Work Progressing on ‘Living Rock’

Howard Taylor gives sincere assurance that he isn’t happy with people who”heap too much praise” on him for his hard work in designing, developing and constructing Brownsville’s Living Rock Studio, next to his house, along Highway 228, just east of the Bohemia, Inc. sawmill operation. “This is a community project,” he asserts, referring to the stone building to which he has devoted 20 or more years of planning and developing.

To hear Howard tell it, a person would come to the conclusion that the petrified wood, crystals, Indian artifacts, relives Pioneer days, railroad ties; and …The whole “500 tons of Oregon History “came washing down the Calapooya River and deposited itself in a giant back-eddy into this magnificent testimonial cairn of stone, sand and cement, which is now approaching its final developmental level.

The fact is that much of the materials involved did “find its way” to Taylor’s door; but it actually came west on Highway 228. The Living Rock Studio (which Howard is naming it; and for which he is planning a formal dedication in 1985) has been developed and structured from “donations from more than a thousand” different people.

At this stage, pouring has been completed on the last of the concrete structural beams that will support the roof on the second floor of his unique multi-faceted creation, through which he is expressing his religious philosophy and beliefs…reflecting his outlook on life. He estimates that the overall project is “about three-quarters done; but we’re almost finished with the structure itself.”

Now 71 years of age, Taylor works two day a week with his son-in-law and daughter, Luther and Nancy Bergerson of Goshen. He also works about four hours a day, on his own, despite problems with his heart and other health factors. “That’s one reason,” he explains, “why I think of this whole project as a testament of father.”

Continuing, he says, “My life is not mine, but God’s. He can take it away anytime.” However, the work has gone-on through the years; and he credits his ability to continue with his special project, despite recurring health problems, to the healing power of God.

The structure is designed with many religious symbols incorporated into the framework. The central support is the “Tree of Life” Taylor discloses. Made of petrified wood, it has a hollow center lined with crystals of various local-area minerals.

Various symbols…
An interior stairway treads through this tree…symbolizing the Biblical “Jacob’s Ladder.” Upstairs, the “limbs” of this “Tree” (which are reinforced with railroad ties) support the roof-beams which form the “spokes” of Ezekiel’s “wheel.” “The inner-wheel is the unbroken circle of fellowship,” he explains. The three-part spire symbolizes the Holy Trinity.

On the first (ground) floor are the Living Rock Pictures, which are made out of cut stone assembled like pieces of stained glass into portraits of Biblical events. Taylor points out, “The materials are all natural rocks, which are translucent. Backlighting allows the pictures to be viewed in the concrete “cave” provided for them. We have been showing these pictures for many years; and their popularity has demanded a proper place in the completed project for their display.”

The many-phased project reflects the versatility of Taylor’s artistry. Much of his artwork is already completed ready for what some would term a “Museum of Natural History.” For instance, he has a collection of 100 different species of Oregon wood-substances, carved into toys and tools, in the Pioneer tradition. There also are many wildlife paintings, reflecting Howard’s admitted love of birds. Displayed are portraits of Hawks, Eagles, Sparrows; and, such as the Oregon Wood Warbler.

Also ready for display is a giant wooden book (with pages made of plywood reinforced by 2x4s) which Taylor has developed to depict History of Logging, with oil-painted pictures and hand-painted script.

The overall structure itself, traces the geological history of Oregon, with each rock giving Taylor an opportunity to explain to visitors the history of the region. He mentions, “We bring groups of Young people through here (though not completed); and they love to learn this way.” He is happy to show visitors through the studio; but-also-urges those wishing to visit to “call ahead.” He explains that in his way, arrangements can be made. Otherwise, they might arrive, and nobody would be home.

It is remembered that, long before this latest developmental project as in progress, the smaller “studio,” all on the ground floor attracted many visitors to “Taylor Rock Gardens” which it was called, originally.

Those visiting the enlarged facility will view Pioneer relics, like wagon wheels, iron kettles, and the like, incorporated into the concrete walls. They are arranged side-by-side with Indian artifacts, such as (in one instance) a large granite mortar-and-pestle. In this way, Taylor says he is telling the story of his ancestors, 16 of whom crossed the plains to Oregon, before 1852.

Further explaining his objectives, this Son of the Pioneers comments, “The project is a continuing testimony of our faith, and that of our ancestors, in God, the Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.”

The engineer/artist further explains why he has chosen 1985 for the project’s formal dedication. “We plan to dedicate it to the memory of our ancestors on Oct. 13, 1985, which will be our Golden Wedding Anniversary.” He reveals that he and his wife, Faye-his able helpmate and co-worker-are planning the dedication ceremony whether or not hte entire project is completed. In fact, considering how Howard Taylor has continued to develop and expand from the original plan…it is probable that he will continue incorporating new features as long as possible.

However, with his persistent work-and the loyal assistance of his family-Taylor is confident that the present project will be completed by then. “This also is a testimonial to the hard work of our Pioneers,” he explains. “It’s being built in the same way they did things-the whole community helps.” In this connection, he has no-end of praise for all of the help, in so many ways from so many persons, that he has received through the years.

To those driving by, day-by-day, it may seem that little progress is being made. But, the tedious physical hand-done work is proceeding steadily…one bucketful of mixed concrete at a time; and one piece of salvaged iron, or one more stone, at a time goes into “The Plan.”

When asked to define the project, the Taylors’ daughter, Nancy, declined to call it a “temple” or a “museum”, although it involves the scopes of both. Then, musing as she thought back through the years, to when her father first started on this work of love, and the many hours he has devoted to it with help from her, her husband and others-she affirmed without hesitation: “It’s a miracle!”

Article by Bill Carey for the The Times, Brownsville, published on June 2, 1983.