Thursday, April 18, 2013


Merlex President Nick Brownrecently taught a class of Long Beach4th graders how the Missions were built. Using authentic materials and methods, Mrs.Ward’s class mixed up adobe using clay, sand, and straw, and then made bricks using a breakaway mold.

We found the optimal ratios to be 3:2:1 (sand:clay:straw) by volume. The mold can be removed the next day and the bricks will turn hard as they dry in the sun. They need to be rotated 90 degrees every so often to expose all surfaces to the sun, but the kids made authentic adobe bricks, the building blocks to make a Mission-style wall.

The kids will visit Mission San Juan Capistrano later this month and, as Nick put it, “be able to look inside the walls as if they had X-ray vision”, after this adobe lesson.

Using lime mortars made the traditional way in Italy, the kids then each took turns building a wall using the adobe bricks made ahead of time, cooking show style. They didn’t mind getting mud and mortar all over their hands, either!

Kate Brown learns that the builders of the California Missions could not just go down to their local “Mission Depot” to find building materials, but had to build with what they had on-site (hence adobe and some wood)

The last step was plastering the wall using the Italian lime mortar imported by Vero for use in traditional restoration projects, such as the California Missions. The children took turns trying their hand at spreading the lime mortar on the adobe brick wall with differing degree of success.

Nick told the class that “not only did you learn how the Missions were built today, but you also got a taste of two trades, masonry and plastering. If you like working outside, maybe you can get a summer job doing this and make some money for your family!” The kids did a fantastic job, and learned that building a Missionwould have been hard work. A good time was had by all.

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