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Favorites from the magazine of the Museum of New Mexico
Published with The Santa Fe New Mexican
on the plaza in santa fe
NEW MEXICO MUSEUM OF ART
NEW MEXICO HISTORY MUSEUM/ PA L A C E O F THE GOVERNORS
on museum hill in santa fe
MUSEUM OF INDIAN A R T S & C U LT U R E
MUSEUM OF I N T E R N AT I O N A L FOLK ART
El Palacio Presents
El Palacio Presents
Favorites from the magazine of the Museum of New Mexico
The Arts and Culture: A Chain of Life by Kate Nelson
Earth Now: The Autobiography of an Exhibition by Katherine Ware My Ranch, Myself: Making a Home on the Land by Pam Houston Tony, Tony, Burning Bright by Kate Nelson The Arts of Survival: Folk Expression in the Face of Disaster by Suzanne Seriff
El Palacio Presents is published with The Santa Fe New Mexican To request copies of this publication, please call (505) 476-1126 Director of Marketing and Outreach: Shelley Thompson Editor: Cynthia Baughman Art Director: David Rohr
El Palacio magazine is published quarterly by the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs
Design: Natalie Brown Baca, Autumn DeHosse, Susan Hyde Holmes, Monica Meehan To Subscribe: El Palacio is available by subscription or as a benefit of membership in the Museum of New Mexico Foundation. To become a member call 505-982-6366, ext. 100. To subscribe call 505-476-1126, or visit elpalacio.org. $24.99/year, $39.99/two years.
ON THE COVER: Tony Da, The Antelope, 1977, casein painting, 9 × 11 ½ in. Collection of Joe and Cindy Tanner. Photograph by Charles King. On exhibit in Creative Spark! The Life and Art of Tony Da at the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture.
Photographs courtesy of the Museum of New Mexico.
El Palacio Presents
A Chain of Life
BY KATE NELSON
ARTS AND CULTURE
s most of the world cheered on Egyptian protesters in their victorious revolution this year, a smaller set of headlines raised red flags in the arts and culture community: Looters had struck Egypt’s museums. Antiquities from the heart of civilization were at risk. Museums and archaeological sites eventually tallied 1,228 missing objects. The total could have climbed higher had Egyptian youths not formed human chains around some of the museums to protect them. Imagine such a siege on the Smithsonian Institution or the Museum of Modern Art and you might feel compelled to join a human chain yourself. Fortunately, America’s cultural treasures aren’t threatened by a larcenous horde. Instead, ours face the specter of a slow erosion by neglect.
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Over the last few years, the economy hasn’t been kind to those toiling in museums, monuments, libraries, historic preservation, the arts and archaeology. Congress and states across the nation have slashed cultural budgets. Private-sector philanthropists, often the lastgasp angels of symphonies, art galleries and theater groups, have placed extra locks on their wallets. The American Association of Museums recently released a report that said a third of U.S. museums saw attendance drop from 2009 to 2010. More than half had lost at least some of their public funding. After years of debt and weakening ticket sales, the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra has likely played its last minuet. A similar lament is being sung in Philadelphia, Detroit, Phoenix, Syracuse and other cities. You can blame price of gas, the state of arts education, ﬂuctuations in tourism, fewer advertising dollars, the competition from 400-plus TV channels, the rise of Facebook, Twitter, and e-books, or a nationally shared case of the blues. Whatever the sad side of the story tells us, it leaves out what museums, arts and culture still mean to so many people today. Hundreds of schoolchildren regularly ﬁll the hallways of the state museums in Santa Fe. More than 1,200 people crammed into the New Mexico Museum of Art for the opening of the exhibition Earth Now: American Photographers and the Environment. Every summer, the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market packs Museum Hill with lovers of art from around the world. Why do they show up? Because no matter how much our current culture accommodates an isolationist lifestyle, institutions like museums, the symphony, live theater and community events offer an experience that Homo sapiens learned to treasure along with the ﬁrst campﬁre — a place to gather, to share stories, to experience emotions, and to work out an interpretation of who we are as a people. One of the aims of this special publication of El Palacio Presents is to inspire you to step into the state’s museums and monuments. Another aim is far simpler: El Palacio magazine’s articles rock, and we want you to know that. Between these covers, you’ll ﬁnd out how curator Katherine Ware sussed out the photographers whose work is on display, right now, in Earth Now. You’ll hear the haunting story of a tragedy that stopped visionary artist Tony Da in his prime. You’ll ride in a pickup truck as award-winning author Pam Houston tells you how she came to build a home in the West. All these articles first appeared in El Palacio. Since 1913, El Palacio has served as the scholarly journal of the state’s museums and monuments. Today, it stands as the nation’s oldest museum magazine, which might well make it a cultural antiquity itself in an era when iPads rule and newspapers fade away. Sixteen years ago, Robert Putnam warned in his book, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and
Revival of American Community, that a “growing social-capital deﬁcit threatens educational performance, safe neighborhoods, equitable tax collection, democratic responsiveness, everyday honesty, and even our health and happiness.” Since the book’s publication, that disconnect has only grown greater, our ties to one another less ﬁrm. Can a trip to a museum, attendance at a lecture, or a hike at a monument make a better world? To a degree, yes. So here’s a proposition: Check out the articles in this publication. Then get yourself to one of the museums or monuments that (we know, we know) you’ve been meaning to visit for months (or for years). We’re willing to bet the experience will transform something within you and help you connect to the people around you — a homegrown version of a human chain, protecting what we hold dear.
Left: Elementary schoolchildren enjoy the sunfilled lobby of the New Mexico History Museum prior to their tour. Above: Visitors examine works by famous, iconic, and emerging artists at the opening of Earth Now: American Photographers and the Environment, New Mexico Museum of Art. Photograph by Sabra LaVaun. Below: A young visitor eyes a collection of South American toys at the Folk Art of the Andes opening, Museum of International Folk Art. Photograph by Cheron Bayna.
