by Laura Fieselman
Trowels and leather work-gloves litter the scene. A few folks wearing overalls tack lathing to the exterior walls, their confident stances and the nail guns that hang from their belts proclaiming that they have done this a time or two. I help another group shove clumps of piedmont clay through a square screen built from hardware cloth. Several others focus on the lunchtime spread, the rest of us feigning indifference as steaming kettles and heaped baskets parade from the kitchen towards the picnic tables.
We are friends, family and neighbors gathered in rural Chatham County, NC to help one of our kin erect an adobe studio. It is barn raising without the barn. The day boasts all the other essential ingredients: members of a community convened in the name of getting something done; a fair bit of work, hard work, that cannot be done alone; children afoot, muddy and deconstructing the sand pile; party-worthy portions of food and drink; and a general sense of merriment that accompanies our dedication to the task at hand.
Adobe building is an under-explored art in the Southeast, attractive because it transforms an abundant on-site material, clay, into a basic building. This plaster party, as the day is called, is, however, deep into an exploration: the bones of the quirky two-story studio are intact and hundreds of buckets of clay have already been sifted, mixed and applied to the building. The earth that we sift at this party goes directly into a cement mixer with the right ratios of sand, lime and water and is plastered onto the walls before the sun reaches midday.
As anything edible always does, lunchtime captures my attention. How does a plaster party hostess feed 21st century Carolina barn raisers? The answer calls to mind the spread of an Edna Lewis Sunday Revival Dinner with a global influence: there are black beans, brown rice, corn bread, sour cream, grated cheddar, chopped cilantro, a salad sized for thirty, chocolate chip cookies, and teas–not just any teas, but holy basil chrysanthemum rose tea in a pickle jar and caffeine-free watermelon mint iced tea. The deep cast iron of the hot dishes easily lures us from our workstations. We mound nourishment onto our plates and sit in a haphazard circle atop coolers, upturned crates, and disintegrating lawn chairs. The bounty of the salad confirms the success of this season’s garden with mustards, chard, lettuces, parsley and unlikely sage leaves vying for recognition. Cookies in hand, we settle in for a bit of postprandial story swapping.
At last a fresh pail of ice snuggled with microbrews convinces us, ironically, to carry on with our work. We stash our bottles at our workstations and in our deep overall pockets, the bottles fuel for an afternoon of more literal mud slinging. We are rewarded at the end of the day with hot coffee, little cornbread PB&J sandwiches, and a plastered studio. Next step: painting. But that is for another day.