Saturday, August 22, 2015

Tired-Energized. What a Week

I haven't written a whole lot about what we've been up to -- indeed, I haven't written a whole lot about much of anything -- in a while now. It's partly been a slow-down for the summer, partly physical/health issues, partly a slow transition from one phase to another as we get older and our lives in New Mexico become fuller.

This last week has been astonishing in many ways, and it represents some of the changes we're going through. It's been extremely busy, especially for Ms Ché as she returns to college to (finally) get her degree, a BFA in Creative Writing from IAIA (Institute of American Indian Arts) after decades of doing other things in other places. That change in her life means I get to take up a lot of the domestic chores that were once her bailiwick, including looking after the feral cat colony which she's been wrangling and supervising. Given the fact that I don't get around as well as I used to, this domesticity on my part is probably for the best. At least I can make my way around most of our modest spread here and take care of it relatively well -- for the time being anyway.

One of the challenges we're facing is that IAIA is about 50 miles away, a good hour's commute if she drives herself, an almost 3 hour commute if she takes transit. There is a free bus to Santa Fe that picks up passengers at the Park and Ride not too far from our place (maybe three-four miles) -- at 6am. It gets to Santa Fe around 8am; there she has to catch a city bus to another transit center at a mall south of town where she can catch yet another bus to the IAIA campus where she arrives just before 9am. She's done it once. She says it's grueling, basically because of the early start and the bus changes. She can use the time to do her studies, so there is that. But it makes for a very long day, close to 14 hours on the road, in study and in classes. For the time being, at any rate, she's decided it's better for her to drive herself. It's still a long day, but doing so cuts 4 hours off the commute, though it adds considerably to expenses for the car.

When the weather changes, we'll reassess the situation. Snow can be heavy at times, and the road to Santa Fe, while well-maintained, is a rural two-lane highway, and the spur she takes from Galisteo to Highway 14 and then to the campus is tricky even in good weather.

We have some friends in Santa Fe who say she can stay with them if the weather is too severe to travel from there to our place, so that's a plus.

This last week has included activities that are more social than educational, though they overlap in various ways.

On Tuesday evening, we went to the Allan Houser Scholarship announcement/reception at the Compound restaurant in Santa Fe. This was one of the periodic social/fundraising events IAIA engages in throughout the year to raise and distribute money for the college and its students. In this case, the proprietors of the Compound established a scholarship fund in honor of Native American Sculptor, IAIA founding instructor, and artist mentor Allan Houser last year during celebrations for his 100th birthday. They gave out their first scholarship last Tuesday evening at a gala event that included a lot of Santa Fe's swells, plus a number of others, including some we talked to who had no idea why they were invited! The scholarship recipient, Maria Fairbanks(? -- not sure of her last name, actually) is a wonderful individual studying studio arts with a minor in performing arts, and there is little doubt in our minds that she's going to go far, as far as she wants to doing pretty much whatever she pleases. Interestingly, I was chatting with Allan Houser's widow, Anna Maria, at the event, and she pointed out that this is not the first "Allan Houser Scholarship" as the family has been giving scholarships and money for scholarships for years. But it was the first scholarship from this specific fund, and so...

On Wednesday evening, we attended the annual Scholarship Dinner and Auction at La Fonda in Santa Fe, an event that raises money for general scholarships that we've attended three times now since moving to New Mexico. Tuesday night's event was gala, the Wednesday Scholarship benefit event was gala-squared. The main ballroom at La Fonda was packed with Santa Fe's and some of the rest of New Mexico's swellest of swells, and money flowed like water. These events have been raising about $150,000 for scholarships each year, but I suspect this year's event raised quite a bit more. There is a silent auction of items -- mostly art -- many of which are produced by IAIA students, faculty and alums. There's also a live auction during the dinner which can raise large amounts of money, as many of the items auctioned are works by some of the country's major Native American artists, IAIA alums or faculty, including Dale Chihuly, Preston Singletary, Virgil Ortiz, Tony Abeyta, Rose Simpson and others... oh, so many others. Some of the works this year and in past years have been remarkable. We usually can't afford to bid on them, but quite a few of those in attendance can and do. Last year, we bid on some plates by Virgil Ortiz but we were outbid almost immediately by the governor of Pojoaque Pueblo (who's also an artist) who pushed the price into the stratosphere and well out of our budget range. (The pueblo has considerable casino money and has used a lot of it on purchasing art and establishing some rather stunning art exhibitions and funding arts education.)

