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TRANSLATORS


georgia (2)“Georgia Abeita” original watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmusse

The job of a translator is to interpret, explain or even to change into another language, and taken in that context, we are all translators. Every day we are trying to reach common ground with someone, to convey something that we know, but which they do not.

Many years ago, my Native American friend Georgia Oliver, teacher of my children, invited me to spend the summer with her as she visited her family in New Mexico. I jumped at the chance, looking forward to learning more about the Pueblo people and thus about Georgia herself.

We traveled across the country, with Georgia driving and me navigating, passing Navajo hogans in Arizona, and visiting Indian traders along the way which Dr.Advice and I were to visit often for the next forty years. So much of what we passed on our way to Laguna where we would be staying briefly, was nostalgic to Georgia.

When we arrived at the village of Laguna, New Mexico, we stayed with Georgia’s two elderly aunts and an uncle, who lived in an old building which was once an old mission. Georgia’s grandfather, George Platt, a white engineer came to survey the land with two other white engineers, all of whom married Indian girls and settled in this same mission building! They each raised families of ten or twelve children. Surrounded by a stone fence, the home overlooks the dry bed of the San Jose River and the mesas beyond. There are ancient pueblos dotting the hillsides around.

The village consists of mud houses some of which are at least 300 years old. A path meanders over the pitted rock which forms the entire hill behind the house. It is worn in places a foot deep from the footsteps of hundreds of years. Gives one the chilling feeling of connecting with thousands of people who made this their home. You have the sensation that ancient faces are watching and hoping you will not destroy their legacy. The old church founded by Franciscan fathers, has been in continuous use since 1699.

We continued on to Isleta, the home of Georgia’s father, where Georgia Oliver became Georgia Abeita, the name of her father, who had been chief of the village. We spent much time in Isleta, using it as our base from which we traveled to places where my Indian American education continued to give rich rewards. We stayed with Georgia’s cousin, Diego and his wife where I was asked if I liked chili. Being a Californian, I expected chili beans, but got chili stew, hot and spicy, along with cantaloup and Kool-Aid. We were rewarded with stories of their past experience at the San Francisco World’s Fair, as well as a period in Hollywood where they were in a couple of movies.

Indian ruins
“Mesa Verde Ruins” original watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

We tramped around Chaco Canyon, and visited many Anasazi ruins throughout the area including this one of Mesa Verde in Colorado, which is one of the most famous ruins. To stand and paint this place of the past, is an awe inspiring feeling, and one which places the artist in each of the dwellings, along with the ancient ghosts. You begin to wonder if they really want you to intrude upon their privacy, and it makes your brush travel a little faster.

We spent some time at the village of San Ildefonso, where Georgia’s mother had taught school. It is the home of Maria Martinez, who was one of the most famous of Pueblo potters. She and her husband Julian, were also part of the San Francisco World’s Fair, which introduced the black on black Indian pottery to many people. I am fortunate to have several of the black pots, including one of Maria’s. We spent a lovely day with their family, and Maria and I “talked” pots!

black pot2

Driving through Navajo country, I was thrilled with the wonderful rugs, and was fortunate to find a lovely Two Grey Hills rug which I have hanging over my computer. A much larger version hanging in the La Fonda Hotel in Albuquerque, caught the eye of a tourist who wished to buy it. When told it would cost him $25,000 he asked to meet the “Two Grey Hills” assuming that it referred to two old women, and not a place!

2 grey hills

The summer passed too quickly, and I felt I had made many new friends, along with a number of paintings of these very kind people, who on another visit would honor me with a naming ceremony, teach me to make bread, and give me a greater appreciation of a people who were “different” from me. Translation: We are all alike in many ways.

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27 comments on “TRANSLATORS

  1. It’s a lovely sensitive interpretation, Kayti, and what an interesting life you have led because you are so curious and always interested in other people.

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  2. Great translation of one of your life’s great adventure and sharing it. What amazing watercolours you paint as well. Georgia and you must have had a wonderful time together and how fortunate your children were having had her as a teacher.

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    • Thanks Gerard. Georgia and I had many years of fun adventures all over the map! She was a great companion; witty, quick and intelligent. My children as well as grandchildren loved her. I remember one evening sitting in a dry spa they had recently installed but not filled, with a teenage grandson. We were acting silly and he said “You are crazy just like my grandma!” It does seem a strange thing to be doing doesn’t it?

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  3. Do you consider these travels to have been a vision quest of sorts for you? Having known you all these years enjoying the glimpses of your spirit that you have shared with all of us, do you feel that you embodied some of the spirits and experiences of Georgia and her relatives?

    I find that the memories of my parents and friends often animate their souls so that they are almost present. I think the vision quest is a part of the process of animating the great spirit and all her children. You have certainly animated Georgia, her relatives, and heritage.

    Thanks.

