06/09 - Maestro

I've been a big admirer of the different type of construction that you find in Mexico, and one of the things that has intrigued me most has been how they create the beautiful, brick ceilings.  I had heard that they don't use any forms to create the arched, brick ceilings and I just could never imagine how they did it.  This past week I had the opportunity to observe how a maesto creates his work of art.
My contractor, Armando, called me on Weds. to tell me that they were about to start building the ceiling at the house he is currently building.  He knew I wanted to observe one being built and was nice enough to give me a heads up.  I wasn't there at the very beginning, but I was able to begin to understand how the process worked very quickly.

The Maestro is the tall gentleman hoisting the bricks on the left.

It's a two man operation and, as you can see they start in the corners.  I could not see any markers, or lines drawn, or any signs that they were working to a prescribed pattern.  

Maestro worked one corner at a time.  He would add a row of bricks by starting one brick at the side and then alternating sides so the final brick of the row would always end up being the center. He would slather the sides of the brick with cement, about the consistency of oatmeal, and then place the brick carefully against the previous row.

After adding 2 to 3 rows to a corner, Maestro would move over to another corner and his helper would move into the corner and begin to clean up the excess mortar.  I quickly noticed that he was not only removing the excess, but he was also adding a much thicker mortar into the joints and pressing it in with a butter knife.  I found out later that this helped the mortar firm up and made the small sections hold together as they built toward the center.

I was amazed without any support each section supported itself.

They finished the first day with about 10 rows of brick coming out from each of the 4 corners. Within a few hours of day 2 the corner sections began to meet in the middle of each of the 4 walls.

It was fascinating to watch and I was amazed that as each section became longer and longer that they held the perfect curve and supported themselves without any external support.

Armando would come by and explain to me that the maestro also had to know exactly what size brick had to go in which spot in order to support the arc.  I had seen maestro chop the bricks with the trowel, but didn't realize that he was cutting them to size.  Once Armando explained it to me it made sense and I could begin to see that there was a subtle pattern emerging between the rows.
By late afternoon on day 2 all four corners were meeting and the work seemed to move faster with the center hole becoming smaller with each row of bricks.  

I was fascinated at how each row of bricks from one corner met the bricks from the other corner and the  curvature maintained the exact same height.  I hesitated to think if one corner happened to be slightly higher than another, but as Armando said, "the maestro just won't allow that to happen".

By day 4 they were ready to finish and only a small, center hole remained.  Maestro had to contort his body to squeeze into the small opening.  He would lay 2 rows of brick and move out of the way so his partner could come in and clean off the excess mortar and reinforce the mortar with his thicker, putty-like mixture.  

Within just a couple of hours they had narrowed the hole to the size of the final brick.

The final brick required both the maestro and his assistant to put it in place.  Maestro slathered all 4 sides of the brick with a extra thick amount of mortar.  As maestro pushed the final brick into  the opening, the assistant was on the outside, top of the ceiling pushing small pieces of brick into the mortar in order to wedge the final brick into position.  Maestro had to hold the brick for an extended period to make sure that it was set, but when he removed his hand everything was as it should be.

What a privilege to watch a true artisan at work.  My guess is that maestro and his helper are both in their later 60's and they did everything by themselves.  They mixed their own cement, hauled their own bricks, moved their own scaffolding and completed the entire process in about 3 & 1/2 days.  They only do these types of ceilings and spend the rest of their time fishing.

Maestro, I am in awe of the skill you possess and your work will bring the homeowners great joy.