Saturday, September 29, 2018

Centro de Ninos and the Comisíon Femenil Mexicana Nacional by Antonio SolisGomez

Father Luce and others lead protesters during the National Chicano Moratorium in Laguna Park 

 The disappointment with the Movimiento at the start of the 70’s led me to disentangle myself as much as possible from all the barullo taking place in East Los Angeles. It was not a total withdrawal, as I still had to support my wife and two small children. Coincidently, at that time, Father Luce at The Church of the Epiphany wanted to open a community based bilingual preschool and the possibility of working in such an environment really appealed to me.

I had worked a couple of years with Head Start as a social worker and had spent a lot of time in the Montessori based classrooms, learning from Lucia Pearce our Educational Director and by helping teachers with the children. I also had been involved for a few years with an alternative children’s
program at the International Institute called Operation Adventure started by Maxine Junge. I was therefore full of ideas for implementing a classroom experience for Chicanitos. I applied for the job and was hired.

I was fortunate in having as an assistant Chela Hernandez, a woman who had been schooled in Mexico and knew a lot of children’s songs in Spanish that she taught the kids. Many of those songs were by the Francisco G Soler. We also required parents to volunteer and the great majority of them were from Mexico, so it was truly a bilingual program.
Francisco Gabilondo Soler y Cri Cri

I worked four years with La Escuelita until funding necessitated cutting my employment to half time. I was in a pickle. I loved working with children but I had to support my family. Fortunately during my time with La Escuelita, I had gone back to my Alma Mater, Cal State LA, and taken 18 units in Early Childhood Ed in order to receive State certification as a Director. I was thus officially qualified as a daycare teacher/director and hoped to find afternoon employment, leaving my mornings free to be at La Escuelita.

One day I went to see about an advertised position with a daycare center near Echo Park called Centro de Niños. I walked into the building, down a central corridor with closed doors on either side. I guessed that it had been a medical facility, the closed doors, examining rooms, from whence were emerging the voices of children screaming and yelling. I opened one and the stench of urine greeted me along with the startled look of a woman who had been trying to quiet the children. I don’t recall how many children were in there, but it was packed.

I closed the door but there didn’t seem to be anyone in charge that I could speak with and I had an uneasy feeling. Soon the doors opened and many children rushed down the corridor and through a side door to their play area, an adjacent driveway. The children proceeded to play with a couple of old automobile tires and a few milk crates in which they took turns climbing in to be pushed up and down the asphalt driveway. There were no balls, no toys, just milk crates and tires. I was aghast.

I finally talked to one of the teachers who told me that they had around fifty kids and a handful of teachers, all of them Latinas. I spent an hour there and got in my car and left. While I drove home I knew that daycare center was a threat to children. It had to be shut down. I called the California State Licensing Department and explained the dire need to shut down that facility. A woman calmly explained that she knew that there were problems but there wasn’t anything else in that area for working parents and it would not be closed. I took it as a sign from God that I had to work at Centro de Niños and began going there every afternoon.

I learned that the Centro de Niños was operated by the Comisíon Femenil Mexicana Nacional when they asked me to be the director. It was 1974 and among the board members at that time were Francisca Flores, Yolanda Nava, Gloria Molina, Sandra Sewell and Irene Mendez. I said that I would only accept the job if I could find a better facility. They not only agreed, they also charged me with finding a second facility in East Los Angeles. They told me that they had State funds for two facilities, each one caring for seventy children, including infants.

One afternoon while driving in the neighborhood, on the lookout for a new facility, just below the old Belmont High School, I drove past an interesting old two story mansion that sat on a knoll far away from the street. I parked my car and got out, my only intent, to take a closer look at that beautiful house. It looked vacant and I strolled around the very large yard, to make sure there was nobody living there before I climbed the knoll to take a closer look. A man working in the adjacent property saw me and came over to ask me why I was there. I explained that I was just curious and asked if I could get a closer look. He gave me permission and I began exploring to satisfy my curiosity. The house had a long driveway that ended under a covered portico, a large roofed porch, several heavy French doors leading to the outside. As I looked through the windows admiring the beautiful workmanship, I suddenly began to think that this house would make a beautiful childcare center.

