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Monday, October 17, 2011

Sixty Bags of Cement and a Prayer for Dry Weather

“My dear Teresa:  This is a hasty note to tell you that the floors and the steps of the cement porches have been made and that all went well . . .”

I can only imagine what it must have been like when Clara Muxen arrived in the poverty stricken Ozarks of the 1940’s. The rugged terrain of the Boston Mountains, while breathtakingly beautiful, can be difficult to traverse today, let alone sixty years ago, especially in the winter months when everything can suddenly come to a stop.  The slopes of our mountains are forested and, with their deep valleys and steep terrain, they can be a challenge for anyone to negotiate. Small clearings on mountain crests, valley bottoms, and crevices, seemingly carved out of the landscape with a knife, are the only areas that can be utilized for building. In the 1940’s through the 1960’s when Miss Muxen worked with local craftsmen on the construction of the Craft School of the Ozarks, the mountains were sparsely populated, with much of the land belonging to the Ozark National Forest.

Miss Muxen’s hand-written letters weave a tapestry of threads that are at once beautiful in form yet abstract in vision, leaving the reader with more questions than answers.

What would possess a retired woman in her sixties with a history of compromised health due to tuberculosis attempt such a huge project on her own: that of designing, fundraising and physically participating in the building of what she called the Craft School of the Ozarks?

The design of the building itself is amazing. Reviewing Miss Muxen’s hand-drawn plans for the building, you’ll find each space, each room, each floor, is designated for a particular purpose, a particular goal.  She includes pages of hand-written supply lists: how many light fixtures she will need, how many circuit boxes, how many rope pulls, how many bags of nails and yes, how many bags of cement it will take to complete the porch areas.

“My dear Teresa . . . the floors and the steps of the cement porches have been made and that all went well. No rain until the cement had time to harden and no cold weather until all danger of freezing was past.  They look so nice . . . It took sixty sacks of cement – twenty more than the contractors figured, besides additional labor, but the extra costs were offset by the good weather and the splendid job done . . .”

“I worried over those steps so very much for fear of bad weather at the time of pouring the cement. That would have been tragic as all the labor and materials would have been a complete loss . . .”

The one thread we find throughout this weaving is the intention, desire, and prayer for the poor people of the Ozarks: the elderly, the young mothers and their children, the fathers out of work following the depression. 

Whether it was religious fervor or humanitarian zeal, Clara Muxen had a vision for this mountain and for the people carving out crevices in the hard landscape . . .

“May God grant them that this school will help them learn a skill that will be profitable to them . . .” Clara Muxen March 15th 1951

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