Nov 08

Places We’ve Been

by Mike Miller

Places We’ve Been
People Who Love Concrete
And Working With What You Find There

Most places that I’ve traveled to, the concrete has taken me there. And when I’ve returned, sometimes, it’s been because of the concrete. And, sometimes, it’s been ‘cause of the people. And, sometimes, it’s been because of the concrete and the people.

Recent client, Teresa Lower, of Casper, WY, can’t resist relaxing on her lower patio, composed of variegated stained and dyed, on-grade cast-in-place and pre-cast circular elements.

Most places that I’ve traveled to, the concrete has taken me there. And when I’ve returned, sometimes, it’s been because of the concrete. And, sometimes, it’s been ‘cause of the people. And, sometimes, it’s been because of the concrete and the people.

Art Boatright, president of ready mix producer, Mobile Concrete, our first patron in Casper.
Here, Art is posing with an art panel of applied dyes and stains over skim, imbedded and embedded with found objects. We first visited Casper, and worked with Art,in the late 90’s. He looked like Drew Carey then, and, he still does… Hasn’t aged one bit!!!

Just east of The Cascades, between Ellensburg, Washington and Yakima, is one of those places. As the concretist, we’ve worked both internationally and nationwide. You might find us working just about anywhere… But, we’ve done more jobs, in a 30 mile radius, between Ellensburg and Yakima, than just about anywhere… And, believe me, this is no major population center… But, the concrete there has been sweet, and the people have been warm, while the weather has often been not so warm. We love this place! The Washington wine country.

An art panel of applied dyes and stains over skim, imbedded and embedded with found objects.

I’ve just been back to another such place, where my fondest sensory concrete and personal memories mingle. We haven’t done quite as many jobs in Casper, Wyoming as in central Washington state, but, we’ve done enough. The weather is just about the same in this part of Wyoming as in that part of Washington, perhaps a bit colder in the winter? The population is similarly sparse, perhaps even a bit sparser? But, the concrete and the people, they can’t be beat! They love their concrete in Casper, and they know how to do it right. And people who love concrete, well, those are my kind of people!!!

Our client, ready mix producer, Mobile Concrete’s offices, Casper, Wyoming Concrete elements include… Cast-in-Place: natural gray walls with brown pigmented reception desk, dyed and patina-stained saw-cut suspended slab. Pre-Cast: dyed and patina-stained, skimmed cement-board, art panels, imbedded and embedded with found objects from the North Platte River (this runs through their property), such as grasses, pebbles, and even a fat brown trout!

Art Boatright is the president of Mobile Concrete (a ready mix producer), in Mills, Wyoming, just outside of Casper. He was born and raised there, but, attended some university in California… This must have tweaked him just enough to allow him to develop certain less usual tastes: proclivities and fantasies involving variegated patina stains and sensory concrete. It’s the late 90’s and Art’s building new offices for Mobile… Some glass, some steel, but, mostly concrete. When we arrived in Casper, our primary scope was to color, through staining, some 10,000 square feet of suspended and basement slabs. It was now the time to indulge Art’s fantasies! Our primary scope was the interior slabs, but, as so often happens with the concretist, we arrive, meet the folks, take a look around, and see what more needs doing… What it is that’s truly appropriate for both the client and the site. In the case of Art and Mobile, he was interested in having a really special reception lobby. He was in the process of completing a totally cool (deep and massive) purple-brown, integrally-colored receptionist desk-top. This was out of pre-cast, and was to be integrated within low walls of cast-in-place natural gray. He also had an equally massive concrete fireplace in the middle of the lobby, as a focal point. This fireplace had decorative square voids. These were kinda cool (and kinda boring)… Hmmm??? They seemed a pretense, begging for something more…

Pre-Cast Elements: dyed and patina-stained, skimmed cement-board, art panels, imbedded and embedded with found objects from the North Platte River (this runs through their property), such as grasses, pebbles, and even a fat brown trout!

The bulk of the floors had minimal jointing, but, this lobby had been jointed with something like a two foot grid. It was obvious that it was an area of special emphasis, and, that Art would want us to spend more attention on color-work and details there. Can do! Leading to this interior lobby was an exterior sidewalk. Nice, but kinda plain. This seemed a more natural place to begin his clients’ introduction to “The Mobile Concrete Experience” AND their sensory concrete journey. The North Platte River is a wonderful resource and a distinctive part of “The Casper Experience”. It also runs smack dab through the middle of the Mobile Concrete property. So, we began our journey at the river (a bit icy, in December), to look for site specific clues, inspiration, and elements we might incorporate in what we were about to do…

On left, Art Boatright, president of Mobile Concrete, our first patron in Casper, and, on right, smilin’ Bob Lower, Structural Engineer, Art’s associate, good friend and neighbor, and, our most recent patron in Casper.
Here, the boys are posing with an on-grade, cast-in-place, natural gray sidewalk, which was subsequently sealed, then sand-blasted through a plasma-cut steel template. Blasted graphic was based on aggregate shapes, ancient alluvial deposits, from Mobile’s quarries, with the very occasional stray leaf and rattlesnake, thrown in for fun and shock-value. Where sealer (acting as a resist) was blasted away, the graphic was subsequently patina stained. This sidewalk is now 12 years old.