I went to the adjacent property to speak with the man who had given me permission to look and asked him for information about the property. He answered that it belonged to the Cancer Prevention Society and pointed to the adjacent building. I explained my interest in finding a childcare facility and he laughed, telling me that a school had already tried and could not pass the various inspections for a school. I thanked him and decided that I would go next door and speak to whoever was in charge.

I will say here that my newly found spiritual life was playing a big part in my effort to find a new facility. Before starting off on that afternoon quest I had asked for guidance from Spirit and now at this point I was not easily going to be deterred, especially by the Director of The Cancer Prevention Society who was to tell me that under no conditions would she ever allow a bunch of welfare children next door. 

I told the Director, an older unsmiling woman, that not withstanding her objections I still wanted to speak to her board and to place me on the agenda for the next board meeting. Therefore the following week I went before the board and got provisional approval for the Centro de Niños, if the building could pass the fire and health inspections. The Chairman of the Board said that they would charge one dollar for rent for the house whose address was 379 Loma Drive.

The fire Department requirements were the most rigorous. They wanted panic bars on all doors that led outside, fire sprinklers installed on the first floor, a fire resistant door from the basement and children could not occupy the second floor. The State Licensing people wanted the entire two acres fenced and a telephone installed. It was a daunting list of changes but I was now certain that this property was destined for the intended purpose and nothing would deter me.
My brother in law John Diaz on the right with me at Sabiño Canyon in Tucson 1975

Clearly I would need help but the State funds had no allowances for remodeling. I did have Mr. Angelo, the janitor, a genial wiry man from the Philippines and I could hire another janitor for the second site that was yet to be secured. My brother in-law John, a jack of all trades, agreed to hire on to help me with the project.

Getting the sprinkler system was the first step and it meant digging a hundred foot long trench four feet deep to install a two inch water line. We had to dig it by hand “a pico y pala”. 

Mr. Angelo, who it turned out was also a skilled carpenter took charge of replacing the three French doors by building new four foot wide doors and installing them with a panic bar. John and I next worked on building a five foot high wood fence around the property. It was five hundred linear feet.

We also had to install new lighting in the rooms designated for classrooms, build changing tables for infants and low classroom tables. Long story short we obtained all the permits necessary within two months and opened the center with seventy children. The kids went crazy in their new play yard. Around a very large Morton Fig Tree, Mr. Angelo had built a platform with a ramp that children could use with their trikes or run around the large yard until they tired. It was great.
The old MaravillaHousing Projects showing David Lopez' mural of La Virgen de Guadalupe -foto by Oscar Castillo

But we were only half way there. We needed another site. I don’t remember how I found out about the Maravilla Housing Projects being torn down and new ones being built across the street. The local gang had been given free rein to salvage and dispose of everything in the old site and I went and met with them, proposing that they give us one of the old buildings for a childcare center. They said ok, pick one. I chose a one story building that had four apartments near the street and with John and Mr. Angelo, began tearing walls between the four dwellings, installing lights, painting, building a fence etc. We opened with seventy more children.

We had two centers open from six in the morning to six at night, a staff of thirty five to handle one hundred and forty children including infants, preschoolers and latchkey kids. I was working long hours and I felt strong and positive, as if I was riding on a wave. But unbeknownst to me, my time there was coming to a close.

It came suddenly, the announcement that Sandra Sewell, one of the board members, had been given the position of Executive Director and therefore in charge of the entire operation. I was to remain as Director of the educational component. It was disheartening to create something and have it snatched away. And it didn’t take place until after I had obtained and remodeled two childcare centers with the proper permits to operate. At the time I didn't see the bigger picture, that life placed me there to do what I had done and to move on. There organization didn't need a man in that position.

I stayed on for a few months before quitting and I began subbing with daycare programs at LA Unified. One day, a month or two after leaving the Centro de Niños, while checking out teaching opportunities at the Cal State LA Early Childhood Education Office, I happened to see a posting about a Masters in Library Science program for Spanish Speakers at the University of Arizona, I applied and very soon after, life whisked me out of Los Angeles.

