Hidden in the corner between two creeks, Wattle and Lee, near Devil’s Den State Park is the Wattle Hollow Retreat Center where one might find some very interesting architecture.
While many visit Wattle Hollow to experience nature, others go to participate in a community building experience known as cob building: a building technique composed of clay, sand and straw similar to adobe mound building.
“When I learned that you could build buildings with you hands, I was very excited,” said Joy Fox, owner of the Wattle Hollow Retreat Center who has been cob building for 15 years.
Fox learned about cob building through a friend and she instantly signed up for workshops in Portland and New Mexico. She took her new knowledge with her and began creating cob buildings in Wattle Hallow.
Fox explains that the cobbing experience is a low-tech science that requires low mentality and is a tribal sport. She said that it is particularly favorable to women because big machines aren’t needed to build a cob structure.
Fox has recently invited child organizations to participate in the cob building experience.
“In every culture people are taught not to get muddy. With cob building you have to get muddy,” Fox said. “It’s simple, it can be shared with children and it calls for a child-like imagination.”
To start, cob buildings need a significant foundation to sit on. Furniture can be built into the structure as well as windows and doorways. According to Fox, summer is the only time to be able to build due to the favorable weather conditions that allow the mixture to dry properly.
Such structures are inhabitable, Fox said. “About 40 percent of homes in the world are made of some form of mud,” Fox said. “The energy it brings out, you are building a community as much as a building.”
Fox explains that cob building in Wattle Hollow is not only about community interaction and creating art as well as a home, it is also the opportunity to experience nature.
On the weekend of June 1, Wattle Hollow had its very first Family Mud Day in which families and Brownies were invited to participate in building a community cob building.
“The current building is experimental. We’ll see wherever it takes us,” Fox said. “It is going to require patience and energy. We will even do some yoga to prepare some physical fitness.”
Fox hopes to interest the community in this textural activity that has a lot to teach and is very different from the normal Arkansan weekend plans.
“It is a magical form that requires a lot of patience,” Fox said. “We are creating the sculptures of the earth.”