Episode 27 New Mexico
Georgia’s mother had taught in several of the villages on the way north, and our first stop was at San Ildefonso, home of friends of Georgia.
San Ildefonso is another sleepy village with large cottonwood trees sheltering the homes. It is the home of Maria Montoya Martinez, one of the most famous of the Pueblo potters.
I was fortunate to own a small pot by Maria which had been given to me by my aunt. Maria and her husband Julian had been a feature in the World’s Fair in San Francisco in 1939 as potters demonstrating the art of Indian pottery making, and they were quite famous among their peers.
Today there are 14 families and extended families active in making pottery. Many of the younger potters are using their own designs, but much pottery is still the old black on black type. Traditionally the pottery was unglazed and fired in dirt kilns using dung as fuel. It gained its black color from the firing process.
We pulled up in front of one house and suggested I stay in the car while she approached the house but did not go to the door. Presently a man came to the door and looked suspiciously at her as she asked for someone by name. He hesitantly said “That’s me.” Then she introduced herself and he smiled broadly while he recognized her. She asked after her friend Desideria, and he said “I married her!” With that over, he stared at me sitting in the car, so Georgia introduced us and then I got out of the car. He invited us in and his wife came out of the kitchen. They said the priest was coming for lunch so we were invited as well. Desideria, who was Maria’s sister and also a noted potter, said that Maria was coming to lunch too. It was rather like imagining you were about to meet Merle Streep for me to meet her. Her husband Julian and son, Popovi Da are both active potters as well. At some point during the lunch, Georgia told them I was also a potter, and nods and smiles were exchanged. Maria was as gracious as I had imagined her.
During the summer, my Laguna-Isleta friend and I visited many of the villages, sometimes to renew longtime friendships of Georgia’s, and sometimes to attend a seasonal celebratory dance. All villages do not welcome outside guests, and those which do, expect that strict rules of decorum be observed. This includes no cameras, which would be confiscated, no unnecessary talking during the performance, and to my great shame, no quick drawings of the dancers. I was unaware of doing anything wrong, until I heard Georgia’s whisper not to look up. Keeping my head down I saw two moccasined feet directly in front of me, and heard Georgia say that I was writing a letter home. I guiltily looked up into an old and angry hawk-nosed face, deeply tanned and wrinkled, with not an ounce of compassion or forgiveness. I smiled weakly and quickly looked back at the dancers. After an abnormal length of time, the old man moved on to try and find any other miscreants. I realized that the best sketchbook is frequently in your head, and a lot safer too.
The various villages, all slightly different, on our way north to Taos, gave an opportunity for sketching, until we found the day drifting away and knew we needed to find a place to spend the night. It was Saturday evening and in Georgia’s words: “Not a good time to be on the road with a lot of drunken Indians!” We found a cheap motel offering a dance next door, so we chose it as our place of residence for the night.
The owner said there were no more vacancies, but he had a trailer in the back which we could rent for a small sum. The trailer consisted of two sleeping areas with a small kitchen in between. The man explained how to lock the door, and I had my small gun, so we felt safe enough, but after watching the dancing next door, we forgot how to lock the door. We spread newspapers on the floor in case anyone entered we could hear them and I could threaten them, but awoke next morning to bright sunshine unscathed.
Kiowa dancer watercolor by kayti sweetland rasmussen
O’Odom Tash dancer waterfolor by kayti sweetland rasmussen
Gratefully saying goodbye to our “trailer home”, we continued north to Taos, whose stories had long fascinated me.