Post Script:

I did some research for this article and learned that the Comisíon Femenil Mexicana Nacional spun off a women’s economic development organization called New Economics for Women (NEW) in 1984. In 1986 NEW bought the 379 Loma Drive property from the Cancer Prevention Society and in the early 90’s constructed a four story building (Casa Loma) to house single women and their families. They continued providing childcare and have become quite a large and innovative organization, building housing and providing a diverse array of services focused on women. I’m happy I played a small role when Spirit led me to the original property.

Centro de Niños in Maravilla is still functioning with Sandra Sewell as the Executive Director. She apparently has no role with NEW or Casa Loma but she seems to have done a marvelous job of maintaining and expanding what was in place when i left. I think they even have a new building.

Friday, September 28, 2018

YA Books You Might Have Missed

Presenting a short list of YA books from 2018 that you might have overlooked, or should look for in the next month.  Holiday gifts?

Forgiving Moses                              
Gloria L. Velásquez
Piñata - May, 2018

Gloria Velásquez
is one of the pioneers of Latinx Lit.  She's been at it for a while -- the first Latina to create a YA series, her excellent Roosevelt High School Series that debuted in 1994 -- and she's produced a great list of essential books. Here's the review of Forgiving Moses from the School Library Journal.

"Gr 9 Up –The latest installment of the long-running series that explores social injustices in Latinx and Black communities in short novel format is a narrated by two newcomers to the school: Chicano teenager Moses, angry at his incarcerated father, and a counselor, Ray, who is Native American and Chicano and innovative in his use of circle practices to build community. The inclusion of each narrator’s inner thoughts makes this novel readable, culturally responsive, and compassionate, and the central role of weekend prison visits makes it timely. The pitfalls and anxieties around those visits are not widely discussed in YA lit, yet Velásquez covers them all, including the extreme predicament of relocation for families of the incarcerated when spouses are moved to another facility, precipitating a new migration pattern. Despite the hard work and devotion given by his mother, Moses feels that she always put his father first by moving the family and sacrificing herself for a “lifer.” Luckily, another classmate, Dalana, also visits her father every weekend and, after Moses overcomes his initial resistance, offers her perspective. Ray has troubles of his own with his son, but once the voluntary, all-male circles begin, trust and healing emerge as they face the fears of repeating their fathers’ mistakes. VERDICT Buy this and the entire series."
Sara Lissa Paulson, City-As-School High School, New York City

Elizabeth Acevedo
Harper Teen - March, 2018

This much-anticipated debut novel has received impressive recognition, but maybe you passed on reading it because you're not a fan of poetry or novels-in-verse or maybe you don't appreciate YA Lit.  This book will change your mind about all that, maybe change your life.

From the publisher:

Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.

But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. 

With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself. So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out. But she still can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.

Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.

Guadalupe Garcia McCall
Lee & Low Books - October, 2018

From the publisher:

In the heart of the Great Depression, Rancho Las Moras, like everywhere else in Texas, is gripped by the drought of the Dust Bowl, and resentment is building among white farmers against Mexican Americans. All around town, signs go up proclaiming "No Dogs or Mexicans" and "No Mexicans Allowed."

When Estrella organizes a protest against the treatment of tejanos in their town of Monteseco, Texas, her whole family becomes a target of "repatriation" efforts to send Mexicans "back to Mexico" --whether they were ever Mexican citizens or not. Dumped across the border and separated from half her family, Estrella must figure out a way to survive and care for her mother and baby brother. How can she reunite with her father and grandparents and convince her country of birth that she deserves to return home?

There are no easy answers in the first YA book to tackle this hidden history.

In a companion novel to her critically acclaimed Shame the Stars, Guadalupe Garcia McCall tackles the hidden history of the United States and its first mass deportation event that swept up hundreds of thousands of Mexican American citizens during the Great Depression.
Zoraida Cordóva
Sourcebooks Fire - June, 2018

The second book in the highly regarded Brooklyn Bruja series; number three due next year.

