Playing with dirt: the lost art of organic construction


There are those who view adobe buildings as a thing of the past, or as “the poor man's" way of construction. Then, there are those who view adobe buildings as old crumbling structures, and never really give it any other thought. Jacob Sandborg of Del Rio is an adobe aficionado and is on a mission to prove that adobe and earthen plasters are the most organic and beneficial mediums to build with.

Sandborg is a natural at construction using all things natural. From dirt to cactus juice, he's built with it all. With a last name like Sandborg, his talents prove him to be a sand-sifting, brick-building machine.

When he's not instructing hands-on adobe workshops, he's taking on side projects that involve heavy adobe construction. After he encountered his first adobe building in Del Rio years ago, he says he's been hooked ever since.

“Adobe buildings are a dying breed, but not in west Texas,” he said with a bucket in hand. Driving into Fort Stockton for the first time Monday, Aug. 14, he came to work on a downtown adobe structure owned by local resident Ross Harper.

While carrying a bucket filled with dirt into the abandoned building, Sandborg said, “I instructed an adobe workshop in Marfa, and that's where I met Ross. We talked about this building, and I came out here to give him a quote on a roof for it. I also came to sample some earthen plaster for him. I'm teaching him different techniques, so that he can repair this building on his own.”

After taking a gander at the roofless structure, Sandborg said, “I was once told, when your dealing with an adobe building, you have to have a good hat and good boots. That means a good roof and a good foundation...This building will have both; Ross knows what he's doing.”

Using only the resources around him, Sandborg got to work and began with making a clay plaster and showcasing a number of ways to repair adobe brick damage. Once he shared a few tricks of the trade, he looked over at Harper and said, “Do you have any skim milk?”

“Um, I have two percent milk,” responded Harper with much curiosity.

With a formula in his mind, Sandborg mixed the milk with water and lime (burned limestone), and then demonstrated an effective way to create and apply a simple lime wash. Using separate ingredients, he then made a clay paint known as “clay alis”, again, by using only earthen materials.

“You can use dirt, cow manure – whatever is around you. You just have to have the know how to make it all work out. A lot of the times, it's just a matter of trial and error,” noted Sandborg.

Prior to his crash course with Harper, the two drove around viewing nearly all of the adobe buildings here in Fort Stockton.

“We looked at everything. My favorites were the Old Jail, the Annie Riggs, and some of the small adobe houses...This is my first time here, and I honestly didn't think there would be that much adobe. If I'm to be honest, Fort Stockton has more adobe than Alpine. This is the most adobe I've seen besides Presidio.”

After enjoying his visit to Stockton and private workshop with Harper, Sandborg would like to introduce a public workshop to the Fort Stockton community.

Sandborg says he needs at least 20 people interested to conduct a full workshop on adobe, earthen plaster and more. 

If you are interested in helping bring a Fort Stockton adobe workshop to fruition, call Sandborg at (832) 561-4459.