Vast Austerity of Landscape: Speaking of (New) Mexico and Georgia O’Keeffe

I’m in New Mexico and hour north of Santa Fe in the village of Abiquiu, where painter Georgia O’Keeffe reconstructed a dilapidated adobe, converting it into a winter home of extraordinary minimalism. She would have been at home in the living simply movement of modernity. One could also say she shaped it.

View from O’Keeffe’s bedroom window

Here in Nuevo Mexico, thinking of Mexico is unavoidable. The vast, expansive, unending landscape of desert, scrub oak, sage and cactus always brings me back to the root of native Americans, of indigenous First Nation peoples, to New Spain and the conquest, to the land that was once an integral part of Mexico. Place names call out original Hispanic settlers, land grants. Tribal communities draw parallels to Mexican pueblos where creativity thrives and hardship is an undercurrent.

Hollyhock seed dispersal, random regeneration against adobe wall

The land stretches out in folds, crevices, upheavals, arroyos, twelve thousand foot mountain ranges. It is dry and hot in July. It is getting drier and hotter. Afternoon thunder clouds build up and in the distant purple hills, I see rods of lightening and the softening horizon of rain. Along the green ribbon Rio Grande River Valley ancient peoples who migrated south from Mesa Verde continue their traditions.

An iconic O’Keeffe image

We are not permitted to photograph the interior of the Georgia O’Keeffe Home and Studio in Abiquiu. We are not permitted to take photos of the interior through the glass picture windows while standing outside. The home is as it was when she left it, each particular and well-chosen item in its particular place. Each item a sculptural statement, most created by icons of modern furniture design.

Weathered and dry, reminding me of parched skin

The walls are pale mushroom or cream or beige or faded salmon. They are thick adobe. Deep and cool. Through the window is a living painting. The walls are barren. Bare. Empty only to the imagination of what might lay beyond. The vast changing of the sky, the season, the chill or warmth of air. One can imagine the isolation and solitude of living there amidst the expansiveness of the hills, mountains, a ribbon of road, eagles soaring on the thermals, a garden to feed and nurture belly and soul.

Hollyhocks, fruit trees, vegetable gardens at Abiquiu
Beware of Dog

The palette at the O’Keeffe house in Abiquiu is neutral. White cotton covers the kitchen sofa. The kitchen faces north, the light preferred by painters, the guide tells us. The windows are huge. Standard Sears metal cabinets disappear recessed into deep adobe walls. The table is simple whitewashed plywood that sits atop sawhorses, worn smooth with use and age. Nature and living space merge.

She painted this doorway and wall … multiple times
Passages connecting patios, studio and home

Throughout the house the naked walls speak — nothing is necessary. A painter’s easel served as coat rack when she turned from painting to making ceramic vessels.

Unmarked in the La Fonda lobby, I recognize this as O’Keeffe
Weathered to a patina

Details complicate things, she said. To become acquainted with an idea, one must revisit the same subject over and over. Her paintings took on the austere minimalist life she lived. Seeing this, hearing this, reminded me of the traveling exhibit Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern, I saw in Winston-Salem, NC, at Reynolda House, that included a dress that she designed and sewed into multiple versions using different fabrics and colors.

St. Thomas the Apostle Church, built atop pre-Puebloan Tewa Indian village

Being there also challenges one to revisit lifestyle and think about how we are acculturated to consume, compete and communicate. I am always grateful for these moments of self-reflection to ask the essential question: Who am I? What is the meaning of my life? Being with O’Keeffe in Abiquiu helps in the continuing process of self-reflection.

Adobe ruins, Abiquiu, around the corner from O’Keeffe home
Inside the Spanish colonial church, Abiquiu

Oaxaca Artisans in Santa Fe, New Mexico 2019 IFAM

Thursday parade features Mexican delegation with Teotitlan weaver Isaac Vasquez

The 2019 International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe, New Mexico, has come to an end. The three-day extravaganza is a chaotic mix of tribal, ethnic, indigenous creativity from around the world. It brings together many talented artisans who have no other paths to reach international markets.

Santa Fe is a destination for many reasons. This is where friends from all over the country converge to volunteer, too. A group of us planned a reunion around being here. We coordinated our volunteer time. We stayed at the same, small, old Route 66 motel that has been in service since the 1950’s. I imagine my dad may have stayed there as he pulled a trailer with all our family household belongings behind our 1953 Plymouth station wagon on the journey west from Detroit to resettle in Los Angeles.

