Above: barn door hardware comes in a wide variety of finishes and styles.
Montague County, Texas, horse ranch, by Architect, Stephen B. Chambers
If you’re building a new home or remodeling with the intent to sell your home, adding barn doors will bring a higher premium and your house will sell by as much as 60 days faster, according to a recent study by Zillow. Think of barn doors as sliding walls that add flexibility to otherwise inflexible spaces. Hinged doors require more space to operate, while barn doors sit almost flush with the wall, making them better suited to small and large spaces, alike. Functionally, a barn door acts as a partition between two rooms, such as a living room and kitchen connected by a cased opening. Here are some reasons they make a good choice:
Sliding barn doors take up less floor space than traditional doors, which makes them great for spaces that are limited on floor space.
Barn doors are very adaptable and are not limited to one style of architecture. Whether your home is rustic, modern, contemporary, or traditional there’s a barn door for you.
Modern design concepts are changing the way people use their homes, getting more flexible space options and unique design ideas from sliding barn door hardware collections, designs, and inspirations.
The sliding barn door offers a unique design feature that shows off your high-end style and increases the value of your home significantly.
Hardware and door options have increased in the years since barn doors became a popular addition to home decor. Explore all of your options to get the right look for your new home or renovation.
Installing a full-swing or pocket door requires a lot more construction knowledge than installing a barn door, so if you want to do the work yourself, barn doors are a better choice.
Barn doors have a powerful visual appeal, and can become a focal point, just like a piece of art.
Pocket doors have been the usual option in limited spaces, but pocket doors require a 2×6 wall to allow enough space for the door to slide inside the wall. So, if you are remodeling and you want to add a sliding door to a room that is built with 2×4 walls, barn doors are a great choice. As a general rule, barn doors don’t block sound, light or odors, because there is a small reveal between the door and the wall, so consider their placement carefully. If sound transmission is your top priority, most people will suggest using a full-swing, solid core door. At least one company makes acoustic barn doors which are intended for exam rooms, but can be—and have been—installed in homes, as well.
A few last words of advice: Be sure to purchase a door that will fit. In the homes we design, we specify barn doors that overlap openings by 2 inches on either side, so if the opening is 36 inches wide, we use a 40 inch wide door. Make sure you have enough wall space beside the door to accommodate a fully open door. Spend the extra money for heavy duty hardware, it will last longer, give you fewer problems and make a bigger statement. We specify hardware by Richards-Wilcox.
Fishing lodge on Lake Athens, Texas, by Architect, Stephen B. Chambers
Click HERE to see the entire Bosque County, Texas project.
Click HERE to see the entire Montague County, Texas project.
Click HERE to see the entire Lake Athens, Texas project.
Modern Barn Doors
53 Modern Sliding Barn Door Design Ideas - YouTube
LED lighting has become the green choice for homeowners. Prices are dropping and LED technology is improving rapidly. LED lamps have a longer lifespan, and are much more efficient than incandescent and fluorescent lighting. If you take into account the electricity savings and the numerous bulbs that you won’t have to change, you’ll see that LED lamps are the best option. Some manufacturers are experimenting with LEDs that can produce as much 300 lumens per watt, while an incandescent bulb produces only 14-17 lumens per watt. As of 2016, most LED lamps use about 10% of the energy required by incandescent lamps. Many LED lamps offer a 30,000 (or more) hour life, compared to the normal 1,000 hour life of a standard incandescent bulb, or the typical 8,000 hour life of a CFL lamp. Unlike CFL and fluorescent lighting, LEDs require no warm-up time and come to full brightness as soon as they are switched on, just like an incandescent bulb. In addition, LED lamp life is not reduced by switching on and off, as it is with CFL and fluorescent lamps. An LED by itself does not emit light in all directions, but when properly grouped in a lamp they can radiate light in a 360 degree angle, just like the incandescent lights we know and love.
How Light-Emitting Diodes Work (In Layman’s Terms)
The LED light bulbs we use in our homes today, are basically a series, or array, of light-emitting diodes assembled into a lamp. When configured for use in existing fixtures, standard shapes and connections are used, such as the familiar “Edison screw” base found on most incandescent lightbulbs. The same way many devices in our homes use DC voltage, like computers, LED bulbs convert incoming AC power to the required DC power, through a switched-mode power supply.
