Sculptural Cob Experiment

This post is way overdue, but better late then never, right? So When I moved into my current home here in Ithaca I moved in with a wonderful woman name Marsha. She is an art teacher and artist herself who is particularly talented at clay work. When I started telling her about natural building she got really excited and we decided we had to do some kind of cob project this past fall. We didn’t have much time to plan so we kept it super small and experimental. But it was a lot of fun, and I can proudly say that this is my first natural building project where I was the “expert” on the scene and played the role of teacher rather then student.

So here is what we we decided to do. Marsha works at the Ithaca Youth bureau doing clay work with children and adults. They have some outside space there right next to stewart park so we decided that was the perfect spot for our experiment. Following we our totally experimental approach we decided to try a cob bird bath (yes, we knew that cob doesn’t generally do well in direct constant contact with water.) We came up with a design where the base would be cob on top of a mini stone foundation and then the top, which would hold the water, would be an actual ceramic piece that would be water proof and act as a mini roof over the base. Of course, the plan evolved as we built (and is still evolving) but here are slideshow of pictures from along the way:

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Our goal was to have the children involved as much as possible and to just experiment and have fun. It was a big success! The children loved it. How could they not? Its a child’s dream to play in the mud. And they were fascinated since any of them were working in clay with Marsha but had never seen this application of clay.

The cob we made used clay from six mile creek river bed, straw from a friend of Marsha’s and gravel from a pile we found in a dump yard. For the plaster we used sand from a nearby golf course (because it was such a small project they let me take a 5 gallon bucket of from them, and mixed in some horse manure for fiber and extra stickiness along with the creek slay.

The kids had fun experimenting with pigments too, crushing up berries and seeing what effect that had on the color. I tried remember to take pictures but it seemed I would always be too involved when the action was happening to remember. So most of the pictures are taken at the end of the day once the kids left. But the were involved in a good portion of the work.

It was a lot of fun and cost us nothing to make. And it is still holding up well, even after rain storms, heavy winds, snow, and below freezing temperatures! We hope to continue the tradition in future years and build other cob projects with the youth bureau children. Some ideas we have are a cob dragon that also serves as a bench and perhaps a play house/gazebo.



  1. I am curious about the linseed oil and beeswax. Can you tell me how that was applied and was it used in layers or just over final layer? I work with kids in Tucson and love this idea. Hope to hear from you!


    1. Hi Leigh! It was applied in layers, beginning with a higher proportion of linseed oil to beeswax (I don’t remember the exact proportion but maybe star with a 4:1 linseed oil:wax ratio and then work towards a 1:1 ration). I just applied it with a cotton rag, kind of buffing it as I went, or with the initial layers that are more linseed oil you could probably do a brush. Hope that helps and let me know if you have more questions! I would love to see what you end up doing with it with the kids!


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