Don Jose Garcia Antonio is blind, feels his way to sculpt Oaxaca life

The market officially begins on Friday night with a special opening night preview at $250 per person admission. I always volunteer, so I get to watch the passing parade of Texas and Oklahoma oil and gas heiresses and collectors dressed in their finest attire. It’s a cocktail party that goes from 5:30 to 10:00 p.m. The ticket gives one first pick. I volunteered with Santa Fe de Laguna, Patzcuaro, potter Nicolas Fabian Fermin, and I packed up lots of beautiful pots that night.

Weaver Pedro Mendoza, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, at Banamex Foundation booth

The frenzy continued on Saturday morning when the Early Birders got in at 7:30 a.m. After the late night on Friday of bubble-wrapping ceramics, I just couldn’t get going to get there before 10 a.m. when the event opened to general admission. With hundreds of artisans and thousands of people, it was a crush to get through the aisles to see all that was offered at this huge bazaar.

Yesenia Yadira Salgado Tellez, Oaxaca filigree silversmith

That didn’t give me much time to cover more than a fraction of the aisles, since I was meeting friends Jennifer and Mark Brinitzer, Ann Brinitzer and Katie and Don Laughland for an early lunch in the cafe. The women came with me on our 2019 Chiapas Textile Study Tour (a few places open for 2020) and we became fast friends.

Remigio Mestas is noted conservator of finest Oaxaca textiles, at Banamex Foundation

It was thrilling and heartfelt to see so many artisans I know from Oaxaca represented at this outstanding exposition. It takes years of making highest quality work to gain this level of recognition, plus it takes entrepreneurship and some luck to gain entry to this juried show.

Amada Sanchez, Pinotepa de Don Luis, Oaxaca, master weaver and dyer

It’s very expensive for artisans to participate, too. They must cover their own shipping, travel, lodging and food expenses and they give 20% of their sales to the IFAM organization for the opportunity to sell.

Weaver Porfirio Gutierrez Contreras and dye-master sister Juana, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca
Client wears fuschine-dyed huipil, Dreamweavers Cooperative, Pinotepa de Don Luis, Oaxaca

If they are part of a cooperative with many makers, the profits must be divided. As with the case of Dreamweavers Cooperative from Pinotepa de Don Luis, there were three representatives at the Folk Art Market — Amada, Teofila and Patrice. Patrice did a fundraiser and collected over $4,000 USD to cover some of the expenses. And, they had excellent sales. However, the net gets divided among 30 weavers and dyers, so each person might earn only a few hundred dollars.

Selvedge Magazine Latin Issue co-editor Marcella Echeverria, Mexico City

For individual artisans and families, the profits are much better but ONLY IF there are sales. If it is a slow year, there is an opportunity to sell at a discount (the artisan names the percentage) on Sunday afternoon, the last day of the show. Brisk sales one year does not guarantee success for the next. The risk is entirely on the shoulders of the artisan.

Odilon Merino Morales shows an exquisite hand-woven San Pedro Amuzgo, Oaxaca huipil,

Odilon Merino Morales from San Pedro Amuzgo on the Costa Chica of Oaxaca, Mexico, consigns what he doesn’t sell with Sheri Brautigam who runs the online Etsy shop, Living Textiles of Mexico. If you didn’t get to the show and want one of these incredible textiles, please contact Sheri. She also has pieces from Pinotepa de Don Luis’ Dreamweavers Cooperative.

Master weaver Isaac Vasquez, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

The benefit of doing this is that the artisans do not need to pay the return shipping for unsold goods and it leaves the beautiful pieces in the USA for better access to those of you who missed the show and want to make a purchase.

Patrice Perillie, Amada Sanchez and Norma Schafer in our huipiles

I volunteered on Saturday afternoon from noon to 6:00 p.m. with the Dreamweavers Cooperative. I know these women well since I lead study tours to their remote village on Oaxaca’s Costa Chica.

The IFAM show is a destination and an adventure. Since I know many of the artisans, it is a special and heart-throbbing experience to meet them outside their humble homes and villages in the world of commerce. For some, this is their first visit to the USA. Their first flight on an airplane. Their first success at getting a visa to enter the USA and overcome the fears of border crossing and disrespect.

Hand-woven native green Oaxaca cotton, purple snail dye, indigo, cochineal

This is the moment to applaud what Oaxaca artisans have accomplished. There are so many more talented people whose work goes unrecognized and unrewarded. For those of us who love Mexico and appreciate the talent, history, culture and art, the process of bringing accomplished artisans to the world marketplace is an on-going effort.

Thanks to all who support and applaud what they do.

My pal Winn, volunteer extraordinaire, writing up a sales slip

In the vast New Mexico landscape, one can disappear, rediscover Georgia O’Keefe, experience Nuevo Mexico, land of enchantment, understand the history and artisanry of nearby Native Americans who live along the Rio Grand River. It is hot, dry, high desert with the kind of beauty that brings the romance of the Old West into one’s spirit.