LEDs sound complex, but they’re no more complicated than an incandescent light. An LED is just a semiconductor light source. Specifically, a p-n junction diode, where p-type (positive) silicon touches n-type (negative) silicon. The p-type silicon contains extra electron holes, and the n-type silicon has extra electrons. An electron hole is the lack of an electron inside an atom or atom lattice (crystal structure) where an electron could exist, but does not. When voltage is applied, electrons recombine with electron holes inside the LED to release photons, or light particles, through the process of electroluminescence.
Because white light is needed for general purpose lighting, and LEDs do not emit white light without modification, various colors of light (RGB) must be mixed from multiple LEDs, or a phosphor coating can be applied to convert the light frequency from its original color to white. Most commonly, yellow phosphor is placed over a blue LED.
I dreamed there was an enormous web of beautiful fabric stretched out … covered all over with embroidered pictures. The pictures were illustrations of the myths of mankind but they were not just pictures, they were the myths themselves, so that the soft fabric was glittering and alive … time has gone and the whole history of man … is present in what I see now … the bright different colors of other parts of the world.
Doris Lessing The Golden Notebook
By Stephanie M. Chambers
Weaving, Quilting, and Embellishment as Non-Verbal Communication
Steve Chambers, Dallas residential architect, visited the Southwest China quilt exhibit at the Museum of International Folk Art (MoIFA) in Santa Fe to photograph the collection and interview Pam Najdowski, textile consultant and part of the acquisition team. Chambers Architects employs ethnographic textiles and objects of art in their interior design, so this was an excellent opportunity to learn about the techniques of quilt construction and standards the team used to select the top designs in this genre.
Weaving is acknowledged to be one of the oldest surviving crafts in the world and traces back to Neolithic times, about 12,000 years ago. Before the actual craft of weaving was highly developed, the basic principle of interlacing was employed to fashion branches and twigs into fences, shelters, and baskets for protection and utility.
Weaving and quilting, with the eventual addition of appliqué and embroidery, expressed the identity of the textile maker and commitment to and membership in a specific community. Women and men told stories through esoteric designs that encoded their vision of the world. The work of textile makers was essential for the survival of important elements of ancient culture. Stories of events, suffering, and oppression could hide between the ‘warp and weft,’ when writings were destroyed to subjugate the culture.
The choice of color, motif, embellishment, and process identify the craftsman and the tribe. The symbolism, developed in the culture over time, was a form of visual or pre-written storytelling that communicated the folklore, beliefs, history, politics, status, kinship and messaging. Creative symbolism through abstraction is a characteristic of all arts and crafts.
A young girl from the White Trouser Yao Minority, wears a traditional skirt with silk cocoon felt (in pink).
Quilts at the Museum of International Folk Art, Santa Fe
Whimsical fish in appliqué technique
Quilts of Southwest China opened at the Museum of International Folk Art (MoIFA) in Santa Fe in July 2017. It is the culmination of a three-year collaboration between three museums in the United States and three in China, spearheaded by the American and Chinese folklore societies and funded by the Henry Luce Foundation. Pam Najdowski, who owns the import company Textile Treasures, was a consultant for the project and helped to acquire many of the quilts on display. Chinese quilts have received little attention from scholars, collectors, or museums. The show is geared toward introducing the varied Chinese quilting traditions of Minority Peoples. Many quilts are from the collection at the Michigan State University Museum. Other pieces come from the Chinese museums and some are from MoIFA’s collection. The Quilts of the Southwest China show primarily includes the work of the Miao, Yao, Zhuang, Bouyei, Dai, Hui, and Maonan ethnic groups listed among the top twenty of the 56 minority people documented in the middle of the 20th century by the PRC.
Most of the quilts and textiles in the show are from the 20th century, but an area of the exhibit is dedicated to 21st-century quilts. As ethnic minority groups become exotic to China, a trend similar to the revival of Do-It-Yourself arts and crafts like knitting and quilting in the United States has popularized the fashion of ethnic minority groups throughout China.
Scholars, cultural practitioners, and local artists are beginning to document the art of quilt making. Museums can play a significant role to develop strategies to preserve the remaining historical textiles and the knowledge and skills of artists so that the tradition of making can continue and be passed down to future generations.
Who are the Minority Peoples of China?
Numbering over 1.3 billion, the Han Chinese are the world’s largest ethnic group and China’s largest native group. Ethnic minorities in China are the non-Han Chinese in the People’s Republic of China (PRC). China officially recognizes 56 ethnic minority groups, in addition to the Han majority. Though the Hans comprise 91% of the population, the smaller groups of Minority People are growing fast.
