Warren Wilson College News

Recycling, Clay, Sand and Creativity

Story and Photos by Paul Clark

This article is part of The Story Behind, a regular series that features extraordinary photos from Warren Wilson life. (Click here to see more.)

Moriah in the Cob shed

Warren Wilson College’s new, roundish recycling building wraps its terra-cotta arms around the school’s commitment to the land on which the campus stands.

Students recently patted into place the final plaster layer of a building made from organic materials in a decidedly organic way. Carving time out of their studies, the recycling crew members mixed and worked into place local sand, straw and clay to create the tool shed between the College Garden and its compost/recycling center.

Supervising the work this year was Moriah Good ’11, an environmental studies graduate who has logged many muddy hours working with the crew. She joined it after the project was conceived and begun by fellow student Geneva Bierce-Wilson ’10. Bierce-Wilson not only planned and designed the building, but also put nearly 1,000 hours of manual labor into it including many volunteer hours.

On a recent Thursday, while hip-hop and punk from the nearby recycling office enervated the torpid morning air, Good showed off the work. Opening a heavy wooden door held in place by hand-wrought iron hinges, she slipped inside to a comfortable room several degrees cooler than the air outside the building’s thick orange walls.

Moriah in front of the Cob shed

“We’re going to wait to put tools in it, because once we start using it, it’s going to get covered in compost,” she said, explaining that it would remain tool-less until incoming students saw it during fall orientation. By then, Good, from Harrisonburg, Va., will be on her way to graduate school studying wetlands biology at Old Dominion University.

“Working on this building was a pleasant distraction from studies and thinking really hard because it was fun work, messing around with mud,” she said, the bright blue of her oversized sunglasses matching the cool blue of her undershirt. “I was being useful and getting things done.”

As befits a construction technique thousands of years old, the building is irregularly shaped, idiosyncratically styled and utterly reliable. Colored glass bottles in sweeping patterns shine brightly through the fresh, earth-scented air inside. A sturdy wooden ladder climbs to the stout loft above. On the outside, windows are outlined with bottle caps and bullet casings pressed into the plaster. Good herself fashioned the scary demon head above the door.

“It was hard to envision at the very beginning,” she said of the building. “At one point, it was just poles sticking out of the ground in a rock circle. But Geneva had a vision. It’s pretty incredible, all the students that built this with their hands.”

Made of the earth for the earth, the shed will likely survive for decades. It will certainly be here when Good comes back to visit, which she plans to do while in grad school.

“It will be nice to see that I had an impact and that my work mattered,” she said. “We’re all proud of the work we were able to accomplish.”

Moriah in the Cob shed

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2 Responses to “Recycling, Clay, Sand and Creativity”

  1. Lynnora Bierce:

    I am very disappointed in this article. I wonder why the designer, my daughter, Geneva Bierce-Wilson was not interviewed, or even notified of this article. Geneva contributed over 1000 hours of labor into her vision and conception of this building, and supervised the construction of more than 90% of it. She led experiential classes in cob, including a Weekend@WWC class and encouraged community involvement, doing her own marketing. Geneva lives in Asheville, NC, so she was available for interview. Moriah does mention Geneva’s vision, but wouldn’t Geneva herself have been a better source for the story? Did Paul Clark make any overture to make sure this “story behind” actually went truly behind the story? Granted, I am Geneva’s mother, but doesn’t anyone else see the problem here?

  2. Mary Elfner:

    What a wonderful building that has been built by students at Warren Wilson! I know how hard Geneva Bierce Wilson worked to get this project going and keep it sustained. It would be good to hear from her, too! Any chance the story can be amended and include more on Geneva?

    Thank you,
    Mary