View from Abiquiu, New Mexico

Look at the rain over purple hills, fields of sage and lavender, the dry withered look of dehydration — plants and people, wrinkles in the earth and on weathered faces. I imagine what it would be like to be an indigenous person here, too. I know the Oaxaca story well. There are many similarities — both experienced the Conquest, the attempt at culture annihilation, and the resurgence of identity amidst the face of adversity and hardship.

Again, let’s applaud the talent of our First Peoples.

Santo Domingo jewelry maker Warren Nieto

Mexico in Santa Fe, Nuevo Mexico—International Folk Art Market

Tonight the famed Santa Fe International Folk Art Market opens on Museum Hill to the thrill of all of us who embrace the work created by indigenous people as an expression of self, culture and community. It will continue through the weekend.

On Thursday afternoon, skirting a dramatic downpour of rain, the IFAM officially began with the Parade of Nations around the Santa Fe Plaza. Outstanding artisans from Mexico represented the best of the entire country and her dedication to craft preservation and culture.

From Oaxaca, Isaac Vasquez, and behind Don Jose Garcia and Teresita Mendoza Reyna Sanchez, ceramic sculptors from San Antonio Castillo Velasco

It takes a village. It takes the ingenuity, dedication, years of creative work without the promise of recognition. It takes collectors and appreciators who reward talent by purchasing amazing pieces. It takes the support of NGOs and individuals who give time, energy and resources to step in to help artisans, most of whom speak no English, or may speak some Spanish, and who prefer to communicate in their indigenous language, which is probably their first language.

The International Folk Art Market brings people together from all around the world to celebrate native craft and creativity. It offers a forum to appreciate, understand and applaud.

From Pinotepa de Don Luis, Oaxaca, Dreamweavers Cooperative—Txinda Purple Snail Dyes

The parade around the plaza brought tears to my eyes for many reasons. This joining, this coming together in celebration is a marvel. I recognized so many faces from the artisans I know in Oaxaca and Mexico. We waved. We embraced. The crowd responded.

The Market is juried and space is limited. Many talented people from Mexico apply and are not accepted. Space is limited. Most wouldn’t even dream of coming this far because it requires about $2,000 US dollars to fund the travel and expenses for one person. There is an application fee and artisans pay a percentage of sales to the organization, too. And, then, of course, there is the huge obstacle of getting a Visitor Visa to enter the USA.

From Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Porfirio Gutierrez and sister Juana Gutierrez

So this is a special group in many ways.

To be here is to have pride in Mexico, what her people do and create, the tenacity required to get this far, the savvy to be able to translate creative work into an application, the perseverance to risk ridicule and jealousy by peers who wish they could have achieved.

From Pátzcuaro, Michoacan, Nicolas Fabian Fermin and Maria del Rosario Lucas, potters

There are joys for all us derived from being in a community of like people from around the world.

Bienvenidos. Welcome to Santa Fe.

Taking Big Leaps–Dance of the Feather, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Wednesday, July 10, 2019–This group of new dancers start their three-year commitment to church, community and family this year. The most touching moment for me was to be in the home of the Moctezuma, the lead character in the Danza de la Pluma just before they set out to the church plaza to dance for three hours until sunset on July 9.

Grandma raises her hand to make the sign of the cross in blessing

Here I witnessed loved ones bestow their blessings on him. It was like anointing their son and grandson with the benediction of all the generations who came before, offering God’s favor and protection. It was as if all the young men over decades who participated in this sacred dance were present, too. It is an honor and a commitment to perform this service. I am told it is life-changing.

The ritual is repeated year after year, but the first year is a special test for a new group of dancers for their faith, endurance, strength, passion, dedication, coordination and precision. It is also an important exercise in mutual support. Dancers are not individuals. They are part of a team, and it is their team effort that underlies the essence of how this Usos y Costumbres community self-governs.

The Dance of the Feather, which tells the story of the Spanish Conquest from the indigenous point-of-view, is meticulously choreographed. The village symphony orchestra/band knows exactly what to play as the story unfolds. As each step is taken down the cobbled streets to the church, there is a cadence that is repeated in the retelling.

Parents of La Malinche help her prepare

In the altar room at the Moctezuma’s home, family members help each member of the group dress in their costume. This takes time since each element of the dress is an elaborate undertaking.

Dad attaches silk scarves that will fly like wings
Doña Marina, age six, fortifies herself to prepare for three hours of dancing
Grandmothers peel onions and garlic for the barbecue stew

Behind the scenes, another type of choreography takes place. It is the work men, women and girls and boys who do the food preparation and service. Every bit is made by hand. The chickens are slaughtered, boiled and the meat is shredded for tamales.