In mountainous terrain and isolated rural communities of Southwest China women practiced the craft of quilting well into the 20th century, making blankets, bedcovers, and baby slings. In these villages, traditional bed coverings, clothing, and household items have long been made from patched and appliqued scraps to create artistic and functional textiles. Populated by many ethnic minority groups, the countryside became easier to access as modernization took hold after the Communist government gained power in 1949, with the building of roads and factories. It also became more convenient for local people to buy mass-produced goods, and though the quilting tradition faded, it did not disappear. Women continued to make small, lovingly embellished baby carriers and small quilts for friends and family. The government’s new emphasis on preserving the cultural heritage of these groups has given life to their tourist economy of which these quilts have become an integral product.
Colorful hand-embroidered quilt
What is the difference between ethnographic art and folk art?
This quilt is a beautiful example of both appliqué and embroidery techniques
Ethnographic arts are artifacts, either utilitarian or aesthetic objects, over seventy-five years old. Folk arts are the traditions, whose use extended into current day arts and crafts. Many of the quilted pieces in the MoIFA Santa Fe show would be considered duvet covers in the American textile tradition, but like American quilts they are made from scraps of old clothing and other fabric. Chinese quilts are riotous with color, and the designs within the quilted squares contain many uneven thin and curving lines, whereas traditional American quilting is much more geometric and symmetrical.
Chinese minority quilts utilize symbols of protection, good fortune, fertility, or sometimes depict a folk tale or visual pun. Sea creatures, butterflies, and other flora and fauna populate the quilts. Imagery can be religious, with Buddhist, Islamic, or Christian symbolism, as well as iconography from many smaller faith traditions practiced by individual groups. Ethnic groups can be identified by their use of certain motifs, colors, or themes. Researchers are seeking information about whether techniques, colors, patterns, materials, and design motifs indicate a specific ethnic group or village aesthetic, what makes a beautiful quilt and who determines that standard, and whether the fabric or pattern can be used to determine the age of the quilt. A recurring element in the quilts is the resistance to symmetry. Often a pattern may appear uniform, but a closer look will reveal disruption in one corner with an unexpected color or a broken line.
Future of the Project
In the project’s first three years, researchers learned how to work with each other across cultures as well as across different informational and technological platforms. Another three-year grant has been secured and the project’s next steps will focus more intently in two communities in Guangxi Province.
Consultant and Adviser
Thank you to Pam Najdowski for her deep knowledge of the ethnic arts, culture, and geography of China’s Minority People. She owns the import company Textile Treasures and acquired many of the quilts for the Santa Fe MoIFA show. Pam lives in Santa Fe and has a booth at The Traveler’s Market at the DeVargas Center, where ethnographic and folk arts of Minority Peoples of China can be acquired.
Appliqué: the technique of layering down a series of small pieces of cut fabric to create a shape or image and fixed atop a solid bottom fabric with embroidery.
Embroidery: art of fabricating raised and ornamental designs in threads of silk, cotton, gold, silver, or other material, upon any woven fabric, leather, or paper with a needle.
Indigo dye: referred to as blue gold, indigo is a natural dye extracted from the leaves of the plant, genus Indigofera, the blue for denim fabrics.
Pam Najdowski (center), owner of Textile Treasures and Minority Peoples ethnographic expert, acquired many of the quilts for the Santa Fe MoIFA show.
Making of the Quilts of Southwest China (photo credit: Pam Najdowski)
Above: 1780 Spanish Colonial home moved from Michoacán, Mexico, to Museum of Spanish Colonial Art in Santa Fe.
San Miguel Mission is a Spanish colonial church in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Built between 1610 and 1626, it is the oldest known church in the United States. The church is a property in the Barrio De Analco Historic District of Santa Fe, a U.S. National Historic Landmark. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain.)
By Stephanie M. Chambers
To understand the influence of Spanish Colonial architecture on the residential history of Northern New Mexico, it’s important to start with its churches. Missions provide the most evidence of continuity in architectural history, and demonstrate the period when New Mexico was under Spanish rule. Spanish settlers were cut off from trade with others in North America. Supplies, as well as technology and ideas, had to come from Spain. During their years of isolation, settlers lived a subsistence lifestyle with little money or energy for innovation, so local materials and details were employed: flat roofs, earthen floors sealed with animal blood, mud plaster, wooden bars on windows, vigas and latillas for the ceiling. Glass, nails, and hardware were not available. Communities formed around a plaza for defense. The New Mexican church confirms the conflation of indigenous American building practices with those of the Iberian Peninsula. The single-naved church with its thick adobe walls, crude structural beams, and transverse clerestory benefited as much from the building traditions of the Pueblo Indians as from Spanish construction and decoration.
