This weekend I had a chance to attend a presentation entitled “Conversations in Clay” by Bill and Athena Steen of the Canelo Project. This happened in Silver City, New Mexico, and was part of a larger Clay Arts Festival.
I have followed the work of the Steens for nearly two decades, as they have promoted natural, sustainable building practices in many ways. The Canelo Project is a non-profit organization that they founded in 1989 with the theme of “connecting people, culture and nature.” The focal point of their work is handcrafting simple, small-scale and comfortable shelter that is built primarily with local and natural materials. They have evolved a unique straw bale and clay wall system that is finished with beautiful clay and lime plasters, sculptural wall carvings, earthen floors and clay ovens.
Many of the projects they have done were in Mexico, where they invited a whole village to participate in the construction. They pioneered the use of light straw-clay blocks for buildings that have more insulation than with traditional adobe blocks. These have the advantage of being much lighter and easier to carry and place on the wall; even children can do this.
You can read more about the wonderful work of the Steens at their website: www.caneloproject.com