El Palacio Presents
Earth Now: The Autobiography of an Exhibition BY KATHERINE WARE
hen people ask me how I came to be a photography curator, I don’t have a very good explanation. But ask me how I came to work with collections, and that’s an easy answer. I used to play museum. It’s not an obsolete board game from the sixties, it was just one of the ways I used to amuse myself on long summer days. At our house, we had an assortment of nature specimens—seashells, fossils, minerals, model dinosaur skeletons—that I would haul over to the carport of the neighbors who lived diagonally behind us. Under the shaded roof, my friend Kim and I carefully arranged and labeled everything and then made a sign to advertise our museum. I remember feeling tremendous satisfaction as I plopped down on the cool concrete ﬂoor to await the ﬁrst visitors (there were none). At the end of the day, we carefully disassembled the exhibits so that Kim’s dad could park his car when he got home from work. Just a few years later, in April of 1970, President Richard Milhous Nixon declared the ﬁrst Earth Day. I was nine years old, and my family had moved to another part of town. We bought a house in an unincorporated area north of Dayton, Ohio, a oneyear-old split-level with the obligatory maple sapling in the center of the front yard and a sparse covering of new sod out back. Beyond that were cornﬁelds and woods, the wilderness of my childhood. My brother and I attended a brand-new school that year (though by the following year it was already so overcrowded that I and my fellow sixth-graders were exiled), and I do believe we gathered for the solemn planting of stick-like trees in the schoolyard to celebrate that ﬁrst Earth Day. It’s hard to say what such an occasion meant to me back then, at a time when I scarcely felt a separation from the planet of which I was a part. I was well acquainted with the patch of earth I inhabited based on hours of climbing trees, sitting in the grass, walking through the woods, listening to the birds, watching for turtles, and blowing dandelion puffs or milkweed seeds to the wind. I belonged to it, and it belonged to me, mutually. I wandered around a lot, carrying a backpack with my dad’s old army canteen and his Modern Library edition of the writings of Thoreau. My family collected all sorts of treasures during our hikes and travels together—the raw material of our ﬁrst museum—and eventually my dad built some shelves in the basement so that our collection would have a permanent home. In school we learned new words such as “pollution” and “ecology” and new habits such as recycling (mostly newspaper, which arrived in both morning and evening editions). In middle school, I did a science project on recycling that I seem to recall involved obscene numbers of leaﬂets I had pasted to poster board. The following year I was invited to join a pilot “environmental science” class that met in an unused school greenhouse next to a soybean ﬁeld. One of my early-life triumphs was being selected to paint a mural on the inside of the greenhouse door. I wanted to paint a mysterious thicket inspired by the French painter Henri Rousseau, and was quite dissatisﬁed with my result, but thus was solidiﬁed a long association between me and art and nature. One summer, as part of that class, we searched for the beginning of the Little Miami River and followed it by canoe to the 8 El Palacio Presents
place where it joined the Ohio River. The next summer we abandoned the canoes and followed the water down the Ohio River by bus to its junction with the Mississippi, ending up in New Orleans. Part of our curriculum for the second trip was learning about photography. My ﬁrst roll of negatives (poorly developed and water spotted but magical nonetheless) showed the city’s elaborate mausoleums, trees draped with Spanish Moss, and old sheds. In art class, which was also an important part of my life, I was sketching animals I found in the membership magazine of the San Diego Zoo, sent to us by my aunt. Art and nature were hardly strangers. My ﬁrst job after college was at the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) in Washington, DC. It was a blast to work on the Mall, just below the capitol, and to have the run of so many museums (for free!). That’s where I started getting more seriously interested in photography—not in making photographs, but in looking at them and writing about them. Especially inﬂuential were a big show on Alfred Stieglitz that Sarah Greenough organized for the National Gallery of Art and a show of stunning platinum prints of the western landscape by Laura Gilpin at the National Museum of Natural History (little did I know that I would eventually care for an important collection of her photographs here in Santa Fe). I went off to graduate school at the University of California at Berkeley to get a master’s degree in art history and wrote my thesis on the photographer Paul Strand’s work in Mexico, to launch my career as a photo-historian. While I was in school, I worked at the Oakland Museum in northern California (rich in the work of Dorothea Lange and California photographers), then spent nine years at the J. Paul Getty Museum, where I worked with photographs by Stieglitz, Man Ray, Moholy-Nagy, and with Bauhaus photography, and nine years at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, with more contemporary photography. I arrived as curator of photography at the New Mexico Museum of Art in October 2008.
Above: The future curator and her brother with the family museum in the basement of their home in Ohio in 1972. Top: The author in Mrs. Aull’s Garden (later Aullwood Garden Metropark) in Englewood, Ohio, near where she grew up. Photographs courtesy of Katherine Ware.
Given my upbringing, my childhood inclinations, a passion for the natural world that was fostered by my parents, and the good fortune to work with photography collections in several museums, perhaps it is no surprise that I came to organize an exhibition titled Earth Now: American Photographers and the Environment (on view at the New Mexico Museum of Art from April 8 through October 9, 2011). The ﬁrst Earth Day and my suburban childhood were very much on my mind as I worked on this show, its accompanying book, and the related website, earthnow.nmartmuseum.org. How was it possible, I wondered, for a crisis that was declared in 1970, when I was just mastering cursive writing, to be raging more strongly still in 2010, when I turned fifty? Surely those decades of paper drives and aluminum can recycling by Cub Scouts and Camp Fire Girls had not been in vain. With evidence of global climate change mounting and my increasing frustration over the culture of consumption that I inhabit, I was convinced we were quickly heading for human extinction. All I could think of to do was to erect a nice tombstone for my species, so I first proposed an exhibition of photographs
How was it possible, I wondered, for a crisis that was declared in 1970, when I was just mastering cursive writing, to be raging more strongly still in 2010, when I turned ﬁfty?