Spain focused its efforts and money on missionary activities, and mission churches were the most significant architecture during this period. They have been painted and photographed by hundreds of artists over the years. Churches were built within Spanish communities in northern mountains like at Rancho de Taos, Trampas and Chimayo, and in all of the Pueblos. Friars were in charge of Pueblo church design and construction, and the Pueblo people provided the labor. Pueblo mission churches are distinguished by a simple beauty that provided inspiration for the most important developments in New Mexico architecture.
Identifying Features of Pueblo Architecture:
*Local building materials, usually adobe and timber, but also stone
*Single-story with flat roofs and parapets, influenced by the Native American Pueblo community design
*Residential buildings, sometimes called placitas (courtyard houses), were added to over a period of decades, with the intention of fully enclosing an interior courtyard. These courtyard houses were popular in the Mediterranean region at the time. The style dates back to the time of Christ. Many placitas in the colonies never attained that growth and remain rectangular or L-shaped to this day.
*Vigas (protruding wooden beams) are usually visible extending out from the roofline, and any portales (porches) would be supported with thick wooden columns and zapata capitals (carved, wooden capitals atop the columns).
An excellent example of Churrigueresque, Spanish Baroque elaborate sculptural stucco of late 17th century, can be seen on the entry of the Mission San Xavier del Bac. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain.)
The original stone altarpiece moved from Mexico to Cristo Rey in Santa Fe was colorfully painted in the tradition of wooden altarpieces, and the architectural framework of the screen was filled out with Arabesque columns and entablatures.
Identifying Features of Mission Churches:
*Churches were typically more elaborate than homes with Baroque elements, but simpler and smaller the farther one moved northward from Mexico.
*Simplified Baroque-style features: elaborate facades with round arches, domes, and niches for statuary
*Prominent belfries or bell towers, curved parapets extending above the entryway, and typically symmetrical facades (if twin bell towers.)
*Churrigueresque, named after architect and sculptor, José Benito de Churriguera, is a Spanish Baroque style of elaborate sculptural architectural ornament, which emerged as a manner of stucco decoration in Spain in the late 17th century. It was marked by extreme, expressive and florid decorative detailing, normally found above the entrance on the main facade of a building. Baroque style’s likely ancestry is from Moorish architecture or Mudéjar architecture that still remained through south and central Spain.
Color photography credits: Stephen and Stephanie Chambers
Santa Fe Missions demonstrate how building practices of Indigenous Americans were integrated with those of Spain.
The kitchen is the hearth of the home. Every time we invite guests for dinner, we think the main event will be at our dining room table. But during pre-dinner preps, we all dismantle the plan, congregate in the kitchen, and participate in stirring the pot. Efficient kitchen design, interesting people, and simple cooking are perfect ingredients for wonderful evenings. This Christmas, our sons gave us an Insta Pot and a stovetop pizza oven. This weekend we fired up the Pizzeria Pronto oven, opened Patricia Wells’ Trattoria, and a Pizza Margherita happened. Then friend, David Pulley, brought the fixings and prepared a sublime Duck Confit… all great happenings in the Chambers’ kitchen. Good design is everywhere, sometimes in the places we least expect to find it: cookbooks, appliances, plating the meal, work surfaces, lighting… and in good friends who want to test drive a new dish.
Wilderness treks into monuments like Tent Rocks reaffirm our commitment to what are life's real treasures Photo: Stephanie Chambers, Chambers Architects, Dallas
By Stephanie M. Chambers
In our Dallas architecture practice, we view the stewardship of nature as a sustainable act and an important part of our mission statement. In the design of Texas and Oklahoma homes and ranches, we endeavor to have as little impact on the environment as possible and the clients who choose to work with us are also committed to the preservation of their parcel of wilderness.
National wilderness preserves provided by the federal government belong to us all: the red rock canyons, turquoise rivers, redwood forests, desert plains, jagged mountains, Arctic tundra, wildflower fields, and cool forests. Wild spaces provide a great backyard for anyone who longs to participate in sustainability and view civilization from a completely different perspective. Nature’s beauty protects against the inclination to give up on society, despite relentless responsibilities and stress. Wilderness treks reaffirm a commitment to what our real treasures are and to the hope of peace on earth.
A few summers ago, we discovered Kasha-Katuwe National Monument, a profound wilderness adventure forty miles southwest of Santa Fe, near the historic pueblo of the Cochiti people. Its Keresan Pueblan name means, “white cliffs.” Tent Rocks was established as a U.S. National Monument in January 2001.