From the publisher:

Three sisters. One spell. Countless dead.

Lula Mortiz feels like an outsider. Her sister's newfound Encantrix powers have wounded her in ways that Lula's bruja healing powers can't fix, and she longs for the comfort her family once brought her. Thank the Deos for Maks, her sweet, steady boyfriend who sees the beauty within her and brings light to her life.

Then a bus crash turns Lula's world upside down. Her classmates are all dead, including Maks. But Lula was born to heal, to fix. She can bring Maks back, even if it means seeking help from her sisters and defying Death herself. But magic that defies the laws of the deos is dangerous. Unpredictable. And when the dust settles, Maks isn't the only one who's been brought back...



Manuel Ramos writes crime fiction.  His newest book is The Golden Havana Night.  Launch party:  Tattered Cover (Colfax), October 22 at 7:00 p.m.  

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Chicanonautica: The Steampunk Banditos Are Coming! The Steampunk Banditos Are Coming!

I thought that Mario Acevedo had taken his Chicano vampire detective hero Felix Gomez to the outer limits with his last novel, Rescue From Planet Pleasure. It went from paranormal noir into sex-crazed space opera the likes of which I had never seen, and I’ve been reading kinky sff since the Nixon administration. Little did I know that Mario has more, wilder things in the works.

Steampunk Banditos: Sex Slaves of Shark Island, the seventh novel in the series takes things into a whole other dimension, literally. We’re talking Coyote time travel--that’s right, Coyote as the great trickster spirit of the continent that in these particular timespace coordinates is known as North America. This isn’t just a trip back in our history, but into an alternate universe, one where the Southwest is known as Aztlan (I like to put the accent mark on the “a,” Mario doesn’t, so I’m leaving it out here, for the sake of consistency--doncha love how Latino culture is full of disagreements about spelling, pronunciation and what the chingada language are we arguing in anyway?). Also, Chinese gangsters are everywhere; Felix Gomez ends up working for one.

There also don’t seem to be many Anglos around.

In other words, it's a volatile, rasquache mash-up that blasts apart all the walls between the genres (which, let’s face it, are nothing but marketing strategies), and sends astounding fragments soaring through the reader’s mind. There’s the detective angle, because the investigator/narrator helps when thrusting us into a weird new world. The ever-popular vampire theme, along with werewolves, finds a new home in the Wild West. And its paranormality dovetails into sci-fi with a mad scientist and some monsters.

Oh yeah, there’s also these amazing women. The sex slaves of the title don’t just sit around signing and whimpering until they are rescued--they pick up weapons and . . .

It’s probably better if I don’t reveal too much.

As you can tell from the drive-in movie/pulp fiction (if you are too young to know what either of those are, do some research, your education is seriously lacking) titles, this isn’t highbrow literature with a grim agenda here. Steampunk Banditos, and the rest of Mario Acevedo’s Felix Gomez novels, are pop culture. They are full of colorful images, ideas, and thrills. 

In other words, it's fun.

They are also from a Chicano viewpoint. I once heard Mario say that it would be weird for him not to write that way.

The Latino Lit crowd needs to look into Steampunk Banditos, and Mario’s other works. They could learn a few things from his page-turner style that made him a national best-selling author.

And the ending indicates that there’s more to come, which should be mind-blowing.

Ernest Hogan’s High Aztech will be taught as part of a course at San Diego State University, and he will be flying out to meet the students.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

The Amazing Watercolor Fish / El asombroso pez acuarela

Text and illustrations by Carolyn Dee Flores
Spanish translation by Carmen Tafolla

  • ISBN: 978-1-55885-873-2
  • Publication Date: October 31, 2018
  • Bind: Hardcover
  • Pages: 32

This rhyming bilingual picture book depicts a whimsical friendship between two pet fish!

A lonely pet fish longs to know what exists in the world beyond her bowl. “I wish I could see over there / Behind the wall, / Behind the chair.” She imagines a giant tree, a wooly goat, and a purple sea.