titled From Earth Day to Doomsday. Box ofﬁce ﬁgures tell us that people love a disaster movie, so why not a disaster exhibition? The show would start with masters of photography Ansel Adams and Eliot Porter, two artists who were deeply enthusiastic about the American wilderness and the importance of preserving it. Beginning with their active conservation efforts of the 1970s, the show would proceed to survey efforts by photographers over the decades to open our eyes to issues of land and resource uses that may have a negative impact on the long-term well-being of our species, right up to the present day and the end of time in 2012 that some folks have posited based on the Mayan calendar. Voilà, a beautiful and eloquent swan song from our artists to a culture that couldn’t be bothered to listen! Focusing the show on contemporary photographers gave me an opportunity to do something distinctive and to work with artists whose photographs I admired but had never had a chance to show. I meet a lot of photographers from across the country and around the world at portfolio review sessions. Sometimes we call these meetings “speed dating with photography.” The idea is for an artist and a reviewer to sit at a table together looking at the artist’s photographs and discussing them for about twenty minutes. Several of the artists in Earth Now are people I met this
way, at FotoFest in Houston, Photolucida in Portland, or Review Santa Fe here in town. Beth Lilly’s pictures of trees growing around power lines really captivated me one year, but at that point I wasn’t doing anything in which I could include that work. I carried around copies of her images for a few years, hoping an opportunity to work with her would arise. Another artist I met at portfolio reviews is Brad Temkin, who works and teaches in Chicago. He didn’t choose me as a reviewer at FotoFest in the spring of 2010, since we were already acquainted, but he casually mentioned a new series he had just started about the green roofs atop Chicago’s civic buildings. I nearly ripped the prints out of his hand I was so excited! Doing studio visits in New Mexico I met other photographers in the show such as Chris Enos, Sharon Stewart, and Carlan Tapp. And a few good matches eluded me, when I found out too late that artists I knew—especially those nearby—were working on projects that would have ﬁt nicely into the show. But one of the things I gleaned from having so much to choose from is that the subject of our relationship to the environment continues to be a pressing one for artists. Why, I wondered, did they keep trying to get our attention? Why didn’t they have the common sense, like me, to just give up? Their insistence on maintaining the role of beauty and hope in our lives seemed very sweet and poignant. I wanted to find out why they bothered trying to get our attention when clearly the species was doomed. And they ended up changing the way I think. The show I put together doesn’t come to a brilliant conclusion about how we can be better citizens of the earth. But I found an answer to my question of what art can do in the face of some of the major challenges ahead of us. Art can punch us in the gut or sneak up behind us and tap us on the shoulder; it can disarm us with beauty and humor. Whatever its guises and strategies, it usually ﬁnds a way in. By coming at issues obliquely, creatively, unexpectedly, it gets past our guardedness, our preconceived notions, and our fear of change, to reach a place where we can gain a fresh perspective. Ultimately, Earth Now isn’t about what I think or what the artists think; it’s about what you think. A museum is often a place where people can step outside their routines and put aside, for an hour or two, the everyday to-do lists that narrate our lives. It provides a space and a place in which to think about some of the larger issues that connect us with others, that connect us with the whole big life of the planet where we live. It encourages us all to climb out of the foxholes of our entrenched positions and come together in the middle, so we can move forward. After all, human beings are one of this planet’s amazing natural resources. ■
Katherine Ware is curator of photography at the New Mexico Museum of Art and author of the book Earth Now: American Landscape Photographers and the Environment, published by the Museum of New Mexico Press. She contributes to a blog at the Earth Now online exhibition, earthnow.nmartmuseum.org.
El Palacio Presents
BY PAM HOUSTON
PHOTOGRAPH BY DOUGLAS MERRIAM
My Ranch, Myself
hen I look out my kitchen window, I see a horseshoe of snow-covered peaks, all of them higher than 12,000 feet above sea level. I see my old barn—old enough to have started to lean a little—and the homesteaders’ cabin, which has so much space between the logs now that the mice don’t even have to duck to crawl through. I see the big stand of aspen ready to leaf out at the back of the property, ringing the small but reliable wetland, and the pasture, greening in earnest, and the bluebirds, just returned, ﬂitting from post to post. I see two elderly horses glad for the warm spring day, glad to have made it through another winter of thirty below zero and whiteout blizzards and sixty-mileper-hour winds, of short days and long frozen nights and coyotes made fearless by hunger. Deseo is twenty-two and Roany must be closer to thirty, and one of the things that means is I have been here a very long time. It’s hard for anybody to put their ﬁnger on the moment when life changes from being something that is nearly all in front of you to something that happened while your attention was elsewhere. I bought this ranch in 1992. I was thirty years old and it seems to me now that I knew practically nothing about anything. My ﬁrst book, Cowboys Are My Weakness, had just come out, and for the ﬁrst time ever I had a little bit of money. When I say a little bit, I mean it, and yet it was more money than I had ever imagined having, twenty-one thousand dollars. My agent said, “Don’t spend it all on hiking boots,” and I took her advice as seriously as any I have ever received. I spent that summer driving the West, looking for a place to call home. I started in California, drove north to Oregon and Washington, across Idaho and Montana, down through Wyoming and into Colorado. The one thing I knew about ownership? It was good if all of your belongings ﬁt into the back of your vehicle, which in my case they did. A lemon yellow Toyota Corolla. Everything including the dog. The one thing I knew about real estate was that you were supposed to put twenty percent down, which set my spending ceiling at a hundred thousand dollars. I had no idea that people often lied to real estate agents about their circumstances, and that sometimes the agents lied back. I had twenty-one thousand dollars, a book that had been unexpectedly successful, no job, and not three pages of a new book to rub together. I came absolutely clean with everybody. The real estate lady in Creede, Colorado, showed me an empty lot of ﬁve acres and a couple of houses in town that had been built by silver miners using paper and string. She said, “I really ought to take you out to see the Blair Ranch,” and I said, “Sure,” and she said, “But, it wouldn’t be right, a single woman living out there all by herself,” and I said, “How far?” and she said “Twelve miles,” and I said, “Maybe I should see it,” and she said, “I’m afraid it’s out of your price range.” A few hours later, sitting in my car on Main Street, studying the Rand McNally and trying to decide whether to head for Gunnison or Durango, a serious cowboy type knocked on my window. “I hear you want to see the Blair Ranch,” he said, his voice a ringer for Johnny Cash’s, and I nodded, and he gestured at me to get into his car.