This monument in northern New Mexico is for foot travel only. It contains two segments that provide a remarkable outdoor laboratory, to observe, study, and experience the geologic processes that shape natural landscapes. It also provides opportunities for hiking, bird watching, and plant identification.
The cone-shaped tent rock formations called hoodoos are the products of volcanic eruptions that occurred six to seven million years ago and left pumice, ash, and tuff deposits over a thousand feet thick. Tremendous explosions from the Jemez volcanic field spewed pyroclasts (rock fragments), while searing hot gases blasted down slopes in an incandescent avalanche called a “pyroclastic flow.” Precariously perched on many of the tapered formations are boulder caps that protect the softer pumice and tuff below. Some tents have lost their hard, resistant caprocks, and are disintegrating. Fairly uniform in shape, the tent rock formations vary in height from a few feet up to ninety feet in the hot, dry desert. Minerals deposited within different rock types caused the hoodoos to have different color bands at varying heights.
Mineral deposits within different rock types caused the hoodoos to have different color bands at varying heights. Photo: Stephanie Chambers, Chambers Architects
Precariously perched on many of the tapered formations are boulder caps that protect the softer pumice and tuff below. Photo: Stephanie Chambers
Hearing only our labored breathing and footsteps, we climbed to the highest point, raised our camera and through the lens saw the daytime moon above the hoodoos. We marveled at the thoughtful act of a society that preserved this natural cathedral and allows us to be alone with something greater than our every day selves. This and other spectacular walks in the wilderness and through historical places are protected by our country through congressional legislation, or the president’s use of the Antiquities Act from 1906.
Why we need to designate wilderness sites as national monuments
1. Preserves our heritage. Protected wilderness is a uniquely American idea, and preserving lands allows us to imagine the wild country as our ancestors once experienced it.
2. Ensures public health. Each time we breathe air or drink water, we benefit from our wild places. The wilderness protects watersheds that provide drinking water to many cities and rural communities and helps improve the quality of our air.
3. Safeguards wildlife. The wilderness provides homes for a magnitude of species, some of which are disappearing from the planet through the loss of their habitats. In addition, wilderness provides migration routes and breeding grounds. More than half of the ecosystems in the United States exist within designated wilderness.
4. Adventure and a place to connect. People travel near and far to enjoy recreation experiences, increase health and wellbeing, seek a haven from the pressures of our fast-paced society, a relief from noise, haste, and crowds that confine us. It’s a place to enjoy with friends and families, strengthening our relationships and building lasting memories.
5. A natural laboratory for scientific understanding. Preserving ecological treasures allows us to witness and study entire ecosystems working in harmonious rhythm in a natural state. Without designated wilderness spaces, we would know very little about issues affecting the health and vibrancy of our wild lands, wildlife, and ourselves… and how to address and prevent catastrophic wildfires, invasive species, increased risk of disease, and changes in climate.
The conscious acts of thoughtful societies preserve awe-inspiring monuments like this natural cathedral. The only other tent rocks in the world are in Turkey. Photo: Stephanie Chambers Chambers Architects, Dallas
An outdoor laboratory, Tent Rocks allows hikers to experience the geologic processes that shape natural landscapes, and provides opportunity to observe unusual plant forms and animals. Photo: Stephanie Chambers, Chambers Architects, Dallas, TX
6. Good for the economy. Wilderness fuels local economies and provides jobs. The outdoor recreation economy has grown despite the recent recession, proving the lasting value of wild places. In Alaska, native populations rely on wilderness and the wildlife within it for subsistence and continuation of their cultural traditions.
7. A source of clean, renewable energy. Rich renewable energy resources found on federal wild lands, like wind and solar energy, play a key role in powering our future.
8. Celebrate our special wild places. Almost all Americans (81%) have been to a National Park and witnessed its grandeur with their own eyes. The memories last a lifetime, and the places deserve to be treasured.
Above Photo: Abiquiu Morada, Circa 1820; Credit: Stephanie M. Chambers, Stephen B. Chambers Architects
A CASE FOR PRESERVATION
By Stephanie M. Chambers
Father Casmiro Roca was doing his best to let us down gently. “I doubt any of the Penitentes will talk to you.” It wasn’t what we were hoping to hear.
In Dallas, it had seemed like a great idea: go to Santa Fe and study the moradas – the Penitente meeting houses similar to the mysterious apricot adobe we’d photographed down the road from the Georgia O’Keeffe house in Abuquiú, New Mexico. We were hopelessly intrigued with the handcrafted meeting places built over the hundreds of years of Spanish colonization.
