Petaluma man turns dirt into art


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By now, the neighbors have grown getting used to the sight of Miguel Elliott digging holes in his backyard.

"This dirt has 70 percent sand, 30 percent clay," said Elliott.

While it's true that most people might not appreciate such earthly qualities, we are not connoisseurs of dirt. But Elliott has felt drawn to it for most of his life, and his parents have the pictures as proof.

"He liked being outside, doing things with his hands," said Elliott's dad.

Elliott mixed in a little water into that dirt and then danced in it. Then he added some straw and danced some more, and before long, had molded gobs of into the material historically known as cobb.

"This is the oldest building material on Earth, and the majority of people on Earth live in Earth homes," said Elliott.

Elliott is starting a back-to-the-earth movement -- in an era of prefab houses and drywall. He uses cob to build small ovens and for a little more, he can add a large patio bench to surround those ovens or sculpture for a wall.

A pet project behind the family home is a sauna, crafted from that very same dirt in the backyard.

"And this could be a house. I often sleep in here. I have plywood, a mattress here. Every man deeds a dome. Ever man needs a cave," said Elliott.

"I would say his imagination was always the thing that was most pronounced. He was actually conceived in a tent," said Elliott's mom.

Elliott learned earthen building while living in Central and South America. He came home to Sonoma County to try to make a business of it, and seems to have found himself in the process. Now, he gives weekend workshops.

"It's the perfect work party medium. Kids can do it. Elderly can do it. Disabled can do it. People with addictions can do it," said Elliott.

Yeah, and some are addicted to cob.

Spoken like a man who has found a little bit if heaven, by digging in the earth. His family is grateful that they still have a lot of it.

"We have a whole acre of land," said Elliott's land.

Living Earth Structures

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