Making a home on the land
The Blair Ranch sat in the southeastern third of Antelope Park, an oval- shaped natural alpine meadow, 9,000 feet above sea level, roughly ten miles across in any direction, with the Upper Rio Grande cutting serpentine turns through the center of it, ringed all around by granite peaks, their lower ﬂanks covered primarily in aspens. It was the twenty-ﬁrst of September, and the aspens were peaking. The sky was late summer break-your-heart blue, the air crystalline, the mountains carpeted in the most exquisite tapestry of red, green, and gold imaginable. The house was a simple two-bedroom log structure that, rather than being ostentatious, seemed to apologize for itself in the middle of all that beauty, hunkering down behind a little hill, at the top of which, the real estate cowboy told me, the homesteaders were buried in shallow graves. The price tag was just under four hundred thousand dollars. I told him the same thing I had told every real estate agent from Mendocino to Casper. He said, “Give me your twenty-one thousand and a copy of Cowboys Are My Weakness. I have a feeling that Dona Blair is going to like the idea of you.” Dona Blair sold me her ranch because she liked the idea of me. I bought it for its unspeakable beauty and the adrenaline rush buying it brought on. I nearly killed myself the ﬁrst few years trying to make those payments. I wrote anything for anyone who’d pay me. (I even wrote an insert for an ant farm, and had fun with it, a little communist manifesto that I imagined the enlightened but bored parent discovering when he helped little Johnny open the box.) In the process, I learned how to hustle, and I mean that about myself in only the kindest way. When Dona Blair came back to Creede every summer she would say around town, “You know Pam makes those payments, and on time!” I don’t have the ranch paid off yet, but I’m getting pretty close. Every penny that has gone toward it I have earned with my writing, and that fact matters so much to me that when my father died ﬁve years ago and left me a small inheritance, I spent it on a used Prius and a trip to Istanbul. Now more than twenty years have gone by, and somewhere along the way the ranch changed from the thing I always had to ﬁgure out how to pay for, to the place I have spent my life. This summer I will have been here so long, I will have to put on my second new roof. In my time here, I have learned a few things: to turn the outside water spigots off by mid September, to have ﬁve cords of wood on the porch and a hundred and ﬁfty bales of hay in the barn no later than October ﬁrst. I’ve learned not to do more than one load of laundry per day in a drought year, and that if I set the thermostat at sixty and bring the place up to sixty-eight using the woodstove in the living room, the heater doesn’t do that horrible banging thing that sounds one tick shy of an explosion. I’ve learned that barn swallows carry bed bugs and the only way to kill them is to wait until it is thirty below and drag the mattress out onto the snow and leave it there for forty-eight hours. I have learned to hire a cowboy every spring to come out and walk my fence line, because much as I would like to believe I could learn to be handy with a fencing tool, I have proven to myself I cannot. I know that eventually the power always comes
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back on, that guaranteed overnight is a euphemism, that for a person who ﬂies a hundred thousand miles most years, choosing a place ﬁve hours from the Denver airport was something I might have given a little more thought. And yet, right from the beginning I’ve felt responsible to these hundred and twenty acres, and for years I’ve painted myself both savior and protector of this tiny parcel of the American West. And this much is true: as long as I am in charge of it, this land will not turn into condos, it will not be mined or forested, it will not have its water stolen or its trees chopped down. No one will be able to put a cell phone tower up in the middle of my pasture and pay me three thousand dollars a year rent for the space. One of the gifts of age, though, is the way it gently dispels all our heroic notions. Now I understand that all that time I was keeping busy saving the land, the land was keeping busy saving me. All my life I have been happiest in motion, on a plane, in a boat, on a dogsled, in a car, on the back of a horse, in a bus, on a pair of skis, in a cabbage wagon, hooﬁng it down a trail in my well-worn hiking boots. Motion improves any day for me; the farther, the faster, the better. Stillness, on the other hand, makes me very nervous. I
have written elsewhere, at possibly too much length, about how unsafe, unwanted, and unsettled I felt in the houses where I grew up. One thing I was looking for when I bought the ranch was a place where I’d be comfortable sitting still. I also wanted something that no one could take away from me, but my upbringing left me addicted to danger, so I put seven percent down on a property that cost four times more than I could afford, and one that required so much maintenance that I had to divide the tasks into two categories: things I didn’t know how to do, and things I didn’t even know I didn’t know how to do yet. That I survived, and that the ranch did, suggests something good about my Karma. That I didn’t blow the roof off the house and myself to smithereens when I decided it would be a great idea to defrost the freezer with a crème brûlée torch. That when I forgot to drip the faucet and the pipes burst, it was only the mudroom ﬂoor that got ﬂooded. That someone always came along in the nick of time to say, “When was the last time you had your chimney swept?” or “How often do you coat your logs with that UV protector?” and then I’d know what I was supposed to have been doing all along. And when the chores are all done, the ranch is a meditation in stillness. It says, here, sit in this chair. Let’s watch the way the light lays itself across the mountain for the rest of the afternoon. Let’s be real quiet and see if the 300 head of elk who live up the mountain decide to come through the pasture on their way to the river to drink. Sometimes, when I am driving back out Middle Creek Road after a week in Mallorca, Spain, or Ames, Iowa, and I round the corner where Antelope Park stretches out huge and empty and magniﬁcent in front of me, I am open mouthed with astonishment that this is the place I have lived the largest part of my life. It’s a full-time job lining up ranchsitters for the signiﬁcant chunks of time I need to be away, and even if it is someone more competent with a fencing tool than I am, it makes me nervous to leave so often. Some days I think I would like to live near the ocean, or a sushi bar, or a movie theater, or my friends, who by and large live vibrant lives in sophisticated cities. But a low-level panic that feels downright primal always stops this kind of thinking in its tracks. A quiet certainty that if I gave up the ranch there would be no more safe home, no place of refuge, no olly olly oxen free. I am only a little better at giving in than I used to be, at slowing down, at sitting still. But progress is progress, and any amount of it I have made, I owe entirely to this 120 acres of tall grass and blue sage, with a simple log house, a sagging barn, and a couple of equine senior citizens. How do we become who we are in the world? We ask the world to teach us. But we have to ask with an open heart, with no idea what the answer will be. I bought this ranch on a dare. I dared myself into ownership, into massive debt, into responsibility. It might have been fate, or some kind of calling. It could have been random, but it doesn’t feel random. Sometimes a few pieces of the puzzle click into place and the world seems to spin a little more freely. In other words, maybe I didn’t choose this ranch at all. Maybe this ranch chose me.
