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Earthen Legends


Mel Medina

Mel Medina founded the Adobe Factory in 1978, turning out thousands upon thousands of sun- dried adobes to supply the  northern New Mexico adobe industry. Not only northern New Mexico—his company has shipped adobes to as far away as the Bahamas, according to a report in the Rio Grande Sun. Closer to home, Mel was involved in the construction of the Mosque in Abiquiu, designed by renowned Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy and built in 1980.

When he began, he was just one of many adobe yards in the state, but through the years many of those disappeared, few remaining, of which Mel’s was without doubt the largest.

Mel was far more than just an adobe producer. Talking to some of those he knew I realize he was many different things to different people. Whether your interest was old cars—he had several—or bicycles—he had many! —or custom made ornos…he also hosted groups from many places, including Afghanistan and Uzbekistan, of those interested in his particular brand of adobe making, or in the cultural and historical aspects of adobe construction…and the list goes on.

Mel passed away in September of 2022. His absence leaves a tremendous void and is a loss to
both his community of friends and to the adobe world.

Dr Fred Webster.png

Dr. Fred Webster 

To his family and his close personal friends, he was “Tic”.  To his professional friends and colleagues he was Fred or Dr. Webster.  By any name he was known to be a generous, loving, human being with a passion for life and a commitment to excellence.

Dr. Fred Webster received his BA from Swarthmore College in 1967 and his Ph.D. from Stanford University in 1972.  In the 1980’s he began his ongoing research, testing and design of adobe with the National Science Foundation. His work continued throughout his lifetime with many organizations including the Getty Conservation Institute.  Trained as a civil engineer he found his love and passion as a “mud engineer.”  That’s not surprising for a man who loved to fish, camp and spend time in nature with his family and friends.

Raised in Tucson, AZ, he fell in love as a teenager with his wife Brendan O’Connor. They had three children: their daughters Alex, and Kendall and their son Dillon.  One time they all went on a deep sea sailing adventure from California to Hawaii with some of their best friends.  Just one day out on the high seas the mast snapped in a fierce gale.  In his calm, cool, and collected way he figured out how to get the mast back into place and lash it securely so it was effective for the rest of the voyage.

Webster brought the same ingenuity to the design and conservation of earthen buildings.  “Containment and continuity” is a phrase you could hear him say.  He believed in structural integrity.  And he was brilliant when it came to solving problems and breathing new life and integrity into damaged adobe buildings.

His research included The Getty Seismic Adobe Project.  As a consulting engineer some of the buildings that were strengthened in California include: San Miguel Mission in San Miguel, The Castro Adobe in Watsonville, Royal Presidio Chapel in Monterey, San Luis Rey in Oceanside and the Mission San Antonio de Padua in Jolon, just to name a few.  In New Mexico he worked on the San Antonio Church in Questa, The Santo Domingo Trading Post in Santo Domingo, the San Miguel Church in Santa Fe and the Armijo house in Las Cruces.  He also worked on the Stanton Monastery in Stanton, Texas.

Fred gave presentations at many conferences including Terra 2012 in Lima, Peru and several Earth USA conferences. He helped write the New Mexico Earthen Buildings Code and was hard at work at the current revisions to the code.  He was an active member of the Earthbuilder’s Guild.  In fact at a meeting at Cornerstones just prior to the Earth USA 2015 conference, Fred was patched in to the meeting via Skype. Even though he was limited in movement, he was there and actively participated.  It was just a few weeks later that he passed.

Fred is missed for his passion, his commitment, his integrity and his genius when it came to earthen building.  Not only that, he was a really nice, friendly down to earth kind of guy who cared about people.  Fred was always someone you could call and get advice about this or that situation with an adobe structure.  Tic: We really miss you.


 Jim Estess
Jul 7, 1947 – Oct 7, 2015

TEG Member Jim Estess passed away on October 7, 2015.  Jim was a person of many skills.  He worked in various fields such as auto mechanic, motorcycle mechanic, chemical sales,  construction, City maintenance supervisor, and was a skilled cement finisher for over 40 years.  During his time as a salesman of chemicals he developed a unique sealer that was very efficient in preserving structures made from earth, such as adobe and rammed earth.  In 1987 he established his business, Ram Seal International.  He also taught classes in adobe and rammed earth construction and the preservation of earthen structures. He loved what he did and willingly shared his knowledge.

He is survived by his wife, Cindi Estess, of Shasta Lake, California and his daughter, Jennifer Estess and granddaughter, Jazmyn.

His contribution to the science of the preservation and stabilization of earthen walls was appreciated by many in the industry. 

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