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Adobe sacrament

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The adobe brick brings more than shelter. This block molded of sundried mud, straw and water has been forging community for 200 years.

Maria Martinez replastering the church at San Ildefonso Pueblo. (SOURCE: The Millicent Rogers Museum)

Taos’ Millicent Rogers Museum is showcasing “Earthen Temples: The Life of Adobe Churches” through June 24. The exhibit features about 60 photographs of the annual “enjarre” (replastering) at San Francisco de Asis Church in Ranchos de Taos, as well as restoration projects at San Antonio de Padua Church in Questa, Nuestra SeƱora de los Dolores Church in Arroyo Hondo and similar images from throughout northern New Mexico.

“This is the story of what’s happening all over the archdiocese,” curator Carmela Quinto said. “They need constant care.”

The degree of care largely depends on nature. But in an age of stingy moisture, most buildings demand attention at least annually.

“You can tell just by sight,” Quinto said. “It starts to crumble, like the mud when it doesn’t rain. It starts to crack.”

The repair requires both time and bodies. First the volunteers scrape off the top layer. Next they add water to the wall to help the mud adhere to the surface. Next they coat it with adobe mud. Last comes the finishing coat.

“It’s the same idea of the way (the potter) Maria (Martinez) finishes her pots,” Quinto said. “It’s a watery clay like a slip.”

Workers once polished off the surface using lambskin. Today they’re more apt to grab a sponge.

“It’s very time-consuming,” Quinto said. “It can take anywhere from weeks to a month to do a fresh coat on the whole structure.”

One photograph shows the famed potter Martinez replastering the church at San Ildefonso Pueblo.

Another more recent image shows a man reaching down to finish a wall of the church at San Francisco de Asis, his wheelbarrow waiting beside him.

“There’s always a wheelbarrow,” Quinto said, “there’s always mud. The man is very iconic; he’s wearing the northern New Mexico hat and the boots. He is nameless because he could be anybody.

“There’s something really special about where a community worships,” Quinto continued. “That structure is a sacred place. When you can take part in its care, that’s a sacrament in itself.”

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