This year, we didn't bid in the live auction at all, but we did bid on and win a number of items in the silent auction, including a large painting by Tyrone Headman (IAIA alum) entitled "Geronimo Sipping Latte." I may photograph it and post it at some point. Our house is already full of paintings, so it took some juggling to find a place for it. But it got hung. Hopefully to the amusement of a guest one night.

We purchased more items in the silent auction than we have in the past because we attended the dinner as guests of a friend who has a Native American art appraisal business and so we did not have to pay for the dinner -- meaning we could spend more for other things, and so we did... Ms Ché's favorite item from the silent auction is a lapis wolf fetish carved by Ray Tsalate of Zuni Pueblo that she almost didn't get because another woman wanted it and kept outbidding her. But in the end Ms bid the full "buy it now" price and so, it is now hers.

Ms Ché has received several scholarships to attend IAIA, so it seems only fitting that we do our part to return the favor. Since we've been contributing to the scholarship fund for years, we're happy to do a bit more this year if we can.

The event also featured a performance-art piece by created by Virgil Ortiz and Rose Simpson that seemed to enthrall, stun and puzzle the audience. I've mentioned Virgil a number of times in these pages as he was one of the artists we became immediately attracted to when we moved here. He's a well-known fashion designer, but there's much -- much -- more to his work than "just" fashion. His focus is on a futuristic version of the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, set in 2180, with a whole elaborate cast of characters, a series of pottery figures depicting some of those characters (and others), film and video of those characters and their adventures, and many other items of art and fashion that relate to his theme. The performance art at the Scholarship Dinner was puzzling to those who were not familiar with that theme of the Pueblo Revolt and its futuristic counterpart, but for those who knew it, the piece was relatively clear. A god-like illuminated musician (he wore electric lights and played an amplified violin) accompanied a young man and young woman who find items in a trunk which they learn to wear as a kind of cloaking element, protection in a way, as they contemplate and prepare for the Revolt to come. At least that is how I interpreted the piece. It seemed obvious to me!

Rose Simpson is the daughter of Roxanne Swentzell, a very well known Native American sculptor -- whose exhibit at the Pojoaque Pueblo is stunning. Rose has been collaborating with her mother and with other Native American artists in a flurry of creativity which we were also privileged to encounter and enjoy yesterday at a "Breakfast With the Curator" event at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture.

The curator in this case was Leticia Chambers who I think we can fairly say has become a friend in the past year or so since we met her at an event at her house held to introduce the New Mexico Film Foundation to a wider public.

Leticia is from Oklahoma and believes she is of Cherokee descent though she is not a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. Her interest in Native American art goes way back to her childhood when her family visited Taos for the first time, and she spent the small allowance she had on a pot created by a Taoseno. She's been collecting, she said, ever since. She claimed, modestly, that she doesn't have a very large collection, but having seen it myself, I'd say she has one of the most important collections of Native American contemporary art in private hands in Santa Fe -- and perhaps in the nation. It is nothing short of amazing. I think a word I used when I saw it was "breathtaking."

When she and Ms Ché met that evening, they seemed to bond almost immediately, as if they were long-lost sisters or cousins (which they might be, who knows!) and they've remained bonded ever since though they're not in particularly constant or close contact.

