Hand-hewn building is man’s testimonial

BROWNSVILLE-It’s a studio. It’s a chapel. And it’s a dream. To Howard Taylor it is that and a good deal more. It is a 20-year testimony to one man’s determination and it is a reason for him to carry on.

It is Taylor Gardens Living Rock Studio, a hand-built stone and concrete structure under construction along Oregon 228 on the western edge of Brownsville.

Taylor, whose wiry 123-pound frame states a lifelong struggle misstates a lifelong struggle with heart and circulatory disease, is a devout man who has spent 70 years in love with the land. He has been a logger, surveyor, stone mason and nurseryman by trade. Otherwise, he is a birdwatcher, rockhound, wood carver, painter, botanist, artist, author, and, lately, construction engineer.

In the early 1960, with health so frail he could hardly manage the three steps up to the front door of his home, Taylor resolved to undertake the project of expanding a small existing stone workshop he had built into a studio and chapel.

Since then, hundreds of tons of stone and concrete have gone into the 1,600-square-foot, with motorists noting the gradual progress as the building arose from a swath of scaffolding.

“His dream is a way of serving God,” said Faye, his wife of 48 years.

Indeed, people can see what the rocks say to Taylor because he practices a unique art which he calls “living rock pictures.”

Taylor has made seven of them and plans five more.

But no one has ever seen him make a living rock pictures; not his wife, who has held a cleaning job for years to buy materials for the studio, not his daughter Nancy Bergerson, 43, who has mixed mortar for the project practically from the start. Although Taylor has let others share work on the building itself, he has always done the rock pictures in seclusion and will not explain the technique.

The pictures each depict a Biblical scene. But they are like no other picture.

Hundreds of rocks, sliced to transparent thinness and cut to precise fit, constitute one picture. While there is a resemblance to stained glass, there is no leading or filler whatever between the rock segments.

And the living rock pictures are not all there is to see in Taylor’s studio-chapel.

Taylor’s carvings, which embody more than 100 native Oregon woods, are stored there.

And stacked in several piles are huge pages to Taylor’s giant book about logging. Each page is framed in 2×4 boards, with an oil painting showing a feature in the history of logging on one page and a written explanation on the facing page.

When the studio is finally finished everything will be more fully displayed. Finished or not, the studio will be dedicated on Oct. 13, 1985, which is the Taylors’ 50th wedding anniversary.

The studio itself has the feel of a cave, cold and dark in the lower story. Light from an unfinished second floor roof seeps down a curved stairway to illuminate crystal and mineral samples, pioneer and Indian artifacts embedded in the walls.

“Some of this is fascinating, geologically,” Taylor said, noting that his rockhound friends supplied about 90 percent of the stone in the building while visitors’ donations have covered about 10 percent of construction costs.

Much of the building’s design has religious connotations, all of which Taylor relates to anyone wanting to listen. He encourages visitors, especially groups, to call in advance so he won’t be in the middle of concrete work when they arrive for the free tour.

“This is intended to make people think,” he said. “It’s not supposed to explain anything to them.”

“This is my testimony that there is a God,” he said. “I’m doing this from religious compulsion because I think it’s the thing to do. After all, I’ve been disabled since I was 51 years old.”

Article by Bill Bishop for the Eugene Register-Guard, published on September 8,1983.