She wonders if there could be someone out there who looks like her. So, she leans close to the glass and hears some fish-like cries! “Hello? Is someone there?” she hears. “Are you a bird? / Are you a bee? Or are you a fish with fins like me?” She realizes there’s another fish close by and his name is Mike!

When Mike asks what her world is like, the amazing watercolor fish has a great idea. “I’ll show Mike what I think could be!” Using watercolors, she paints a picture of a world with trees and swirling rainbows. Every day she paints more, “birds that swim, / ships with wings, / and books that do all sorts of things!” Then Mike uses his paint to illustrate more “than just the water and the door.”

In this fun bilingual picture book, with a wonderful rhyming Spanish translation by former Texas Poet Laureate Carmen Tafolla, two pet fish imagine a beautiful, mysterious world beyond their bowls. Children ages 4-8 will love following the progression of Carolyn Dee Flores’ gorgeous illustrations from black and white to full color as the fish become friends. Kids will be inspired to imagine—and maybe even paint or write about—a world beyond the one they know.


“What if we could create the life we want? What would it look like? A lonely pet fish does just that when she begins to dream about a world beyond her bowl. She meets another fish, and the two set off on a journey of discovery. This beautiful picture book features Flores’ rhyming words and colorful illustrations with Spanish translation by former Texas Poet Laureate Carmen Tafolla.”—Houston Chronicle

“A lovely, mind-expanding idea for young readers, and the shift from black and white to color is a clever conceit. Spanish-literate readers will get an evocative take on two fish and their shared vision of a world they’ll never see.”—Kirkus Reviews

CAROLYN DEE FLORES is the illustrator of several books, including A Surprise for Teresita / Una sorpresa para Teresita (Piñata Books, 2016); Dale, dale, dale: Una fiesta de números / Hit It, Hit It, Hit It: A Fiesta of Numbers (Piñata Books, 2014) and Canta, Rana, canta / Sing, Froggie, Sing (Piñata Books, 2013). A member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, she lives in San Antonio, Texas.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

500-word memoir. News 'n Notes.

500-word memoir
My Boys In the Snow
Michael Sedano

Back in 2011 I ran a 500-word memoir. That one was about snow, too. The 500-word exercise offers fun for the effort. Write, tighten, write, tighten, check word count, tighten tighten, five hundred or under. I'm writing an "as told to" autobiography for a Chicano hero right now, and the write-tighten exercise develops a habitual eye for saying a 1000 word first draft in a submitted 500, without going through the 1000 first.

The man's is an exciting life and I'm writing for YA, raza boys. He's in the Army right now in the narrative, so coming across a foto from Winter 1969 was serendipity or a mystic confluence. He was in uniform when the Korean war broke out, I was in uniform in Korea.

I'm digitizing my boxes of sixties vinyl. In the process I ran across this slide of "my boys," my closest companions except for one--he was up on the mountain this day--gathered for a group hug. I stepped backward to grab this and it's fuzzy. Never be able to go back and fix it, and with film you don't take a lot of exposures.

I met Radowski my first night at the battery. In the snowy photograph, he’s the big guy to the right of the soldiers, left of the foto. Radowski was a cook. Cole, Robledo, Lopez, and Hughes were Alpha firing crew, and Perales was fire control.

Hwaak-ni nestled with stunning isolation in the valley formed by the juncture of two mountains in the Republic of Korea. My mountain, Mae Bong, a legend as “the highest and ruggedest HAWK site in world.” A sign said so, I believed it, and so did the other 70 men assigned here for a year.

Generating electricity burns lots of diesel so the compound doesn’t have a lot of light. The surrounding dark and thick humid air sounds of crickets, the running stream, and raucous laughter.

Right now, I point myself toward the only light in front of me. Behind me, the light above the door to my hootch casts a long shadow that points to the mess hall. The Sergeant’s orientation rings in my ears.

“Sedano, you play your cards right and Korea is the best duty in the world. You report straight here do not go to morning formation. You go up on the mountain two days, down for one like clockwork.” He’s saved the best for last.

