Building a Gallery

Adobe Building from the beginning to the end,  2006 – 2016 for Terlingua Gallery.

Below,  The shed roof was the first thing I had installed,  so that I could always have a wall to work on in the shade.     

 The roof is 20×24′  and the wall are 20’x 16′,  making the interior 18’x14′.  

Then a cement truck brought in the cement for the foundation for the wall.   The adobe bricks were made of native adobe dirt.    I had them stabilized with a small amount of cement which was great since I have not stuccoed the exterior walls over the 10 years.   The adobe bricks are  4″ x 12″ x 16″,  which were about 40 lb. each.


Although it took a period of 10 years to complete,   it could have been done in 3 years or less if  I could have dedicated full time to its completion.   Much less if there were several people steadily working.    I learned how to build with adobe construction  in 1996 while helping build my home in Terlingua  –  where we dug the dirt at Fulcher Ranch and made the blocks at the building site.      The late  local builder Jim Smith who loaned me the forms for the foundation visited the gallery during construction complimenting  my work and said I definitely needed to have an adobe floor,   so I followed his advise.

In January 2006 the foundation for the walls was poured and soon after I had the adobe bricks made at Fulcher Ranch.        

 I had the bricks made from dirt at Fulcher Ranch which is on Terlingua Creek.   My  friend Evelyn Fulcher lived much of her adult life on the ranch being a native of Terlingua.   She passed away a few years ago,   but her memory lives on with many of us,  and the gallery’s construction success is due to all of her input and advise.  Her ranch house was made of adobe block or brick as were  many of the old pioneering ranch homes.   The dirt can be found in certain areas –  just enough clay with silt to bond when wet without too much expansion  (therefore reducing cracking during the drying process).      The small amount of added   cement in the mix delays the time needed to stucco the walls that are exposed to rain.    



In the beginning,  I had 2000 blocks made.  Several formulas were used.    There were several mistakes they made due to their use of an electric cement mixer.   Some of the blocks ended up with too much sand or they broke up the straw in tiny pieces to mix in the mixer,  which was the big mistake since straw needs to be laid in the batch in a wheel barrow (straw keeps the dirt from cracking while drying so the straw blades needs to be full length).      Most of the blocks were great –  and have held up without hardly any erosion for the entire 10 years  leaning on each other on the ground as well as on the wall.  So the blocks that didn’t stabilize well were used at the end of the job,  for the adobe floor which I crushed, (in the year 2016) The best  formula I found to work for the wall blocks  (but I suggest experimenting on your own)  was the following:

adobe dirt straight from the ground          8 shovels

 sand                                                                              1 shovel

cement                                                                         1 shovel

straw                                                                       mixed in with the batch




The view of the Chisos played a prominent role in the placement of the gallery.     Originally I made the facing window to the East 5 foot by 6 foot.   Later I rebuilt this window space making the window space 5′ tall by 4′ wide.

Adding the adobe dirt mud,  then the block,  and pressing down until level. 


May 2007, below image taken looking NW with Bee Mountain.


The picture window here is still 6’x5′


In 2012,  I decided the 6 foot wide window was too wide and that a 4 foot wide window would provide the much needed walls for painting by this time because I was painting much larger paintings,   besides the fact that the less windows and more 12″ thick walls would provide better control of temperatures inside.  So I removed one part of the buck and moved it in 2 feet and filled in the space with block.

Rafters for ceiling.      Still in 2012,  below,   time to put in the rafters for the ceiling,  which were 2″x8″x20′ pine.    They were then stacked with adobe blocks around them working up to the steel beams.  At this time I was not sure if I were going to put a bond beam on the top of the wall,   so I stopped leaving enough room for one.



The sign was originally made and erected in 2006.   But it blew down when a fierce east wind  channeled straight up the hill around 2009.