    Grizz

    (Bob gave me this name while in Alaska-it doesn’t hold any weight in the spirit world.)

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    • You know that Grizz was a character in Jeremiah Johnson don’t you? He caught grizzly bears. I would hate to have thought of you doing that in your Alaska days!

      I don’t know if going to New Mexico was a vision quest. Probably more a learning experience about Georgia and her people. It gave me an understanding of those people which I know I would not have had if I had not gone with her rather than on a trip by myself or with Dr. Advice.. I believe that learning about another culture is so very important. Look at the experience that Jeremy has had in China. The truth of the matter is: we ARE different by virtue of life experiences. We are all so quick to judge, even in our personal lives. My motto is “the art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.” It’s the best way to get through life.

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  4. I’ve said it before, Kayti: you are so fortunate to have had these experiences. I have been to Mesa Verde and your lovely painting brings back the beauty and power of the place.

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    • It IS extraordinary isn’t it? Traveling in that part of the country there are so many old ruins which exude the spirit of the ancients. We are so fortunate in having everything at our fingertips, it brings the thought of how they managed to survive for so many centuries in such isolation. The Pueblos were farmers and every inch of land was used to tuck in a seed of corn whether on an uphill slant or not. We take such care in planting today, dropping seeds in precise rows, watering just so. They didn’t even have access to water in many places, having to carry it over many miles sometimes. And yet—they survived.

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    • Thanks for directing Steve Swartzman to my site.

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  5. When I looked at your watercolor I thought: Cézanne meets Mesa Verde.

    Mrs. Daffodil (of the previous comment) pointed me to your post because by coincidence I also featured Mesa Verde in my blog today:

    http://portraitsofwildflowers.wordpress.com/2014/11/07/the-ruined-world-below-and-the-ruined-world-above

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    • Hi Steve, I’m glad you enjoyed the painting. Mesa Verde is extraordinary isn’t it? Your photo is amazing. You captured a view from above mine, and one I have never seen. They had quite a cozy nest under the overhang didn’t they? Protected as you pointed out from the ravages of fire as well as rain. Even after a lifetime of visiting these places, I still marvel at the sheer determination of the builders, and I am grateful to the Park Department for helping to preserve its authenticity.

      I’m happy to see your site, I will be visiting you again.

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  6. Crikey, Katy – you have some absolutely marvellous memories !!! I do wish you’d DO something about ’em, rather than spoil us with them occasionally and in dribs and drabs …

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  7. Feather Woman, your portrait of Georgia and the watercolour of the ruins are ravishing. Your memories are important. Thank you for sharing them with us. x

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    • Hi Narelle, All our memories are important if only to remind us of who we are and where we have been. I loved some of your old memories of your ancestors. I haven’t done any about those yet. It does keep the little grey cells perking along though. Very important in this day and age. I’m enjoying your newest blogs too. Amazing women. xx

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  8. What incredible adventures you have had in your life Kayti. The black on black pots are beautiful, as are your paintings. Thank you for sharing,

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    • Don’t you love those black pots? I have several. The Santa Clara ones are lovely too. The firing process is so ancient. They built a fire using sheep dung mostly and stack the posts in amongst the coals and then smother the whole thing. (A simplified explanation) We do it too and call it “raku”. Not a lot of control, but it turns out gorgeous stuff. They are unglazed so no good for putting water in.

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  9. As a matter of fact I come from a long line of potters in England and Canada. They had potteries in both places for over 200 years. I taught pottery as well as sculpture for years. I love pots too, I try not to collect any more. “Admire, don’t Acquire!” I’ll include some pictures sometime

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  10. Oh, I do like your little saying: “Admire, don’t Acquire.” I had to fight off my acquisitive tendencies this very week, and it can be a struggle.

    One thing I do enjoy acquiring is memories, and you’ve stirred quite a few. One of my best-ever trips was through New Mexico. San Ildefonso, Isleta, Chaco Canyon — I loved them all. I’ve never been to Mesa Verde, though. After seeing Steve’s photo and your painting, I’m longing to go. But, if I don’t, it’s still good to have the place captured and shared through your artistry.

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    • Some of my best-ever and life changing memories revolve around the pueblos of New Mexico where I spent so much time for so long. Wasn’t it wonderful to see Steve’s photo? Such a different angle from mine.
      Isleta was where I received my honorary name of PachoFa so it holds many memories.

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  11. I love your post but the comments are just as good. I’m glad to see Steve’s photo, as I wondered about the sky in yours, thinking you were being all abstracty. The ‘sky’ makes perfect sense now. I love the delicate watercolour, too, and the other post embellishments. ❤

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  12. I would love to see this part of the world. How wonderful for you to know it well, and to see it through the eyes of local people. Thanks for sharing!

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  13. I feel the same about your part of the world Tandi. I know ?Alaska somewhat, but have never been as far north as you. Isn’t blogging fun and so informative, we can’t help but learn from each other.

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