Modern Anasazi Wall Builders of Jerome, Part 2—Paul Nonnast

One of the comments from Part 1 of the wall builder stories was from Doyle Vines, a Jeroman that worked for the town of Jerome in many capacities in the eighties. Doyle wrote how much he loved the Holly Street wall.  It’s one of my favorites as well. The head of the crew that rebuilt that wall was Paul Nonnast, who is among my favorite of the modern hand-stacked build wall builders, along with Bob Hall, Richard Martin, Chuck Runyon, and my husband Walter.

The Holly Street Wall. The part built by Nonnast and the Town of Jerome is at the far   left. Photo by Bob Swanson/SwansonImages.com.

The Holly Street Wall. The part built by Nonnast and the Town of Jerome is at the far left. Photo by Bob Swanson/SwansonImages.com.

“I became a wall-builder of necessity,” Nonnast told me in 1990. “With the little money I came here with, I bought an old truck and 3 empty lots out the lonesome edge of town. My house was built with stones I gathered from out on Perkinsville Road, pick-axes, shovels, plumb bob, and a wheelbarrow.

Caption ‘The House on the Edge of Time’ was what Nonnast called that house. I published a story on that house ArtSpace Magazine in 1988. Photos by ML Lincoln

Caption ‘The House on the Edge of Time’ was what Nonnast called his house. I published a story on it in ArtSpace Magazine in 1988. Photos by ML Lincoln

I intercepted Jerome at the end of an era and have a perspective that I wouldn’t have if I turned up in town today. In 1975, many of us were considered bums. We struggled for a living. There were real outlaws living among us. We all tried to get along.  Everyone asked ‘how are you doing’ and cared about the answer. Today, the town bores me. All the talk is money.”

Built into the hillside,  Nonnast sometimes described his home as a ‘perforated cave’—a compact L-shaped building of three rooms: kitchen, bedroom, drafting/fabrication room. Adjacent are smaller rooms for storing tools and materials and a self-composting toilet.  The interior rooms open onto a stone terrace with round, cold pool and serve as an extension of the home’s internal spaces.   Inside and out, graceful sweeping curves, flat planes, numerous levels, angles, delicate patterning and tight joints identify Nonnast as a master stonemason.

Nonnast follows an ancient tradition of wall building among the ancient Anasazi (early Pueblo peoples of Utah and Arizona).

Some of the great walls at Chaco Canyon.

Some of the great walls at Chaco Canyon.

Paul is right at the top of my list of favorite artists, a visionary that was adept at sculpture, painting and architecture. He also was an industrial designer and designed the instrument case for Jerome Instrument Corporation’s mercury detector.

Paul Nonnast, paint on metal. Photo by ML Lincoln. I am so glad to own a few Nonnast paintings.

Paul Nonnast, paint on metal. Photo by ML Lincoln. I am so glad to own a few Nonnast paintings.

Only a few people in Jerome know that Nonnast received one of four honorable mentions in the prestigious Vietnam War Memorial Design Competition sponsored in Washington D.C. in l981. His memorial was conceived as a 22-foot cast bronze obelisk, counter-weighted and set into a fulcrum to allow motion. The obelisk was centered within a semi-circular polished granite surface textured with graceful spiral forms.

Obelisk maquette, balanced so it would sway in the wind. A smaller version was in Nonnast's home and I liked doing cloud hands with it as it swayed. Photo by ML Lincoln

Obelisk maquette, balanced so it would sway in the wind. A smaller version was in Nonnast’s home and I liked doing cloud hands with it as it swayed. Photo by ML Lincoln

His work was perfectly meticulous, even in what we might think of as ordinary objects. Once while staying at his house on a visit to Jerome, there was an old lunch box out on the dresser.  I had to look inside.  There were 12 dried maple leaves of beautiful colors arranged in an elegant pattern. That was the essence of Paul.

Paul Nonnast passed away in November 2005.

To view images of his art and rare collectibles, including the obelisk, go to http://www.flickr.com/photos/paulnonnast/

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2 thoughts on “Modern Anasazi Wall Builders of Jerome, Part 2—Paul Nonnast

    • He was one essence. . .there were so many others.. .but I did think Paul’s comment about the essence of Jerome in 1975 caught it pretty right on. Thanks for reading.

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