In April of 2016 I had help from friends John and Phil to re-erect the gallery sign which the wind blew down earlier.   The gallery sign itself was made of sign board so it was still in great condition while the Terlingua sign above it deteriorated since it was only regular plywood.     Stronger  braces were added.   You can see the color fading that happens in 10 years.


My dog alerted me to some activity on Bee Mountain (above the sign)

There were 5 or 6 Aoudad,  and one small goat bellowing for its parents to wait.

These goats look similar to Big Horn Sheep although they are not native,  and migrated from Mexico –  they  were brought  from Africa.   I personally love to see them on almost every mountain,  and recently the study has found that they do not compete with the native mule deer,  since they brouse on different plants than the deer.    They do compete with the water holes but many locals provide water for the wildlife.      They are grand animals and it makes me sick to see how the owners of  Big Bend Realty   (who also own the Chisos Mining Comapny  Motel)  allow hunters  on their lands to stalk and kill them.    Locals by the name of Chris and David  (who I do not know but have seen hunting on Bee Mountain) with the permission of owners of Big Bend Reality were allowed by them to hunt on Bee Mountain and successfully killed all of them on this mountain  so we no longer have the privilege of seeing them on the peaks anymore here from the gallery.   They are gone!   Which means the smaller ones were not able to survive without their parents.    It will take the public to renounce this activity.    I heard they got $1500 per head and there is open season for Aoudad in Brewster County since they are not native.     Sad that these hunters and the land owners who allow it think only of greed and have no compassion on the animals.   Since there are no fences and hardly any border markers – the hunters have no clue where the Big Bend Realty land starts and where the land is that is privately owned by owners who do not want these hunters killing any of the wildlife.    

Below,  The next step was to pack adobe and rock and cement into the space above the adobe block.

In May 2016 I packed adobe block (which were mostly halved) and with rock and cement to fill the space up to the metal roof).  I also used metal lathe on the exterior and allowed some areas to have air flow,  since this would be above the ceiling.    The entire attic area is now bat proof,   bird and rodent proof also.      

Now that the walls are completed –  the floor is next.  Since the building is sitting on hard mudstone rock,    there still is about a 8 inches or so to fill with adobe dirt.    I mixed adobe blocks that were crushed roughly for the first layer in a wheel barrow and for the first layer I mixed inside the gallery on the floor.   Consisting only of the rejected adobe blocks and water,   this first layer went fast.

June rains provided rain (shown here on Bee Mountain) which in turn provided the water needed for the remaining work to be done on the gallery.

In August 2016,    my friend John Parker did most of the hard part in screwing down these old discarded metal roof panels for my ceiling.   Using old rusty metal panels is a trend (along with tradition) for ceilings.   Friends Curtis and Sue replaced these old tins on their house with a new roof and since it is not exposed to the elements in the ceiling,    the rusty parts only add character.   You will notice at the end how well they go with the floor.


Next step,  still in August,   I’m applying the stucco over the interior blocks.     I nailed metal lathe and stucco wire in the top half and at some places in the lower half.     Where there were deep spaces between the blocks there was no need for wire or lathe because the cement stucco in filled into these areas therefore making it adhere and very hard to come loose later and pull apart from the wall.    I mixed 5 parts sand with 1 part cement for most of the wall stucco.

Above the first,  scratch coat in August.   Below in September, the 2nd layer of stucco is applied.    I thought the regular cement color made the gallery look dark and small so I had McCoys deliver white Portand.    Major mistake since the white bags of cement would not disolve –  leaving small clumps no matter how long I mixed it in the wheel barrow.  Perhaps it would have eventually broke down had I used a gasoline powered mixer,  but since I was doing this alone,  I only mixed about 3 wheelbarrows per day since that is all I could apply each day.      I could not use a trowel because the clumps would only drag,    so I applied the entire wall of stucco with my hands (using rubber gloves).    It ended up rough,  showing the white clumps,  so I had to initially soak the white cement in water to make sure there weren’t any dry clumps in the wall.   It looked rough at this point, impossible to get a smooth trowel affect.     McCoy’s gave me credit so the extra work and trouble turned out ok.   Besides,  the rough look actually looks good after it was painted white,   having a very old appearance.

