This dispatch is a marked departure from our normal fair; it can simply be described as a start towards a new level of intimacy we are willing to share online. We have been discussing this subject together all summer, deciding how to move forward with this project and just what we want to share publicly.
Over the last decade of social media use we have crafted a filter on what we share publicly because that space seems so fraught with danger. This new space here with these dispatches feels more intimate and safe and we feel it's important to establish a new way of sharing our world here. So, here it goes.
There are many things that don't need to be announced to the world, but some that we'd like to share within a closer circle. One such piece of our lives is the story of our past six summers and how many of our days have been filled with construction, demolition, cleaning, building and creating a space in the mountains to dwell.
We will step back and start at the beginning of this story.
Six years ago we stumbled upon a cabin foreclosure (unfathomably cheap) in the ponderosa and juniper forests an hour west of Taos. This home once belonged to a beloved Taosonian artist Dwane O'hagan. The property had been abandoned for a few years as Mr. O'hagan had no heirs and it took some time for the bank to sort out ownership.
There was plenty of time during the years of abandonment for the cap to blow off the stovepipe where a wood stove once sat and let all of the soot flow into the house with each rain. (We didn't even know there were wood floors until we started mopping and scraping) Plenty of time to let the pack rats and mice make a home of their own. Plenty of time to let the rain come and in the many-layered-hacked-together roof leak, sag, and rot the timbers. But the bones are good and the location is magical.
We overlooked the sheer mess of the abode and focused on the energy of the space: utterly peaceful and fully conducive to the creation of art which is exactly what we need. Jeannie has always dreamed of living in a cordwood home with a wood-burning cookstove. It was a far off dream of someday and maybe - until this cabin found us. It feels as though this house was guided to us so we could carry on the lighthearted and creative spirit of the place Dwane had infused his being into.
From what we've heard from extant neighbors the cordwood walls of this timber framed hippy-house were once covered floor-to-ceiling, inside and out with the art Dwane created. The remnants of this art were the porcupine walls (and ceiling) covered with nails of all shapes and sizes; tiny cut tacks, rusty bent framing nails, horseshoe nails and giant hand forged nails. With the help of visiting family, that first summer we pulled about 50 pounds of nails from the walls. (These are destined to become their own sculpture, but that story has yet to come to life.) Soon now we will begin filling the house with art we've created or collected to bring back the wonder which must once have been here.
In the beginning we just cleaned. Aside from the rodent nests and dirt, there was the soot. Every surface was covered in soot, not only from what must have been a poorly burning wood stove, but from Dwane's dementia fueled accidental indoor fires, the scars of which permanently mark the wood floors and walls.
Only now, after six years of work is it starting to feel cozy. Before this summer for the most part we've been camping, either in our van or in a tent, outside of the building as we work to make it livable. Each summer we take some time and bite off another task, first tearing out the old and replacing it anew in proper working order again.
This remodel has been an exercise in priorities. Which task is the most pressing, which project will make it more comfortable and livable? The first huge project that we tackled the first summer (2018) was the roof. About 3/4 of the roof was like stack of colanders consisting of 2 layers of disintegrated corrugated fiberglass roofing with 2-3 layers of Swiss-cheese-esq used and reused corrugated metal roofing on top of that. It all had to go. We re-framed, sheathed and roofed under the blazing Solstice New Mexico sun at 8,200 feet. (It probably would have been a better project for the fall. Hindsight.)
We then turned our attention to the creation of a kitchen as we had removed this whole core of the house in the initial cleaning phases. (The epicenter of the pack-rat nest was in the kitchen cabinets and adjoining bathroom area) We poured a concrete counter so as to have a place to cook. We also found an amazing wood stove on craigslist which we installed into the heart of the kitchen. We plumbed, shelved and built a pantry "bunker" safe from rodents and bugs.
We did not finish the kitchen by any means - we still are cooking on a camp stove, or the wood cook stove - but it is functional and our prioritized list drew our attention elsewhere.
This summer our goal has been to make the place rodent proof. New floors were laid in certain areas. Holes patched in others. Doors replaced or refurbished; windows too. Leaks filled and escape hatches plugged. We think we have been successful and in these first few days the results have been promising, but only time will tell if the little explorers are really stuck on the outside of the walls.
The initial low price of this property allows us to rebuild it creatively - we are not beholden to market values and bank appraisers. Much of what we have used to build it has been repurposed materials and throughout we are opting to create it beautifully but not conventionally. This freedom to explore our own whim is also something we cherish.
Last year we painted a large mural with Jeannie's brother on the north side of the building - you might guess we used our favorite fungi as the subject matter!
Jeannie set herself to the task to creating a stunning mosaic on three walls of the kitchen (and bathroom) - a project which spanned the last three summers and was only brought to completion three days ago as I write this. Many of the bits of tile used are from broken pieces of exquisite pottery made by a friend of ours. (Who isn't online, or we'd share her work, because it is amazing) The other tiles used are a menagerie of tiles collected over the years from Mexican talavera tiles, beloved broken dishware, found stones and crystals to cast off seconds from a stone tile-cutting place in Taos. This piece of art forms the centerpiece of this dwelling and infuses the spirit of the home with a warmth and love that affects anyone setting foot in this space.
As we bring ourselves ever closer to having the essentials of this building completed we are now able to look forward to the future where we focus on creating art both in the space and out of the space. This summers push of construction has got us over the hill of the pure building projects and made the space cozy and livable. Now we are able to focus on adding wonderful artistic flourishes to the building as well as setting up studio spaces and getting back to the creation of art.
We realize we are very privileged to own both this home and our place in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. We have never talked much about these places before and the massive projects they have been in our life, but we decided over the summer to begin to share more intimate and detailed portions of our life in this newsletter, because these physical places are living art and a foundational piece of our existence. We hope that in sharing this and stories to come that we will help inspire others to make alternative decisions as to how they structure their lives and go about living.
The long term goal of these home studios is not only for us to live and work in them but to share them with the world as artist residencies. We love these places we have created and hope to share them with artists from all over the world once they are complete. This future project will not be a money making enterprise, as so many residencies have become, but instead will be about inspiring ideas and sharing knowledge with fellow artists. We see them as yet another expression of our art practices, they are truly living pieces of art best experienced by living and creating in them for periods of time.
At the moment, though, this artist residency is just a dream to be realized after many more years of hard work. Today we set down that dream of the future to yet again check the list of plumbing fixtures we need and make the thousandth trip to the hardware store.