Each made by hand memela is the blessing of a woman’s hand
Drinking tejate — muy rico — a pre-Hispanic tradition

The toro (bull) is slaughtered and prepared for barbacoa de res. The tejate is stone ground by hand, with home roasted cacao beans. Can I talk about the memelas? I’ve never tasted anything so good — comal toasted corn patties, slathered with bean paste, fresh salsa, shredded Oaxaca cheese, a drizzle of shredded lettuce.

Natividad serves memelas to a guest

We feed each other because we take care of each other. Our survival and continuity depends on it.

This is a hallmark for Teotitlan del Valle and other Usos y Costumbres communities in Mexico. They function so well because of this bond. Mutual support is about respect for heritage and relationships. You do it because it is a value to the self, the other and makes the whole stronger.

Moctezuma flanked by La Malinche (L) and Doña Marina (R)

The dancers who participate in the Dance of the Feather embody these values, embrace them, practice them and model them for others.

Taking big leaps — the strength and prowess of the dancers

The dancing will resume again in the church courtyard on Friday, July 12, at 5:00 PM. Check Oaxaca Events for schedule and other festivities around town.

Village officials and guests offer support — feather crowns on the patio during a rest

As I said goodbye to family members of the dance group, they asked me to tell you how important their culture is to them, how they want to communicate the beauty and friendship of Mexico, and how strongly they are committed to preserving traditions, and extend an invitation to visit.

Church is symbol of faith — but the commitment comes from the heart
Clowning around with the Clown character — symbol of Aztec spy

There are two clown figures included in the Dance of the Feather. They serve multiple functions. Primarily they are the dancers’ helpers, holding crowns when a scarf needs to be retied, bringing water and rehydration drinks, communicating with the officials when a bio-break is needed. They also are jesters that provide fun, frivolity and antics to the story — a diversion of sorts.

They will tease and cajole audience members, like me. Jajajajaja. In the original story, they are the Aztec spies who disguised themselves to get close to the Spanish conquistadores and bring information back to the Aztec generals. There were two battles with the Spanish. The Aztecs won the first.

Parade of the Canastas and Dance of the Feather, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Opening ceremonies for the Dance of the Feather in Teotitlan del Valle always begin with a 5:00 PM Monday convite starting in the plaza courtyard. Convite translates into banquet, invitation, feast. Here, it is a procession that by my definition is a Feast For the Eyes.

Today, Tuesday, July 9, Los Danzantes de la Pluma will begin their full presentation at 5:00 PM in the church courtyard. Tomorrow, on July 10, they will start at 12:00 PM noon and dance until about 8:00 PM.

When I’m here, this is a desfile that I do not want to miss. This year is special, too, because a new group of dancers begins their three-year commitment to church and community. They will dance at every community-wide celebration as part of their promise to participate.

We got back to Teotitlan from the city just in time for the festivities to begin. Young women and girls as young as three years old, dressed in traditional fiesta traje, gathered in the church plaza with their ornate decorated baskets to prepare for the parade through the streets.

La Malinche (l.) and Doña Marina (r.) flank Moctezuma

We were waiting for the Danzantes to arrive. They had left the home of the Moctezuma, the head of the group, and walked behind the band for about a mile to the church. You could follow their path by the sound. In full dance regalia complete with corona (crown), rattles, amulets, and a costume that combines Spanish and pre-Hispanic symbols, they were a sight to behold.

I’ve written a lot here about the syncretism between indigenous spirituality and mysticism combined with Spanish Catholicism which comprises modern Mexico — Mestizo culture. Malinche is the slave given to Cortes who was his lover-translator. Remember, she was a slave and had no choice! Doña Marina is the same woman after being baptized in the church. The conversion is an important part of Mexican mixed identity.

The procession winds through village streets for several blocks

My Note: The Dance of the Feather is a re-telling of the conquest story through dance. It is part of Oaxaca’s oral history. Zapotec, the native language, is not written. In traditional villages, it is part of the usos y costumbres laws and traditions. The dance has become commercialized and performed by professionals during the annual Guelaguetza in Oaxaca’s auditorium. Please don’t confuse the commercial folkloric dance, which requires expensive tickets, with its original purpose.

Canastas are heavy, difficult to carry

There were probably four hundred people assembled, including villagers who would follow the procession through the streets. Accompanying the procession were official representatives from each of Teotitlan’s five sections, each a sponsor for a group of young women, plus other patrons who provide the means to build and maintain their canasta baskets.

On-lookers and blocked traffic. Patience is a virtue.

All along the procession path, locals assembled in front of houses and on corners to watch and to pay respects.