Next I put the wiring in the ceiling (for 12 volt since the gallery will have solar power).     

Then the insulation,  R30 was put in the ceiling.

 Note however,  that the insulation was laid as we put in the old metal panels,   because there was not that much space up there.     Not the funnest part of the job.    

In October I primed and painted the wall White, which made the gallery appear twice as large inside.      

Next will come the 2nd layer of adobe floor,  mainly to level it to prepare for the final coat.   This 2nd layer is about  4″ thick.   I crushed the adobe blocks outside and soaked them overnight in wheelbarrows.  I left some clumps that did not disolve,  since they were the good stabilized part of the old blocks.   Since I was doing this each day by myself,  I roughly made forms,  removing them the same day.   

The floor cracked while drying and I did not fill in the cracks until it dried completely.      Cracks could have been avoided had I sprinkled the top with cement and then troweled it in –   I did this on the last “tile”.

In this 2nd layer,  I practiced making a tile look since I could only 2 a portion per day.   It took me 14 days to do this entire floor layer, (14’x18′).

Still working on the 2nd layer,  in October (above).

Below is the outcome of this base,  the practice layer.  It looked great so I knew I could do the final layer this way.     There were some good websites that showed their experience,   but they would have 15 people working on the floor,  therefore completing a floor this size in one day.   It took me 15 days of doing the floor layer by myself.  So I could not do the entire floor layer smoothly without any seems  in one day  –  therefore the tile look was necessary.    

Now,  below,   I start the final layer of the adobe floor.   Also called a dirt floor,  or earthen floor,   the final layer was stabilized here (also in the above 2nd layer) with a small amount of cement.  

Overnight I soaked 3 wheelbarrows overnight with crushed adobe block that I had left over from the building.  With each filled to the top wheelbarrow load of crushed adobe block,   I mixed in about 4 to 6 shovels of sand,  depending on how much sand I thought was in this crushed block.         The next morning,  after mixing the sand into the soaked adobe dirt,   I added only one shovel of cement per load.


The small amount of cement would stabilize the floor enough so that it doesn’t break down while walking on it.   It really makes the floor hard.   I even put some of the mix in a hole outside and after a big rain the filled in hole remained hard and did not dissolve at all.

Below I began the 3rd layer.     This was only about 3″ thick,  but it still took as long as the previous layer,  if not longer since I worked more on the finished look.   Also the blocks were crushed more finely,  even though I did let the small clumps that didn’t dissolve –  because they fell to the bottom of the block I was working on – leaving the finer mix on top.     

The final layer took 15 days to complete, with one person working alone.

     Here you can see all of these “tile” except for the center one have linseed oil applied to them.    There is dust on top of them in this picture.  After I seal the one in the center I will apply linseed oil to it and then do the entire floor again with a diluted amount of linseed oil.

The directions were to apply  boiled linseed oil full strenth to the dried dirt floor,   but since mine were stabilized with cement,  the linseed oil should have been diluted on the first coat because the floor remained tacky.     The floor has a very old look.  

There were cracks.    What I did in the final “tile” which greatly minimized the cracks was to sprinkle dry cement onto the top of the still wet “tile” and then troweling it in,  mixing it with the top 1/2 inch.    This final “tile” turned out the best.      

I plan to seal the final coat on floor later this month,  January 2017.

It was hard finding anyone who could make a window that I wanted which would sort of go with my old Mexican shutters that I had bought about 16 years earlier in Alpine at the Antelope Lodge. Bruce who is the son of weaver artist Palma Beckett made these oak windows just as I wanted,  bi-folding out so that when open the whole space is without any panes.  












Paintings by Bonnie Wunderlich, Big Bend Artist