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Mid 80s

The Tigua Indians in El Paso bake bread, known as pahhú, in outdoor ovens called hornos.

The bread is a very popular seller among tourists visiting the Tigua Reservation. It is best torn off in chunks, rather than sliced, and most delicious when eaten as soon as possible from the oven. Our visiting relatives always bought this bread as soon as they arrived in El Paso and carried some back home, as well.

I was still teaching when I made this familiar Southwest setting for a glass dome many years ago, and I am pretty sure it was still in the 80s.

The vine-laden adobe wall is regular styrofoam. The lower wall section which includes the oven was the corner of foam packaging for something connected with our computer. The oven itself is a styrofoam ball. It was all glued together, then plastered with spackling compound, painted with clay color acrylic paint, then given a dirty water wash and dabbed all over with a soft cloth. Additional darkening was added to the oven interior and around the edges.

The real ovens are made with plastered-over adobe bricks; some have layers of heat-conducting rocks in the base. Fires are built in the ovens and when the coals are at the right stage the interior is cleared and swept clean, then the bread is placed inside for baking.

The door is propped tightly in place and wet rags stuffed around it, sealing it tightly. Wet rags are also stuffed into any cracks where smoke is visible to prevent heat escaping. The little brush, which is wired-together straw, is used to sweep the area.

Better tear off a chunk while it's still hot!

Nothing is wasted; so after the bread is removed, corn, squash or chilies are sometimes roasted with the left-over heat, depending on the season. In the old days, vegetables were roasted in quantity and stored for later use. (These chiles are made from Fimo.)

I don't know what happened to the oven door, which was originally propped against the side of the oven on the ground. A broom is missing, too, along with some rags on a stick used to mop out the oven interior. Since I only had one dome in this size (8/1 X 10) for many years, it was used to display other scenes, as well. I guess things got lost when this particular setting was stored while something else occupied the dome.

Nowadays I have domes in every conceivable size! (You can Google for them under Glass Display Domes or Cloches.)

The wood-laden donkey is folk-art from Mexico, one of my favorite pieces. It was bought over 50 years ago at the Old Mercado in Juarez when we first moved to El Paso. He is certainly not realistic, but he captured my heart then, and still does.

I bought every tiny item - clay, wood, cloth, straw, brass, copper, tin, hand-blown glass - that I could find in our visits to Mexico over the years, all handcrafted. Although I have made many clay faces since then, this may be one of my earliest purchases.

Just around the corner from the oven is an ocotillo. These spiny plants look dead until we get some rain, then tiny green leaves sprout all up and down the long branches, and red-orange blooms brighten the tips.

This ocotillo is made with cloth-covered florist wire, poppy seeds and paint. (See directions for making an Ocotillo in Tutorials.)

The road runner is a little metal pin, repainted.

I decided that the reverse side of my dome would also be representative of our area, where there are many beautiful native plant gardens with a religious figure as their focal point.

The emphasis in my garden is St. Francis.

The cardboard base for the entire scene is coated with a brown paint and glue mixture. After all the elements are in place, more tinted glue thinned with water is painted around them and more coarse sand sprinkled on to make things look "settled into" the ground.

I used bronze paint and an antique glaze to age the original ivory plastic figure. Figures like this can be found in religious shops and gift shops near churches.

Notice the bird perched on his shoulder. I don't remember now whether he came from Mexico or not.

My Francis statue wasn't tall enough for the wall height, so I made an elevated base with half circles of styrofoam, which also allowed more variety in the plantings. Most of the flowers are dried materials, touched up with paint. I wish I had painted them all; those beigy-y looking blooms behind the pot on the left were originally pink. Nowadays I paint almost all natural materials.

The vines grow from a spot at the end of the wall. They are made with beige buttonhole twist, pulled through glue and then through a mixture of colored model railroading landscape foam. I didn't realize the buttonhole twist was apparently made of polyester, and it was disconcerting when the foam didn't stick well in some places. However, many vines have bare areas, anyway, so I left it alone.

I also made sure the vines along the wall trailed down toward St. Francis.

The foam on the vines has darkened and become dried out with time, and I wanted to touch it up with a brighter green in places. But it shatters so easily, I gave up on it. However, I'm assuming the brown look and whatever fell to the ground will look natural anyway.

The yucca is made with painted bits of styrofoam on cloth-covered wire and some dried pine needles on a built-up brown florist foam rise.

The succulents in the shallow pot are made from painted seeds and small pods.

Even though certain elements of this scene show the effects of the years, it still remains a sentimental favorite.

Next time you come to El Paso, why not try some pahhú?


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