Pam Houston’s books include Cowboys Are My Weakness (winner of the Western States Book Award), Walzing the Cat, A Little More About Me, and Sight Hound. She is the director of Creative Writing at the University of California, Davis, and teaches at the Taos Summer Writers’ Conference. Houston will read from her work on Friday August 5, at 6 PM at the New Mexico History Museum. This is a free event, but space is limited.
El Palacio Presents
Fire purifies. It turns the soil we walk upon into vessels of utility and beauty. It cleaves the life of the potter to centuries of tradition. Fire destroys. It explodes the errant pocket of air, undoing the patience that gathered the clay, massaged it into a pliable form, coiled it into a shape. It burns past the visionary’s eye, leaving a candle’s subdued flicker where ambition once blazed. The fifteen-year career of artist Tony Da (pronounced day) catapulted Pueblo pottery into the highest echelon of contemporary art. His creative fervor piled innovations onto the embers stoked by his celebrated father and grandparents — Popovi Da and Julian and Maria Martinez. An artist who worked in spurts of rigid focus, he was also a 1970s playboy who appreciated women and used his pool-hall know-how to fatten his wallet. The match he lit ended with a long, slow smolder after a motorcycle accident left him living out his years in a seclusion so complete that his admirers thought he had died, and the potter himself failed to remember how he once made clay dance. A new exhibition at the New Mexico Museum of Indian Arts & Culture, Creative Spark! The Life and Art of Tony Da (through December 2011), boasts the largest group of Da’s paintings and pottery ever gathered in one place. The exhibition reveals an unbreakable bond between nature and nurture, a seamless thread from grandparents to parent to son. “He was the gold standard of Pueblo pottery,” said Charles S. King, a Scottsdale gallery owner and coauthor of a new book about Da, The Life and Art of Tony Da. “Everyone who collects pottery wants to own a piece of his. It’s the history, the mystery of what happened to him, and in the end, it’s just that the pieces are beautiful. They’re so well-polished. They’re so well-designed. Even today, they hold that test of time. Each one seems like a brand-new piece.” The genetic thread began with Da’s grandparents at San Ildefonso Pueblo, north of Santa Fe. After World War I, Edgar Lee Hewett, then director of the Museum of New Mexico, asked a local potter named Maria Martinez to use sherds he had excavated in 1908 and 1909 as patterns for full-scale examples of polychrome pottery. Soon after, Maria and her husband, Julian, began experimenting with firing techniques and almost accidentally discovered a way to create a black-on-black matte finish. With Maria shaping the pieces and Julian painting them, a tradition of folk art shouldered its way into the world of fine art. In the 1940s and 1950s, their son, Popovi Da, brought a new surge of energy into the enterprise. With a blistering pace that foreshadowed his son’s, he invented innovations that included adding bits of heishi and turquoise to the pots, perfecting a gun-metal finish, reviving polychrome pottery, and scratching
12 E l P a l a c i o P r e s e n t s
By Kate Nelson
designs into the surface after firing — the sgraffito now seen on countless pots in countless galleries. He also built a shop on the pueblo and displayed the family’s works not on Indian rugs, as most traders did, but on glass shelves befitting their growing status. As a child, Tony revealed his own artistic bent, but as a painter, not a potter. At Santa Fe High School he studied with Joseph Bakos, one of Los Cincos Pintores, the founders of the Santa Fe Art Colony, and one of his drawings won a contest sponsored by the Hallmark card company. At Western New Mexico University in Silver City, his eye was caught by ancient Mimbres designs, which soon appeared in his art. A stint as a draftsman in the US Navy sharpened his drawing skills, along with a single-minded focus on his work, a trait that would deepen into an intensity both productive and dangerous. In 1966, still a painter (he won first prize at the Philbrook Art Center’s Annual American Indian Artists Exhibition in 1967), he moved in with his grandmother and began a pottery apprenticeship. They dug their own clay, circled coil upon coil, hand-smoothed it into a delicate thinness, and fired it as a family. Maria’s sister, Clara, polished the surfaces that survived the often capricious firing process with a stone. Just one year later, Da’s pottery was included with Maria’s and Popovi’s in the US Department of the Interior’s Three Generations Show, a Martinez family exhibition still recalled by collectors as momentous. In 1968 Da’s entries into the Gallup Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial flew so far beyond the work of his contemporaries that the judges created special awards to honor them. Da took hold of his father’s experiments. Where Popovi had added a gem to cover a flaw, Tony made them his intent, mapping out patterns for turquoise, mother-of-pearl, even silver. He incorporated Mimbres designs. He brought his painter’s hand to the intricacy of sgraffito. He dabbled with the firing process, eventually introducing a blowtorch as a way to remove the fire’s black scorches in exacting patterns, revealing the red clay beneath. Stylized creatures, including the water serpent, avanyu, crept across the clay’s surface. He became famous for figurines depicting turtles and bears with a traditional heartline. He devised two-piece designs that held hidden compartments
reminiscent of Byzantine reliquaries. On some of them, sculpted lizards and bears turned into handles for the lids of bowls bedecked by a maze of sgrafitto designs and bands of heishi beads. The 1974 Arizona Highways declared: “It is almost incredible — that such consummate artistry is the product of five years as a potter. … We feel that the future will qualify Tony Da as the root of a new family tree in the garden of famous potters.” Already, the magazine said, a piece of his work could command nearly $3,000.
Right top: Tony Da holding his sister Janice, with his sister Joyce, at San Ildefonso Pueblo. The children grew up surrounded by their father’s and grandparents’ fame and celebrity, with Maria Martinez then the most famous Pueblo potter in the world. Undated photograph by Tyler Dingee. Courtesy Palace of the Governors Photo Archives (NMHM/DCA), neg. no. 91810. Right bottom: Photo for the 1967 Three Generations exhibition in Washington, DC. Maria Martinez and her son Popovi Da are shown with their pottery while Tony is standing by his painting. Albuquerque Museum Photo Archives. PA1978.141.219. Opposite: Black and Sienna Jar with Lid, 1968 – 69, 7 ½ × 7 ½ in. This unique jar reveals Tony Da’s talent at creating his own designs. He has divided the traditional water serpent into four panels around the shoulder of the jar. It has been double-ﬁred around the neck to create a gunmetal-and-sienna appearance. Collection of Martha Albrecht. Photograph by Charles King.