Locating Father Roca, the heart and soul of Chimayo pilgrimages, had been astonishing in itself. He was mid-construction, saving a decaying and almost forgotten chapel. The efforts to preserve El Santuario de Chimayo were loud and dusty… and the noonday sun was beating down on us. Our mission might be at a dead end.
Steve Chambers, AIA, examines the restoration of the Sanctuario de Chimayo, where cement plaster removed to save the underlying adobe brick deterioration caused by humidity trapped by the plaster shell.
Finally, the priest scribbled four names and phone numbers on a scrap of paper. “Three of these are Hermanos Mayor (high leaders); the fourth man is an art gallery owner, who has the trust of the Brotherhood. You can try. Tell them you have my blessing.”
Gateway to the Sanctuario de Chimayo. The church and its shrines were used as a place of pilgrimage to give thanks and for deliverance from suffering. The church now welcomes tens of thousands of individuals of all faiths and all walks of life to pray in their traditions.
We called and left messages for all four of them, scattered all over the High Road to Taos. Only one returned our call—the art gallery owner in Truchas, elevation 8,000 feet, population 560.
On the hill-climbing drive to the gallery, we wondered: why keep chasing this place? We talked of the divine solitude of a vast terrain with billowing cumulus clouds and soft violet mesas, but the history of the Penitentes and their buildings is transcendent. They refused to give up on the needy people on the Southwest’s loneliest frontier and neither were we.
The Brotherhood, also known as Los Hermanos, is a lay fraternity of Spanish-American Roman Catholic men active in New Mexico and southern Colorado. It is traditionally held that Franciscan missionaries brought their pious practices from Spain to New Spain in the sixteenth century. Planting and harvesting cycles coincided with commemorations of Catholic saints, celebrated on their many feast days.
In the 16 and 1700s, the remoteness of these New Mexico villages and a shortage of priests made it difficult to serve the Catholic faithful. The Brotherhood stepped up as lay ministers for the Church. Their hand-built meeting places, the moradas, emerged sometime in the late 1700s. Many of today’s moradas date to the nineteenth century, with the majority built between the 1870s and 1920s.1 The fate of the first moradas is unknown – perhaps some are encased within these later-built structures.
The Penitentes’ ceremonies always peaked during Holy Week, when services took place inside the moradas. In the mid-1800s, Archbishop Jean-Baptiste Salpointe decried their ‘stations of the cross’ re-enactments, which involved carrying life-size wooden crosses barefooted over many miles of dirt roads, staged crucifixions, and bloodletting. In the mid-19th century, the Brotherhood was disassociated from the mainstream Roman Church for being too extreme a profession of faith.
It wasn’t until the 1940s that the Penitentes were again invited to participate in Catholic services, provided their pietistic rituals were conducted elsewhere. They accepted re-entry into the Church and continue their traditional practices into the present day.
Montez Gallery in Truchas, an adobe church and now home to Dr. Rey Montez, law professor and artist, whose family of artists migrated to New Mexico in the 1600s.
The Abiquiu Morada Nazarene Christ, a signature figure of Penitente moradas, is flanked the Cerro Pedernal mesa, or "flint hill,' which has a characteristic purple color.
We found the art gallery perched in the valley below a ridge where the two-lane blacktop turns into a dirt road. We introduced ourselves and spoke with the owner about his art and the quaint cottage that housed it. When our questions turned to the moradas, the owner began questioning us in turn.
“Why are you interested? Do you want to take photos? The Penitentes need their privacy,” he cautioned.
“The architecture is beautiful. We want to educate ourselves about it,” we assured him.
“There is a woman who maintains the Nuestra Señora del Sagrado Rosario Catholic Church,” he said finally. “She might be able to introduce you to leader of the Truchas Brotherhood.”
We left our car and walked to meet the caretaker of the antique adobe Santo Rosario church. She was elated to open the church for us – less so about giving us access to the Truchas morada. “Let me talk to Brother Isabro to see if he will meet with you.”
In the meantime, we marveled at the sanctuary of Santo Rosario, whose altar and sides are filled with antique retablos. The Stations of the Cross were vividly rendered paintings framed by hand-carved wood. We photographed the details reminiscent of small churches across Spain.
Most early Spanish settlements in New Spain had a church, a morada, a camposanto or ‘holy field’, and sites marked by calvarios – destinations for their processions and Stations of the Cross. But while the Catholic churches were centrally located, moradas were often built in isolation, particularly if Church opposition was strong.2 They might be located in a rugged canyon, near a river, or within walking distance of the village church or camposanto. A calvario (the crucified Christ), or a statue of Jesus carrying his cross, often stands nearby.