Yesterday at breakfast and afterwards we heard Leticia explain about the sculptures and the sculptors she chose for the Museum's exhibit of monumental pieces by Native women about Native women. It was remarkable and very moving. We'd seen the exhibit before, but not in this way, not as intimately, not as fully elucidated, not as touchingly personal. The works are remarkable for themselves but the stories behind them -- how and why they came to be, and who created them -- added depth and dimension that otherwise we wouldn't have known. Leticia happens to be an excellent story-teller to boot, so the morning was extraordinary. Ms Ché became overcome with emotion at one point and Native staff members recognized what had happened immediately and offered her their comfort and understanding -- because it had happened to them, too.

Leticia herself knew and saw and empathized with Ms Ché and said she often found herself choked up when she contemplated the works and the women who made them. Indeed.

We left the museum a little after ten and went to Santa Fe's Railyard district to attend the Indigenous Fine Arts Market, the rebel-alternative to the immense SWAIA Indian Market in Santa Fe's historic plaza and surrounding areas. We went to the SWAIA market once and I doubt we'll return simply because it is too big. The IFAM market is smaller, more intimate, more comprehensible in fact, and I think it's fair to say it's edgier with a more contemporary feel on the one hand, and a wider variety of Native arts and artists on the other.

We were delighted to see so many artists from the East, from the Northwest and Alaska, and from Oklahoma. While the SWIA market does include artists from these areas, Pueblo and Navajo artists predominate to such an extent it can be difficult to locate the "others." At IFAM, it was not a problem. Though there were many top-notch artists from Navajo and Pueblo areas, there were also many from other areas mixed among them, which helped make for some very interesting/exciting juxtapositions.

At the Scholarship Dinner on Wednesday, America Meridith, publisher of First American Art Magazine, shared our table and she insisted that we had to go see the pottery by Karin Walkingstick, a Cherokee potter from Oklahoma. She said Karin would be at both markets -- and we had to see her work. Had to.

So we made it a point to find and check out her booth at the IFAM. Sure enough, her pottery was extraordinary and compelling. More amazing still was that she had only been potting for two years, but there was nothing at all raw or tentative about her work. It is all fully and beautifully realized, remarkable in fact, and we were very glad to have seen it for ourselves. Unfortunately, we couldn't purchase anything from her as our budget for art is exhausted for the year.

We had some other stops to make in Albuquerque later in the day which meant the long, boring drive down the hill from Santa Fe. Smoke from the fires in California and Washington has made its way to central and northern New Mexico and so casts a pall on the scenery. The mountains practically disappear in the murk, but there were also rain squalls mixed in with the smoke, so the usually boring drive down to Albuquerque had moments of interest as cloud bursts and rain-spattering periodically interrupted our boredom.

We got our business done in Albuquerque and headed home late in the afternoon. It was a heady day after a very heavy and heady week, and we were both exhausted -- but remarkably energized and elated.

One of the booths where we spent quite a bit of time at the IFAM was that of Leonard Peltier, wrongly convicted of crimes he didn't commit and wrongly held in Federal prison for those crimes -- and smeared and slandered by the FBI for decades. Dozens of Peltier's paintings were on exhibit -- and for sale -- along with posters, prints and minor items all to help fund his legal challenges to his continued imprisonment.

I had never seen so many of his paintings before. He's a highly talented artist in a more or less traditional style. Again, we couldn't afford any of them, but just to see so many was a remarkable experience. Among the minor items on display, Ms Ché found a patch with the combined figures of a wolf and a raven (both spirit animals for her) around which was the motto: "Do right and fear no one," and "Free Leonard Peltier." Well, that was something we could afford, and that patch now has a place of honor in the library here at the house (which is also her study.)  Peltier has been a symbol of Native oppression and resistance for decades. His continued incarceration is an injustice -- among so many injustices that typify the American system of injustice these days. To find his work in the "rebel" Indian market seemed just right somehow, and we felt privileged at that moment.

As Ms Ché has said, after spending a lifetime in the white world and learning how to survive and succeed in it while preserving something of her Indian heritage, she's now "becoming" what she's always been -- a strong and purposeful Native American woman. She's coming into her own in ways that simply weren't possible before. Exhaustion is part of the process of transformation they say!...

[I haven't put links in this post but will try to include them within the next day or two.]

No comments:

Post a Comment