As his fame grew, his glam-era showmanship blossomed — as calculated as his designs. “I think he didn’t
want the sense of an Indian on horseback, the stereotypical Indian,” King said. “He wanted to take that idea of Indian culture and give it a modern sense. He’s sort of famous for the buckskin suit. Well, it was made by a Hollywood costume maker. It was Native American in context, but super-trendy for the time. He kept his braids long in the cultural sense. But then his wife would spend hours braiding them so they would be perfect.” When the showman turned into a solitary man, perfectionism defined his art-making process. His oldest child, Jarrod Da, recalls his father’s retreat into his Vallecito, Colorado, studio as times of don’t-bother-daddy. “When he was working, it was a really overpowering presence in the household. You’d see him in the evening, but he was gone for days. As a kid, it was hard to understand you needed to be in total silence. We played a lot outside on those days. I wouldn’t say there were angry blowups, but you knew there was a line you didn’t cross. It was a priority that you weren’t bugging him. It wasn’t always the nicest situation, but it happens a lot in households of that artistic caliber.” With a stereo blaring everything from 1950s rock to disco to Led Zeppelin, and a TV tuned to soap operas, Da focused seemingly endless hours on creating only the very best. In a 1971 interview with the Albuquerque Journal, he said, “If my work is satisfactory to me, then I am content. I do it mostly for my own pleasure.” Lost in the remark was the irony of what constituted “satisfactory.” “You don’t find anything that I’d think is a bad piece of Tony’s,” King said. “There’s ones I don’t like as much, but you don’t say, ‘That’s a bad polish.’”
El Palacio Presents
Left top: Tony Da in the 1970s holding a clay bear fetish which is on view in Creative Spark! Da knew that showmanship was part of his job as an artist and crafted his own appearance in accordance. “The more outrageous you are,” he once said, “the more people notice you.” Photograph by Jerry Jacka. © Jerry Jacka Photography. Left bottom: Tony Da signing his limited-edition serigraph in 1995. After his accident, Da completed few paintings. He made about ten for a 1985 show, but they were difﬁcult for him to ﬁnish. He ﬁnished only one in 1995, and then his artistic career was over. Courtesy Stephen Hill. Opposite: Red Plate, undated, 13 in. diameter × 2 ¼ in. tall. Tony Da created two distinctive styles of buffalo for his plates. One included turquoise in the rim and the body, while the other remained plain. Collection of Roz and Gene Meieran. Photograph by Charles King.
“A lot of the stuff was kept back because it wasn’t good enough,” said Jarrod Da, “and that speaks a lot about him. What wasn’t good enough for him was pretty damn good to me. If it had a slight imperfection, then he started over.” That the exhibition Creative Spark! has managed to collect twenty-two paintings and forty-three pots speaks to the limitations of perfection in a short career. “I have one or two pieces a year come into my gallery,” King said. “For the book, one gallery sent me pictures of ten things and said, ‘That’s all we’ve ever had.’ To have this many of his pieces in one room, that’s amazing.” Shelby Tisdale, director of the museum and the exhibition’s curator, said it’s especially significant to include Da’s paintings — an overlooked part of his artistic legacy. “He’s in the cohort with Helen Hardin. He’s learning from T. C. Cannon and Fritz Scholder, and incorporating a lot of these different ideas,” she said. “In some, you can see where he’s really experimenting with the layers. It’s a technique that he and Helen started working with. You get a sense of that whole generation.” In between Da’s fits of creation came the high life. Jarrod was his father’s “little partner,” and spent a year with him traveling to art shows and galleries, eating at the best restaurants, pointing to artworks he liked, and watching his father buy them on the spot. Scottsdale. San Juan Capistrano. Kansas City. “It was a great adventure,” Jarrod said. “They put out the red carpet for him. It was always top of the line, first class. He really had a quality of enjoying the moment.” Around him, artists took note and adopted his techniques. “Everyone picked up on what he was doing,” said Richard Spivey, King’s coauthor. “He was always doing something different. He was the first one to really break from tradition. It was a lot for people to accept at first, but very quickly it became sensational.”
own age, fighting over scraps. It twisted my mind from this person who was like ‘we’re gonna be the best’ to someone who wanted to be taken care of.” Tony’s wife filed for divorce, and his widowed mother, Anita Da, took him into her home. He continued to paint, but his expert colorations had reverted to primary colors. The man who once told an interviewer, “A crooked line bothers me. I can’t make a crooked line,” now could. In 1986, during a showing of his post-accident paintings in Scottsdale, King said, Da would pull a picture of one of his pieces from his pocket and say, “People tell me I made this pot. Can you believe it?” Eventually Da moved into a series of nursing homes, including one in Truth or Consequences, where he died in 2008. “I think he had an inkling his life was short,” King said. “He said it at one time to Jarrod, that he’d be dead by forty.” In a way, he was right. The artist was dead at forty-two; the man lived to sixty-seven. But the legacy lives today. “In talking with potters, I always ask, ‘Do you think there’s anything you’ve gained from him?’” King said. “One very interesting comment is that he opened the door for male potters. Before, men could design, but they weren’t known for making pottery. It was sort of male liberation for pottery. Anyone else would have gotten fingers wagged at them. ‘You shouldn’t put stones in it.’ ‘You shouldn’t this, you shouldn’t that.’ With that position of being Maria’s grandson, how could you say no?”
The torch that burned for Maria, then Popovi, then Tony has been passed again: Jarrod Da is a pastel artist
who exhibits at the Santa Fe Indian Market and teaches art on the Muckleshoot Reservation near Seattle. On the wall of his infant son’s bedroom hangs one of his father’s early casein paintings. The Rodeo of Santa Fe shows a Tewa man holding the hand of a little boy wearing cowboy boots and a gun on his hip. “It’s really inspiring to me,” Jarrod said. “There’s a place for traditional art. It tells a story of who we are and where we’ve been, but he took that and moved it to another level. That’s how you know the real greats. They’re able to step outside of the norm. To them, everything is an option.” In the years before his accident, Da had begun dabbling with bronze castings of his work. Where he might have taken his art next is part of his enduring mystery. “When you look at these artists today,” Tisdale said, “they’re still breaking these boundaries. They’re putting silver, even diamonds, into pottery. Tony was struck down when he was at a critical point in his career. Where would he have gone if he hadn’t been in that accident? Where would he be today?”
