Authors of ‘Sun Sticks and Mud’ Speak Thursday



Dirt gets a bum rap. When in contact with it, people seem more bent on erasing it than embracing the earthy material.

Until now … with Fuller Lodge Art Center showcasing pottery in its newest show, “We Who Are Clay,” and Mesa Public Library’s Authors Speak showcasing Bart Kaltenbach and Barbara Anschel, the authors of “Sun Sticks and Mud,” dirt is being seen in a whole new light.

The Authors Speak talk is 7 p.m. Thursday at Mesa Public Library.

Bart Kaltenbach. Courtesy photo

In the book, Kaltenbach and Anschel along with photographer Steve Fitch chronicle the history of habitation and architecture in the desert southwest along with personal essays.

The trio traveled everywhere from west Texas to Chihuahua, Mexico and San Diego, Calif., to document everything from architectural history, techniques and details of materials to sustainable green buildings. The book also is a travel journal that chronicles the authors’ journeys.

So what is the appeal of dirt?

 “I think there is a renewal and widespread awareness that we need to find sustainable materials that are easily available and local,” Kaltenbach said. “The use of earth materials in buildings is thousands of years old. In some cases that is all people had. It seems we have come full circle.”

According to Kaltenbach, dirt also provides for a lot of great stories. For example, while in Utah, the authors met with a group of students from the University of Utah who live in the desert and build houses on the Navajo reservation.

Anschel said they enjoyed “traveling and meeting with people and connecting the buildings with people who lived in them or near them.”

Their talk on Thursday will be accompanied by slides of photographs taken by Fitch.

Barbara Anschel. Courtesy photo

Kaltenbach said the book has more than 400 color photographs.

“We wanted the book to be equally strong in what the text read and what the pictures portray.”

He added that the presentation’s objective is to “really give an overview of what the book is trying to do and hopefully elicit questions and comments.”

This is the first book Anschel and Kaltenbach have written, but they brought 35 years experience in building design and construction to the project.

Kaltenbach said he and Anschel were retiring from the construction business and the book felt like a good way to “whittle down our workaholic habits.”

Kaltenbach said, “We’re both interested in writing and we’re avid readers so it isn’t that we haven’t thought about writing.”

“I liked the research part because I am a researcher by nature,” added Anschel.

Collaborating on a book came naturally since she and Kaltenbach have been together for 40-some years.

We just want to get information out about (people’s) environment … and to (have them) think about the issues of sustainability and efficiency and architectural style,” Anschel said.

To learn more about the authors and their book, visit

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