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Restoring History with Santa Fe's Traditional Building Methods

By Marina I. Jokic

Cornerstones Community Partnerships began in 1986 under the umbrella of the New Mexico Community Foundation as a program called "Churches: Symbols of Community." By 1994 the program activities had surpassed the foundation's capacity and in 1995 became Cornerstones Community Partnerships, a New Mexico nonprofit corporation.

Director Jake Barrow elaborates on Cornerstone's vital contributions to New Mexico communities. Foremost, they provide assistance and consultation to historical preservation projects through technical assistance, gathering materials, tools, and equipment, and organizing fundraising and volunteer days. Barrow notes that the community spearheading the projects remains in charge of them, directing the entire project. Most of the work focuses on the old adobe buildings central to the community.

Through enabling communities to restore the cultural sites, which are integral to their identities, Cornerstones is firmly devoted to empowering residents and strengthening the cultural heritage of New Mexico. The organization seeks to provide jobs for youth to learn about their heritage through working on projects. On designated volunteer days, community residents also have the chance to work on buildings. Barrow remarks that a successful project is one the community supports in the long term. Their portfolio includes the following sites: San Esteban del Rey in Acoma Pueblo, New Mexico, La Purisima Concepcion in Socorro, Texas, the Santo Domingo Indian Trading Post and San Miguel Chapel in Santa Fe among many others.

Cornerstones has held numerous workshops at community sites to train youth and adults in traditional building methods such as adobe work, lime plastering and stained glass techniques. The workshops have featured various national and international experts. Today, Cornerstones is working toward incorporating youth training in the process of making adobes, repairing walls, and mud plastering at hands-on preservation projects. Additionally, the non-profit has worked extensively on public lands and hosted a number of stabilization and preservation workshops at various national parks throughout the West.

One recent project that Cornerstones has helped drive forward is the repair of San Miguel Chapel including structural work and finally mud plastering. In preparation for traditional mud plastering, volunteers mined the clay from a Ranch near Pojoaque which possesses the qualities needed for good plaster clay - minimal shrinkage, color, water resistance, and natural hardness.

"We recognize that New Mexico is very unique among the fifty states," says Barrow. All of New Mexico's special attributes, such as its tribal culture to more recent current influences, are historically significant for Barrow and his team. Cornerstones seeks short-term methods of accomplishing their goals by working on community projects that achieve a tangible connection to cultural heritage. One of the most important goals is to organically strengthen the resources and capacities that already exist within the community rather than impose outside practices.

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