“Get yourself a nice yobo. Korean women know how to treat a man. My Daisy sure does. You keep her in soap and cigarettes and she’ll take care of you.”

I wondered, was it a translation? “How did you find a girl way out here named ‘Daisy'?”

The Sergeant had a hearty laugh and demonstrated it. “Sedano, you can name them anything you want.”

The chow hall door is propped open and the laughter easily pours out of the screen door. I step in and six guys stand around a table. Radowski is arm wrestling all comers. Two guys sit down while I watch and Radowski dispatches them easily. Radowski exults, challenging anyone to have a seat.

Not knowing anyone and no one knowing me, I step up to the table. “I can take you left handed.”

Radowski swells to the challenge “Oh yeah?”


Radowski rolls up the teeshirt on his left arm. The ref announces, “the new guy against Radowski! Ready…” he pulls his hand up and says “Go!”

The big white boy is strong. He’s from the San Fernando Valley, played high school football and joined the Army to escape a drug bust. He’s a downer freak and becomes a good friend. Tonight, Radowski strains to no avail and slowly his arm weakens and mine begins to exert leverage.

The battery champion pinches his lips together and in the humidity sweats profusely but Radowski loses. The crowd isn’t happy. Their boy lost to the new guy and no one knows who he is. Radowski’s injured ego demands a right handed match.

In a second, I have the crowd screaming and hollering laughing and giving Radowski a hard time. I tell them I’m left handed.

News ' Notes - Mailbag
Michael Nava Goes Aural

I've recorded 6 episodes for the January launch and I'm working on the next 6. There will be a total of 17 episodes. I’ll be releasing other trailers leading up to the January launch.

Opera Cultura San Jose Califasilicone Valley
Here is one of the new voices. Listening all the way to the final note rewards you with that final note.

The greatest musical instrument in the world is the human body. This video of Virgina Hesse singing  O Luce Di Quest'animademonstrates that. Here's the link for tickets.

Ron Arias wrote those words in his debut as a kick-ass writer, The Road to Tamazunchale (link). Riverside and Inland Empire readers have the opportunity to meet Ron, along with poet Juan Delgado, at the Culver (link). Wow, Riverside.  Cheech Marin is locating one of the world's best art museums, a Chicano equivalent of the Norton Simon Museum of Art in Pasadena. UCR Tomás Rivera Library has the world's definitive collection of science fiction and speculative fiction, and there's the Culver with this series. Who knew? Now we do.

Before La Bloga - Tuesday signs off, a reminder, G O T V, 6 November 2018. Get Out There And Vote.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Works by Eloy Torrez and Juliane Backmann at the Los Angeles County Library in East Los Angeles

Don’t miss the opening celebration for this wonderful exhibit! I have long been a fan of Eloy Torrez’s paintings, so much so that I was able to arrange having his playfully evocative painting "El rey de la risa" adorn the cover of my 2017 short-story collection, The King of Lighting Fixtures. And since then, I’ve also had the opportunity to meet his wife, Juliane Backmann, and experience her powerful photographs and art. I plan on attending this celebration of art and photographs...I hope to see you there!

Eloy Torrez and Juliane Backmann.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Timber Frames: An Unfulfilled Dream by Antonio SolisGomez

As a young man I became interested in working with wood, an interest that was an easy enough transition from time spent helping my carpenter stepfather. However my interest was now in building furniture, although as a home owner, I also had to tackle basic carpentry projects. My new interest utilized some of the same basic carpentry tools which I had, but eventually I had to purchase a table saw, a band saw, chisels, jigs for drilling accurate holes, rasps, glues and small hands saws for cutting dovetail joints.

I build a few pieces for home use, a desk for my daughter, a chest of drawers, a hutch, a queen size bed and a meditation chair. The magazine Fine Woodworking was a favorite during that early time of learning, reading in depth articles on the finer points of building furniture, including tools, projects and technique enhancement. It was here that I first read about Timber Frame construction and I was reminded of the Episcopalian Church of the Epiphany in Lincoln Heights, whose construction I had long admired, that was build as a Timber Frame, its beautiful interior a testament to great craftsmanship.

