El Bolson, Argentina

2010, Just for fun

A comic diary entry on earthen oven instructions turns into a fully illustrated instructional book with the illiterate in mind.

While WWOOFing (World Wide Organization of Organic Farmers) on Pablo’s earthen house in El Bolson, Argentina, I had the pleasure of meeting a master earthen oven builder and artist, Demian Antu Iuso. He had always dreamed of writing a book about oven building that would be accessible to everyone, including the illiterate. I liked drawing, and was hungry, so we made a good team!

We first realized that we had a common interest when Demian came to Pablo’s to build an oven. The oven was to be a demo for a short movie he wanted to make for his business, documenting the delicate process of mixing materials, construction and design. He saw the documentation (read: cartoon) in my journal of the process, which I had done for my own education and records (in the hopes of someday building one at my own house). When I heard of his dream of publishing a book that would be easily available to all, I was instantly interested, and volunteered to do the drawings he needed in exchange for some food and a bed to sleep in. The exciting part of this story comes with the deadline, as I had plans to work in Chile planting trees. All of the 19 illustrations were pounded out in a single day (gotta LOVE yerba mate!).

In case the drawings aren’t clear, or the Spanish doesn’t make sense (very likely), here’s a brief overview of how to make an earthen oven. There are several mixes of fine sand, clay and water, that are used in conjunction with various mixes of chopped hay. This is the mortar that binds the adobe bricks (called “reboque grueso”), and serves as the “stucco” finish. The oven operates on the principle of insulation, and much of its design is focused on reducing heat loss. This can be achieved through various insulators in the ground, such as glass bottles or volcanic ash, and tight fitting adobe bricks. Reboques vary in stickiness and insulation properties, and are varried as the dome structure requires more and more holding power towards the peak of the dome. Chopped wheels, cans and other assorted scraps are utilized as doors, chimneys and insulators.

The oven is great for pizzas and bread. The oven can be operated with either a live fire/coals inside with the food, or by residual heat, in which the coals are removed, the dough placed inside, and the oven shut up until the bread is done. Each method has a delicious ending!

The final book is in the process of being self published and printed in El Bolson, Argentina. Demian wrote detailed instructions to compliment the illustrations. Next time I’m down there, I hope to pick up a copy at the local feria!

Below are photocopies of the illustrations (thus the poor quality). The end of the slideshow also has the excerpts from my comic book of the drawings that first inspired the collaboration and the marathon day of drawing (Interspersed there is also a recipe for butter-free, egg-free, gluten-free, little-sugar, orange flavored cookies, courtesy of Pacha Firpo. Delicious!)

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