The moradas were built with the materials at hand: adobe, stone, or logs, and later with dimensional lumber. Their roofs could be flat or pitched, and they might have a bell tower. It’s also our observation that are few, if any, windows and a very long, narrow floor plan in most of their buildings. Three large crosses staked in the yard, or sometimes piled up nearby, are for use in penitential processions. But it appears to us every morada is unique, reflecting the building site, the materials, and the creative devotion of the men who built it.
Handes Artes Gallery, where we talked to owner Bill Franke, who facilitated our visit with Isabro Ortega, woodcarver and member of the Penitente Brotherhood of Truchas, NM.
The 1784 Holy Rosary Mission in Truchas, recently restored. The adobe wall is splayed (wider at bottom.) Adobe bricks do not possess the structural integrity to support considerable heights.
Inside the morada, are usually two rooms: a chapel or oratorio, and a kitchen or meeting room where the brothers gathered for meals and conversation. Many images adorned a morada, but the principal figures of the Passion were ever-present: the Nazarene Christ; a Crucifix, often jointed to allow removal to a sepulcher on Good Friday; an image of Our Lady of Sorrows; and often one of St. John, the Disciple. There was usually a Muerte – a death figure.3
At last, the caretaker returned with words we’d dared to hope for. “You’re in luck,” she said. “Isabro wants to meet you.”
Her instructions led us past a decaying defensive adobe compound built by Spanish settlers. Brother Isabro Ortega’s “Casa de Las Nubes” (House of the Clouds) was perched on the outer edge of Truchas, where the land drops into canyon so staggering and wide open we feared we might fall in as we walked along the narrow path to his front door.
With breath held, we knocked on the turquoise door to his two-story plaster home–and were promptly ushered in to a fantasy world of hand-carved Ponderosa pine, aspen, willow, cedar, and cactus, with bright colors and detailed applications set at dizzying angles on the walls, ceilings, and floors.
A breadbox-sized wood-burning fireplace was plastered in the wall in front us, obviously well-used, but not quite finished. Niches cut into the adobe wall leading up the staircase housed handmade pottery. The plumbing and sink had yet to be installed, but the kitchen, pantry, and master bathroom had cabinets so intricately carved they could be sold in as art. Brother Ortega’s talent was playful, unconstrained, unprescribed… overhwhelming.
“Watch out for the dirt floors in the kitchen,” Isabro apologized. He had been working on the house for thirty years. We asked when it might be finished.
He thought a while. “I think maybe in 2040.”
“But, Isabro,” we said, “you’ll be almost a hundred years old.”
His eyes glistened as he laughed. “God willing.”
It was easy to like this warm, gentle man whose skillful hands were rough-hewn like stone. His serenity and wisdom were akin to a shaman. Of his work-in-progress and talent, he pointed through his open roof to the sky. “He’s up there, my inspiration. Everything I do comes from Him to my hands.”
Nuestra Señora del Rosario (Our Lady of the Holy Rosary) altar-screens (reredos) were created for the Truchas church in the 1800s by the renowned santero, Pedro Antonio Fresquis. The church relies on donations for maintenance and preservation.
The sixty-year old carpenter had grown up in a hundred-year-old adobe house with no bathroom or running water. His college aspirations had been deferred—too big a luxury for his father, a carpenter with nine children. So he built his dream instead.
The mid-1700s remains of a Spanish Colonial adobe fortress in Truchas, NM. The 8000 ft. town did not obtain a paved road until the 1970s. Truchas is mentioned in Willa Cather’s 1927 novel “Death Comes for the Archbishop” and was the site for the Robert Redford film, “The Milagro Beanfield War.”
Toward the end of our tour, he entreated us to follow him to a room “we just had to see.” In the studio, he stopped and said, “Look at my carved floor.”
We glanced at each other. Where was this floor?
Isabro saw the question on our faces, plugged in his air compressor, and blew away two inches of shavings and sawdust. A brightly painted, zigzag-carved floor appeared below our feet.
Then he opened a thick door with four inlaid cactus-wood crosses to show us his closet-sized ‘chapel.’ The carved altar, painted and detailed by the craftsman and adorned with smaller paintings and statuary, had just enough space for one person to kneel. The altar wall, grooved and painted with bright primary colors, framed an ornately carved and painted crucifix, surrounded by scenes of saints tending animals.