Notice that log homes are entirely different from Timber frames, in the former the logs are simply laid down one atop the other, the wall are thus solid except for the window and door openings. In timber frames there are large open spans between the timbers (bays) that support the roof. These open spaces in the walls are filled with brick, plaster or rock or the more traditional wattle and daub, a lattice made of wood covered with a combination of mud, clay, straw and dung.


Far back in history wood buildings and homes were constructed with massive timbers joined together using intricate joinery and pegs. Archaeological sites in Europe, Asia and the Middle East from as early as 200 BC have been found that show buildings constructed in this way. Much of the land was forested in those areas and therefore it was logical for people to utilize wood as a building material. However trees were held in reverence and there wasn’t the wanton destruction of forests that took place in this country. Most of the countries in Europe have a architectural history
of Timber Frames buildings, the one outstanding example that
doesn't is Russia, where log homes were more of the norm.
Shambles Street in the City of york

When Europeans arrived in North America they brought over Timber Frame construction to build their homes and barns, the process a community affair as it took many hands to accomplish the task. What was eventually lost however was the reverence for the forest from whence the timbers grew. North American forests that had been growing for hundreds of years began to be cut down on a massive scale both to clear the land for farming and for dimensional lumber such as 2x4’s that began to be used in the late 1800’s in the construction industry.

Drawing on left depicts use of the broad ax used to square a log. On the right a barn raising

Timber frames required trees of a manageable size. Builders didn’t go looking for the tallest, biggest trees. They left the old growth forest alone, intact, for future generations to enjoy. But lumberjacks in North America did just the opposite. They looked for and cut down the largest tress that they could find and let the lumber mill cut it down to the required sizes. What a difference in values and attitudes.

It is difficult to have a spiritual connection with a 2x4 not so difficult when one is dealing with a whole tree that has to be hewn square by hand, notched and lifted into place to be joined with another large timber. And the fact that one can see the timbers in a completed building, provides an aesthetic experience not possible with dimensional lumber hidden behind plaster walls.

Throughout the world there is renewed interest in timber frame home construction and a wave of skilled craftsmanship has emerged. This renewed interest in timber frames has necessarily brought about the need for the tools that have been employed in this type of buildings. Thus we have been re-introduced to the broad ax, the slick, the adze, the auger, the corner chisel, and larger chisels. Naturally new techniques, tools and materials have also come forth, the most notable being the Structural Insulated Panels(SIPS) used to fill in the bays, the large openings in the wall space between the timbers supporting the ceiling. SIPS are also used to cover the roof so that the roof beams are exposed on the inside.

Hatchet, blue adze without its handle, slick without handle, chisels, broad ax standing, Japanese saw handle not visible

My interest in timber frames was a natural transition from having practiced wood working for a number of years, joining wood and making furniture. They call it joinery because more often than not when making furniture one has to join one or more pieces together in order to get the width that one needs for a project, as most lumber doesn’t come in widths greater than 12 inches.
Lap joint with wooden pins

I became more interested in timber frames when I bought some property in rural New Mexico, adjacent to the Gila National Forest. Forest rangers are always felling trees to thin out the forest and I could buy one designated for thinning for $10, however I would have to cut it down and haul it out, a task that I was not equipped to handle from areas with no roads that would require a team of horses.

Cruck of a tree, naturally bent
My brothers Tito and Raul helping me build a shed in New Mexico using local timbers
There are two trends that are leading the renewed interest in craftsmanship in different areas of modern life. One is that fact that we are living longer and have more time to explore our interests that often lead to the craftsmanship that is involved, be it in automobile restoration, gardening, home construction, building furniture or in one of the many art mediums, etc. The other trend is the loss of employment opportunities due to greater efficiency and or to automation. There is simply not going to be enough places to work. Although this same argument was made at the advent of the industrial revolution, it was then merely a theoretical supposition. Today there is an abundance of evidence that this is happening already.

My desire to build a timber frame in New Mexico was never fulfilled because of the remoteness of the property and my decline in ganas to accomplish such a daunting task. Perhaps in a next life.