Arcosanti. Stone class project. 1976.
I lived near Haystack Craft School on Deer Isle in Maine. I got to know Fran Merritt pretty well. I said, “ Fran, how come I can’t teach stone wall building at Haystack.”“Well,” he said, “People need to be able to take something home with them. They can’t take home a stone wall. “ Then in 1976 Haystack had a sort of arranged marriage program where they paired craftspeople with poets and the resulting collaborations were sent down to Washington for a show at the Renwick. I was wed to a quilter, Jody Klein. She made a great quilt with a poem of mine. And she made some cow and star stencils I used on a new barn poem up in Bucksport. Late that summer Fran called me and said he had a stone masonry project in Arizona. Haystack was doing a first ever satellite program at Paolo Soleri’s Arcosanti city being built in the Arizona desert.. Solari , an Italian architect had been one of Wright’s students. He was building this city with a lot of concrete and re-bar, a lot of architecture students, and a lot of hippies. They all volunteered to work under that desert sun for a roof over their head, copious amounts of pretty good food, and profligate sex. That was like so many well intentioned endeavors of the sixties and seventies.
The Haystack program was there to teach building crafts, Fletcher Codington was teaching metalwork, Fred Olsen was teaching kiln building and I was teaching stonework to young architects. I could see the cult like aspects of Arcosanti but I thought at the time that any cult that taught people to pour good concrete was a cut above average. Arcosanti was a city on a hill, but all the workers lived down in the valley in makeshift shelters that probably started as tents and over the years accrued roofs of junk carhoods and doors out of old bread trucks. As guest faculty we where give housing up in Arcosanti. I had a room in the bell foundry where Solari and company cast his musical wind chimes. Spectacular desert sunsets. Don’t’ leave your boots on the floor. (scorpions) You can’t teach stone work without a project. I made a little model of a V cut shape with a fireplace on each arm of the V.I sited my classroom way down in a beautiful arroyo. We dug out the V in the arroyo wall and went to work. That pallet of red and green desert rocks was wonderful.A few years later Maya Lin dug her own stone V into the Washington earth for her brilliant and moving Viet Nam Veterans memorial. As for Arcosanti, it was fun but the shacks and hovels that the young architects and hippies built down in the valley were so much more creative, so much more human, so much more livable than the shining concrete and mathematical city.