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Attending a Class on Natural Building: Making Natural Earth Plaster

December 6, 2012

I have been interested in learning  about natural building for a while, so when I saw that a weekend class was being offered in Montelepre, Sicily, I decided it was time to sign up and get my first hands on experience.  The class was held at the Thar do Ling Center in Montelepre, run by Simona and Danilo, and the instructor was Angela Granzotto,  who teaches this class in several locations across Italy.

The purpose of the class was to learn how to make Natural Earth Plaster and I must say I couldn’t have had a better instructor and group to work and learn with. I enjoyed the class very much, enjoyed the hands on experience and will try to do the whole experience justice in sharing some highlights from the class. I hope the pictures can show some of the steps..

Most of the materials had been prepared ahead of time by our instructor and the hosts of the event. The first evening a power point presentation explained the basic principles of the process that would be carried out in the class. On our first morning on the project, after a wonderful breakfast provided by our hosts and prepared by Delia and other friends, we all joined Angela, outside the building, for an overview of the course and the materials to be utilized. Angela explained the different combinations that could be created in making the mixture for the earthen plaster and basically the main components of the mixture: earth (soil), sand, and clay and then straw and/or manure to add fiber to the mixture. All the materials had been acquired locally. Utilizing different amounts of each component of the mixture and showing the group the end result of the mixture and its specific characteristics, Angela taught the group specific strategies and practices that go into this process. The process was very helpful in showing exactly what each formula in mixture would offer in the final plaster composition.

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Experimenting with different dosages of each component allowed a first hand look at the result of the plaster and its structure once it dried

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The group proceeded to practice both the combining of the components of the mixture and the process itself of mixing and then the actual method to adopt in placing the mixture on the wall as plaster.  Both these processes were very helpful and a great way to practice the entire process first hand and another great point was that there was plenty of practice on how to use the tools.

The building the group was working on has been undergoing renovation  for several years now and many of  the materials adopted have been removed from the structure and are being reutilized either in their original form or transformed, as in the case of the crushed tiles added for pigment.  One interesting fact I learned was the use in this process of the liquid acquired from prickly pear blades.  These blades were cut up and cooked and then the juices from this process utilized for their adhesive nature.  This was one of the experiments that took place.

Finally, the whole experience was very interesting, totally enjoyable and one that I would love to repeat someday, hopefully on my own construction.  The instructor, Angela, was absolutely wonderful and a great teacher who presented the subject in an interesting way and guided her pupils thoroughly. The food we all enjoyed during the breaks was superb thanks to Delia, Ludovica, and more volunteer cooks.

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Experimenting with different dosages for the final plaster layer; it was so silky at the touch!

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We all left a mark!

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