And this is what we did… The bulk of the slabs were patina-stained and dye-washed in a variegated “irony” (as is iron-y, not ironic) purple brown, with Ironite spotting. These were similar and color to an old rusted railroad trestle. We filled the ho-hum square voids in the fireplace with art panels, which were also stained and dyed over Sgraffino-skimmed cement board. The Sgraffino was imbedded and embedded with found objects from the North Platte River, such as grasses, pebbles, and even a fat brown trout! The fish were caught in the river and placed in the wet Sgraffino overlay. Slime on the fish acts as its own release agent. Wait ’til the next day, when the skim is hard, and the fish are easily removed. Scales and all details are perfect, like a Japanese fish print! If they were removed earlier (as in a stamp), the details are smudged and not crisp. Hence, this is an hybrid application (typical concretist fare), where the fish are impressed like a stamp, but, left in place until the mud is hard, more like a form-liner. Same is true with the grasses. They were harvested from the river bank, scattered on the wet mud, impressed, and, removed the next day. Pebbles were from the river’s edge, and were inlayed, and left in place permanently. The two-foot grid, on the lobby floor, at the base of the fireplace, was stained and dyed in much brighter and more saturated colors: reds, oranges and yellows. The occasional corner was flashed with a shading lacquer, containing metallic pigments.

Flashback to The Late 90’s: Dana, the concretist, plasma-cutting steel template.

As for the front sidewalk… We sealed the on-grade, cast-in-place, natural gray sidewalk, with a solvent-based acrylic (which would also, later, act as a resist). We then sand-blasted through a plasma-cut steel template. Blasted graphic was based on aggregate shapes, ancient alluvial deposits, from Mobile’s quarries, with the very occasional stray leaf and rattlesnake, thrown in for fun and shock-value. Where sealer (acting as a resist) was blasted away, the graphic was subsequently patina stained.

Another Flashback… The Late 90’s: Eric, Mobile Concretist, sand-blasting graphics, with steel template.

We’ve been back to Wyoming several times since the 90’s. Once to visit Yellowstone and Jackson Hole, with Art and his wife, Lynette. Once to stain floors and walls for a new Boys Club. And once with our youngest daughter, and her boyfriend, who was attending college in Laramie at the time, for a blizzardy Thanksgiving with The Boatrights.

The Lower’s residence is photographed and digitally altered (solarized), with PhotoShop, to develop palette ideas for patios, stairs and sidewalks.

It’s now early November, 2010. the concretist arrives in Casper and is picked-up at the airport by a guy who’s e-mail address begins with “Fat Bob”. And I’m a bit surprised and confused, as structural engineer, smilin’ Bob Lower, isn’t really fat at all. This guy’s no chubby Santa, but, he is warm and jolly! We pass fat antelope, grazing at the airport, too numerous to count, and make our way to The Lower’s downtown residence. I meet his wife, Teresa and their two lovely daughters. Get a tour of the house (where I’m looking for their penchants in colors and other design clues). Eclectic bright colors. Edgy, funky art, and, lots of crosses! This tour also includes the patios and sidewalks I’m about to stain. Wow… Sophisticated construction! Cast-in-place and pre-cast. Old existing and new, on-grade. New suspended deck. Wild structural shapes, including lots of circles. This guy may be a structural engineer, but, he’s no square! What to do??? Circles and crosses? Layers? Layers of circles and crosses? Found objects as templates? Templates of circles? Templates of crosses? Father, forgive me for what I am about to do! I say this before just about every new job. HA! It helps me settle that familiar queasy feeling, the one that I’ve come to terms with, that I now recognize and, even, enjoy. The one that comes with the start of each new sensory concrete journey and working without much of a map. Neighbor, Art Boatright shows up. The cork comes out of the bottle, and we start talking concrete…

Upper patio was first patina-stained. It was then layered with multiple dye-washes, using found objects (crosses, rocks from the garden), recycled form boards, scrap lumber, even used sanding screens, as templates.


Upper patio was first patina-stained. It was then layered with multiple dye-washes, using recycled form boards, scrap lumber, used sanding screens, and even rocks from the garden, as templates.


Found objects as templates? Templates of crosses? Mike uses found object as inspiration, a template and as a simple mechanical guide.


Upper patio was first patina-stained and spotted with Ironite fertilizer granules. It was then layered with multiple dye-washes. Here, concretist fleshes-out this cross graphic, with a straight-edge and carbide-tipped scribe, which is subsequently in-filled with colored pencil.


Client, Teresa Lower, is pretty in pink, on layered and graphic, suspended cast-in-place, upper patio.


Here, Teresa is pretty in pink, on layered and graphic, suspended cast-in-place, upper patio.


And, finally, client, Teresa, can’t resist posing on her variegated stained and dyed, circular lower patio and pre-cast stair elements. I’ll look forward to returning to Casper again! Perhaps in the spring or summer, for a change? To float and fish The North Platte, to check-out the Lowers and the Boatrights, and their concretes, and, what’s fresh from their gardens and what the gals will create with it!

3 Responses to “Places We’ve Been”

  1. avatar Lynette Boatright says:

    Loved this entry on your website Mike! We miss you but are glad you left us with great memories and further evidence of your ability to beautify the grey stuff! We love you.. the Boatright family.

  2. avatar Theresa & Bob Lower says:

    Mike:
    The article is great! Thank you for including it on your site, it’s fun to see our house there. Hope you have a happy new year and we look forward to seeing you again. Theresa thinks that she could be modeling Carharts professionally.

  3. avatar Mike Miller says:

    Hey y’all! Glad you enjoyed this! WY in early November is awesome… WY with you guys anytime (blizzard/drought/etc…) is better than awesome… It’s the best! We love you too, Lynette! AND Theresa SHOULD be modeling Carharts!!! All good things, always! Mike

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