As we enthusiastically discussed each piece, Isabro summarized it best: “This room was finished first… to praise God. He gave me the talent.”
In villages where there was no priest in residence, the Catholic church was sometimes used for Penitente services during Holy Week. Some moradas have been sold and many abandoned, new ones are occasionally dedicated and old ones repaired. Later, moradas in the Taos area were sold and remodeled as residences for artists.3 This diversity is indicative of the contradictions and eccentricities which, combined with continued Penitente reticence,” make generalizations (about this architectural form) difficult.4
As we said our goodbyes at the door, Isabro hugged us. “Steve, I always wanted to be an architect. I was excited when the architect from Dallas wanted see my house.” We only belatedly realized that our quest had ended here – with no morada in sight.
Then Isabro pointed to a long, narrow adobe building several hundred yards away. “That’s the Truchas Morada. You’re welcome to take pictures… of the outside. I want you to come back for our Holy Week, when you can come inside and worship with us.”
It was too good to be true.
Truchas Morada, meeting place for the Truchas Penitente Brotherhood, features a wall buttress. This morada has few windows and the long narrow floor plan characteristic of most Brotherhood architecture.
We walked around the morada and its grounds, photographing its simple shed-roofed form, its precious few windows, and its handle-less doors. We had driven right past it without ever recognizing its significance. And perhaps that is fitting: after all, moradas are a folk vernacular with elegant forms, developed outside an organized central hierarchy. They arrived out of ‘necessity’ craftsmanship, an impulse to create a place. The manner and style are similar to Outsider Artists, like Isabro, who have no formal art training, yet produce art because of their strong desire for expression. Similarly, The Brotherhood created meeting places for the shared expression of their faith, in praise of something greater than themselves.
Casa de las Nubes, "House of the Clouds," built and featuring a hand-carved interior by master carver, Isabro Ortega.
On the drive back to Santa Fe, we reviewed our pilgrimage to this unique form of architecture: El Santuario de Chimayo, Father Roca, the art gallery, the caretaker of Santo Rosario, the House of the Clouds, and finally the Truchas morada. We heard the story of Isabro’s family’s migration from Spain and the inspiration for his life’s work, and learned of the human and physical treasures that helped us recognize what we would never have found on our own.
Our visit affirmed a belief we have about architecture: its preservation and study can sharpen our perceptions of the world, and of the people who created its structures. These buildings represent a journey—way stations for pilgrims on separate paths, in time and place, and precious windows into America’s built environment.
Above: Orta San Giulio. Markus Bernet / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0
Photo Credit: Stephanie M. Chambers
By Stephanie M. Chambers
Lake Orta, one of the most romantic of the Northern Italian Lakes, was the source of inspiration to poets, writers and philosophers, including Browning, Balzac, and Nietzsche. The small town of Orta San Giulio, with its handmade pasta and chocolate shops, lies on a peninsula jutting into the lake. Its steep, narrow, cobbled streets are lined with shuttered houses in pastel tones that offer charming views of the island of San Giulio. Isola San Giulio was named after a priest, reputed to have scared away a huge serpent, which ruled the island. There he constructed a church and monastery and is supposed to have walked on the lake, maybe in winter, when others walked on it as well.
Above: A Cistern at the J5 Cutting Horse Ranch, Located in Parker County.
Photo Credit: Stephanie M. Chambers
By Stephanie M. Chambers
Because water is such a precious commodity, harvesting this resource is a good ‘green’ practice. Yet, while water is scarce and droughts are a constant concern for farmers, ranchers, and home owners alike, it is regarded as a problem because it causes erosion and drainage design can be complicated, particularly in instances of flash flooding. Residential water collection contributes to a solution for dry environments and to the conservation and protection of land and soil. We chose an above ground cistern for this Dallas residence, both as an architectural landscape feature and to make a statement about the family’s conscious commitment to conservation and sustainability. Water from residential water harvesting can be used to:
Hand water lawn and garden
Connect to irrigation/sprinkler system
Refill fountains and fish ponds
Wash driveways and sidewalks
Refill swimming pools
When properly filtered and disinfected, rainwater can also be used for potable needs.
Create a residence that endures the changes in your life.
— Steve Chambers, A.I.A.
Photo Credit: Stephanie M. Chambers
Founded in 108 B.C., Lucca holds the remains of a preserved Roman amphitheater, incorporated in buildings bordering the present day Piazza dell’Anfiteatro. The elliptic shape of the ancient arena is the result of a 19th century restoration that permits us to appreciate the volume and the general outline of the ancient monument. Through it all, the tasks of daily life continue.