Kate Nelson is the marketing manager for the New Mexico History Museum. She previously worked as an award-winning editor, reporter, and columnist for the Albuquerque Tribune and host of KNME-TV’s In Focus.
In 1982 Tony Da and a friend in Vallecito hopped on their motorcycles for a ride. At home, seven-year-old
Jarrod was watching Cagney and Lacey on television when he was overcome by a premonition. “I remember saying, ‘Oh, something’s happened to Dad,’ and being very distraught.” Da, who wasn’t wearing a helmet, had lost control of his bike, incurring serious and permanent brain injuries. He spent months in various hospitals. At times his family didn’t know if he would live. One day his wife broke the news to their children. “She said he was fine, but he’s not the same,” Jarrod said. His memory had reverted to his teenage years, blotting out his marriage, his three children, and his knowledge of having been a potter. He rejoined his family, but the stress was overwhelming. “It was a rough time,” Jarrod said. “A lot of times I felt like I was competing with another sibling. He wasn’t that dominating person anymore. The arguments we’d have were like with someone your
El Palacio Presents
To people who love Native American pottery, the appeal is multifold. Gallery owner Charles King, coauthor of The Life and Art of Tony Da, a new book about artist Tony Da, explained his love of the pieces. “You can hold it in your hands,” he said. “And it’s the fragility — there’s the toughness that it’s been ﬁred, but it’s also fragile. That’s the way it is with human nature, too. Pottery has utility at heart, yet it’s transcended that form into something more aesthetically beautiful. The pieces change every hour — how the light hits it, the angle you’re looking at. Those things keep it alive.” King’s coauthor, Richard Spivey, purchased his ﬁrst piece of Da’s pottery before most collectors had heard of the artist. He paid $65 for a relatively large plate. It was recently appraised for $45,000. Whether you’re interested in satisfying a personal appreciation or want to build some future equity, Shelby Tisdale, director of the New Mexico Museum of Indian Arts & Culture, has a few tips to keep in mind when seeking quality pieces. First, feel inside it. “If it’s perfectly smooth, I would question it. There should be little bumps, and a ﬁngerprint here and there.” If the potter used a gourd to smooth it, you might also feel tracings. Ding it with a ﬁngernail. “If it rings, that’s good. If it’s a dull sound, it might mean there’s a crack or chip.” Look at the surface. Pueblo pottery doesn’t use a glaze, but is covered with a slip made of clay, and the polish comes from bufﬁng it with a stone. “You should be able to see some of the stroke marks. If it’s buff pottery, like Acoma, then it’s a slip that was painted over, and you should be able to see brush strokes.” Black pots are produced by smothering the oxygen during ﬁring. Sienna and white pottery come from a very hot ﬁre. “If it’s ﬁred in a pit, oftentimes it will have smudge marks. Some people see that as an imperfection, but it’s a hint to how it was ﬁred.”
El Palacio Presents 15
The Arts of Survival
BY SUZANNE SERIFF
Folk Expression in the Face of Disaster
educe the world around us to its essential components, said the Ancients, and you have Earth, Wind, Water, and Fire. Upon these, all else is built. But how do we rebuild our lives and communities when these elements have reduced our homes to rubble, cast tall buildings to the ground, laden our fields with salt, and scorched thousands of homes? The Arts of Survival: Folk Expression in the Face of Disaster is a new exhibition at the Museum of International Folk Art that explores the paths folk artists create to help their communities to recover from twenty-first century disasters caused by the four elements in extremis: the Haitian earthquake, Hurricane Katrina on the US Gulf Coast, Pakistani floods, and the recent volcanic eruption of Mount Merapi in Indonesia. Three of these disasters took place in 2010 — the deadliest year for such natural events in more than a generation. More than a quarter of a million deaths were reported from a record number of major natural disasters that affected almost every corner of the world. Of course, humanity’s ability to respond with creativity to natural disaster will continue to be tested; 2011 has brought yet more disasters, including the recent earthquake and ensuing tsunami in Japan. The January 2010 earthquake in Haiti is thought to have killed more than 220,000 people, and millions more have lost loved ones, homes, food, and livelihood. Hurricane Katrina, in 2005, was one of the five deadliest hurricanes in the history of the United States and is proving to be the costliest natural disaster on record. Those who survive such disasters find themselves faced with tasks that require the most basic humanity and the most humble creativity — to comfort, to rebuild, to petition, to record, and to create.
