friday, on Labor Day weekend. Last minute excitement!

Judy Knox and Matts Myhrman are among the most honored and respected founders of the strawbale resurgence, tirelessly spearheading the worldwide grassroots revival from its beginning in the late '80s. They are the co-founders and publishers emeritus of The Last Straw—the quarterly journal of strawbale construction and natural building, in publication since 1993. Matts is also co-author of the classic book Build It With Bales (out of print and going for $50 - $75 a pop at online used-book websites these days, making it quite collectible as well). They have given hundreds of workshops and presentations, inspiring countless people toward saner, more sustainable, and kinder ways of thinking and doing. A direct line can be traced from nearly every strawbale house built over last 18 years to their empowering work for the commons. For more info about Judy and Matts, see

This is a rare opportunity to hang with a couple of bona fide natural building legends. Considering the last-minute announcement and the holiday weekend, it's likely to be an intimate turnout... lucky for those who can make it!

7 pm on Friday, September 1st, in room 2 East of the Marlboro Tech Center—on the edge of downtown Brattleboro (next to the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center, which is across the street from the co-op). The door will be open shortly before 7, but locks automatically shortly before 8. There's a big, free parking lot there.

The program will last a couple hours, and will include Q&A. A freewill donation will be taken to help cover Matts and Judy's travel expenses and to thank them for coming to see us.

Here's a poster.

Another legend of natural building, Bill Steen, posted some gorgeous photos at the Canelo Project website. They're linked inside the following equally gorgeous note that he sent to a couple of the strawbale email lists I'm on. (When you get to the webpage, I'd recommend downloading the fairly large pdf slideshow—it's worth it.)
From: Athena & Bill Steen <>
Subject: Reflections on Summer Plastering - A short tale

I'm not sure if this is list material, but hey, it has to do with plastering and since SB buildings take a whole lot of plaster I thought I would share my experience working on Athena's sister's new gallery in New Mexico. The building was a four story adobe tower, granted it wasn't straw bale, but since the walls were so uneven the differences were minor.

There's been a lot of discussion about the about the advantages/disadvantages of applying plaster to SB walls either by hand or mechanically. I don't have an opinion either way as to one being better than the other, I think that each set of circumstances brings it's own solution depending upon timing, labor force, resources, etc.

In my/our case, being northern New Mexico, Athena's sister still living in Santa Clara Pueblo, lots of teenage kids available and mostly because we don't know any better or haven't ever done it differently - we mixed and applied all the plaster to the interior of this building by hand. Simply said, it's the way we love doing it. I guess the reason that I am sharing this here is that the whole event took on a character so different from the way things are increasingly done in the age we live. I suspect that what we did wasn't much different than the way things were done a hundred years ago in Northern New Mexico except that the trowels were of better quality. Anyhow, if it catches your interest, I put this out as a contrasting experience.

Our job during the months of June and July was for Athena and I to lead the plastering effort and in the process coordinate a group of all ages to get the building plastering in time for a gallery opening the middle of August. The ages of our crew ranged from 6 to 75 with a bunch of teenagers/early 20s types clustered in the middle. They ranged from moderate plastering skill levels to none at all. One of the great things about the mix of people was that it included Athena's extended family from the Pueblo, our three boys, college age interns and talented young girl from Mexico. You could sort of call it North American cultural mix of sorts.

One major task was to develop a mix and method of application that all could easily apply, wouldn't crack and give the gallery a unique and beautiful feel that was consistent with what Athena's sister Roxanne wanted and that was very northern New Mexican. Actually it would work anywhere, but it fit the place. What we tried to do was create walls that would make her sister's work stand out, make the place feel incredible and yet almost not be noticed. I think we were successful.

All the plasters were mixed on site from a combination of local clays with the exception of a lime plastered panel to be used for viewing slideshows and movies. I will say that if you haven't watched a movie on a curved lime plastered wall then add it to your list of things to do/make. There wasn't anything extra special about the mixes, basically a blend of local clays, a little sand and chopped straw. The important thing is that they were easy for all to handle, made a hard surface and didn't crack or dust. And I guess that I should add that the plasters were developed from two truck loads of clay soil and therefore we avoided having to pay some ridiculously expensive price for commercial clay plaster.

It was a monumental effort, the plaster was mixed by hand in plastic mixing tubs, the stairs hadn't been built so the plaster was moved to different rooms via pulleys, ladders and stairs in the end. The teenagers came in handy at this point. Tiny children played in the sand piles, those who didn't want or know how to plaster, mixed. The hours were long and hard, but clearly a good option when it comes to other forms of exercise.

The cost? Plastering isn't cheap, but even paying generous wages to the young kids, we came out slightly under the bid from a local plastering contractor and now that I look back at what the project took, he would have lost a bunch of money.

I guess that's enough said except that it was one of those special experiences that one never forgets and makes life a whole bunch richer. Like all hard undertakings, there were difficult moments, but I guess that's part of the richness of it all.

If you would like to see images of this process you can check into our website at: projects/tower gallery.html

Roxanne Swentzell, Athena Steen's sister, is internationally known for her clay sculptures and limited bronze editions. Her work is extensively exhibited in museums and galleries around the world. The gallery is a four story adobe tower built in the early 1990s, never finished and sat vacant til now. Roxanne and her husband Tim Star took on the task of finishing the tower and converting it into her gallery. It is located at the Poeh Center of Pojoaque Pueblo, New Mexico (eight miles north of Santa Fe) on the Taos/Espanola highway.


Athena & Bill Steen
The Canelo Project
HC1 Box 324
Canelo/Elgin, AZ 85611

Lime plastering is going on a little longer at Juliet and David's strawbale house. If you want in on it, check the mailing list archive for their contact info.

photos by Mark Piepkorn
and Sarah Machtey