by Joseph A. Taylor
Tile Heritage Foundation
As a kid I remember admiring the Baltimore Oriole’s nest, a comparatively large, gourd-shaped basket that hung obtrusively from a branch of what was probably an elm, high above the lane where I grew up. The beautiful pair of orange and black birds was rarely in attendance, but it was the structure of this precarious habitat that captured my imagination, how it hung so tenaciously through even the severest of summer storms.
Today I find myself equally transfixed by old clay buildings, the picturesque Native American pueblos of the Southwest and the various adobe dwellings of early Mexican and Spanish settlers in this area. From the California missions to what remains of our own Carillo Adobe, the oldest existing structure in our county of Sonoma, each building, handcrafted of indigenous materials, harmonizes with its surrounding environment.
An adobe is as much a sculpture as a shelter. The mud from which it is made is sensual to the touch, yet hard and largely impervious when dry. The surfaces are subtly textured; the angles are softened into curves. And, unlike so many of our imposing modern homes today, these buildings often blend in visually with the landscape they share. There is never a sense that the house was designed or built by an outsider; the maker is an integral part of the structure, most likely initially living there.
Although a number of these shelters have withstood the test of time, the few that remain require protection and deserve careful restoration. In addition to the wind and rain, the noise of contemporary life, in fact the vibrations of cars, trucks, trains and aircraft pose the gravest danger to these historic clay structures. May we be mindful.
As for our winged companions, the Orioles, though they must unwittingly avoid many environmental hazards of their own, at least they can rebuild year after year… at the same cost.
Handmade Tile Association
34 Thirteenth Avenue NE
Minneapolis, MN 55413