Raheema Buledi is one of many floodaffected women in the New Sabzi Mandi (New Vegetable Market) relief camp in Hyderabad, Pakistan, who escaped with nothing but the clothes on her back and a colorful patchwork ralli or two (a traditional bedsheet or quilt) for comfort and warmth. She and her family have been there for months, since the flooding Indus River washed away her home and fields in the Sindh area of southeastern Pakistan. Like other women around her — stuck in a temporary shelter without adequate food or medical supplies—she has put her needlework skills to work making new rallis to sell in neighboring markets. Another Hindu woman staying at the camp, Meeran, belonging to the Dalit community formerly called untouchables, managed to save the six dowry rallis she made for her daughters when the flood ravaged her village, but has now decided to sell them to try to get enough money to return home. Thirty-five hundred miles away in Java, Indonesia, in another disaster relief camp, refugees gain hope and inspiration, not from a visit by an international star, but from the shadow puppet performance of their very own heartthrob, Ki Enthus Susmono. Like all masters of the shadow puppet arts of Java, Ki Enthus is trained to use the well-loved puppet figures to entertain and educate the populace, incorporating news of the latest events into his performance, including the devastating volcanic eruption of Mount Merapi, which left this audience without homes or work. The story of the devastation is incised on a new Tree of Life shadow puppet he designed with images of red lava exploding from a cauldron and raining ash and rubble all around. At his performance for those who were displaced after the eruption, Ki Enthus chose one of the better-known puppet
16 E l P a l a c i o P r e s e n t s
characters from the traditional Hindu epic Ramayana to deliver the message to the Mount Merapi victims: “get up, rise up, and re-develop their lives!” Earlier this same terrible year of 2010, vodou flag maker Evelyne Alcide, from the Bel Air neighborhood of Port-auPrince, Haiti, had just closed up her bead shop and was walking to the bus stop with her husband when the strongest earthquake in more than three centuries hit. “Everything started to shake. The earth is rolling under your feet like a wave in the sea. You try to go forward and it pushes you back. You try to go back and it pushes you forward. Then the buildings started to fall.” When someone suggested that she incorporate her experience into her art of making sequined and beaded flags, she responded immediately that the point was to pay thanks to the spirits for her life. “I said to myself that everyone has their spirit (their vodou Iwa) that helps you and saves you, so I put them into my flag.” What resulted is a series of beaded portraits depicting the dismembered bodies in the National Cemetery, crushed by concrete blocks and collapsed power lines; the destroyed houses and businesses throughout the city; and the teams of mermaids, goddesses, and spirits above, bringing comfort to the fallen victims. In another section of the city, a group of Haitian children, living downtown in the wake of the devastation, have begun working with a radical arts collective called Atis Rezistans (The People’s Resistance). For ten years members of the collective have recycled into works of art the junk that clutters the winding alleys of their industrial neighborhood off Port-auPrince’s Grand Rue. After the quake, the street itself and the crumpled buildings around it became material for the art. Twisted metal, computer parts, doll faces, bike tires, car springs, pistons, discarded lumber — even human skulls — find their way into three-dimensional paintings, collages, and sculptures expressing emotions appropriate to the times, and a healthy dose of ironic humor as well. For the children, who have begun to call themselves Ti Moun Rezistans (Kids’ Resistance), the sales and international attention from their art are their only hope for funds to return to school or put a corrugated tin or cardboard roof over their heads. And in our own back yard, African American yard artist and street corner preacher Joe Minter of Birmingham, Alabama, pays tribute to the strength and perseverance of his African American brothers and sisters in New Orleans who lost their homes and their lives in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. His memorial to Katrina, which he calls Rebuild and Restore New Orleans, is among the hundreds of other scrap-made memorials in his three-acre “African Village in America,” which combines found objects, discarded furniture pieces, and a hand-built, life-sized map made from scrapped and painted two by fours wired together in the shape of Louisiana to tell the story of those who suffered most after the levees broke and their homes were destroyed. Minter, whose art connects Christianity, social commentary, and history to provide a personal view of the African American experience, says there are lessons in Katrina for everyone. My reason for making this is to bring together the human family, so we can get together and rebuild New Orleans, so we can rebuild ourselves and our soul. Cuz, let me
tell you something, down the road we got more disasters and the way you treat the first one is the way you treat the second one and the second one should be more organized cuz you were caught off guard the first time. So, my prayers is going up so that all of our officials now have a way in securing the safety and the well being of our neighbors … a plan to be able to carry out in a better way this time when a disaster comes upon us. These and other artists, many of whom have won a coveted spot at the 2011 Santa Fe International Folk Art Market, are in this new exhibition in the Gallery of Conscience at the Museum of International Folk Art. The Arts of Survival is the second exhibition in this space dedicated to exploring contemporary issues regarding folk art production and consumption in the twenty-first century. Opening in conjunction with Santa Fe’s International Folk Art Market each July, the annual exhibitions designed for this gallery highlight some of the moving stories and inspiration behind the folk arts and artists featured at the annual market. The inaugural exhibit in the Gallery of Conscience, Empowering Women: Artisan Cooperatives that Transform Communities, which ran from July 2010 to May of 2011 and will now travel around the country, examined the revolutionary movement of women artisans throughout the world who are sustaining their arts and enriching their lives by collectively producing, managing, and marketing traditional crafts. This second annual exhibition opens with a reception and roundtable discussion with some of the featured artists about the meaning of their work in the face of the natural disaster that has devastated their homes. The exhibition opening, on July 3, also launches the second annual International Folk Arts Week in Santa Fe, with folk art demonstrations, curator breakfasts, performances, lectures, and other programs running through July 8, when the market opens for business. In addition to the monumental artifacts on display in The Arts of Survival, the exhibition includes examples of prizewinning photography, poetry, music, proverbs, and lyrics, inspired by the perseverance and creative responses of those who survived these tragic events, and video recordings of artist interviews and demonstrations. As the lasting impression of these terrible natural forces becomes part of carnival masks, scrolls, paintings, and vodou flags, the events are memorialized, and the pain they brought is rendered manageable. When the force of the Earth breaks the world into pieces, the pieces can be collected and sold to bring an artist a step closer to economic recovery. The Arts of Survival provides a window onto the many ways in which contemporary folk artists use what they know best to respond to natural disaster with vision, perseverance, dignity, and imagination — even in the midst of political infighting, infrastructural log jams, and environmental aftereffects. Through their work they demonstrate that the most fundamental power is not the four Elements, but the indomitable spirit of humankind.
Suzanne Seriff, PhD, the guest curator of The Arts of Survival, is a folklorist, independent museum curator, and senior lecturer in anthropology at the University of Texas at Austin. She also heads the artisan selection committee for the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market.
Left to right: Tri Suwarno in Bantul, Yogyakarta, Indonesia, drawing the design for his Merapi Wayang (Mt. Merapi Tree of Life shadow puppet), 2011. Photograph by Diah Nur Martin. Ti Mouns Rezistans (Kids’ Resistance), a group of young artists in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, after the earthquake, 2010. Photograph by Maggie Steber. A refugee from the Pakistani ﬂoods works on a ralli (quilt) in the New Sabzi Mandi relief camp in Hyderabad, 2011. Photograph by Surendar Valasai. Joe Minter stands in his three-acre “African Village in America,” surrounded by his artwork, 2010. Photograph by Lance Shores.
El Palacio Presents
El Palacio Presents
After Hours Care
for Adults and Kids!
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