THE GIRL FROM ISLETA


“GEORGIA ABEITA OLIVER” watercolor by kayti sweetland rasmussen]

“What color would you call my hair?” I asked her once. “Mouse”, she quickly replied, so I made her a giant wire sculpture of a rat. We found that we could laugh at each other until the tears flowed down our cheeks, and not remember why. She was a girl from a village I never heard of and a culture I only guessed at.

I painted pictures of Indians I had never seen, in landscapes I had never traveled, until she became my daughter’s teacher.

On “Back To School” night I met Georgia Oliver, fifth grade teacher, and as my daughter had told me: “A REAL Indian”, as opposed to what I had painted.

Georgia Abeita, by photography class at University of New Mexico

Georgia and her husband, Emmett Oliver, became extended family over a period of time, and together introduced us to Native America. Georgia Abeita came from Isleta, a small pueblo in New Mexico, and Emmett, a Quinalt, from Washington state. Both became teachers and there are untold numbers of former students who are grateful for having had either as their teacher. Their son, Marvin Oliver, has carried on the teaching profession as Art Professor at the University of Washington, and has become famous as a North Coast artist.

A turning point cor me as an artist came when Georgia invited me to spend time with her at her home in New Mexico. From that time on, I no longer had to look for pictures to copy when painting an Indian.

More important, I found a very special friend.

Author: kaytisweetlandrasmussen83

I am a retired fine arts teacher, sculptor/painter, writer, and a native Californian. I love my family,dogs, horses, movies, reading and music, probably in that order. I have been married forever to a very nice man who is nice to old ladies, dogs and children.

20 thoughts on “THE GIRL FROM ISLETA”

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it Lisa. It’s interesting to see how we connect with other people upon first meeting them. There’s simply a slow that turns into a flame with time as you become part of their lives too. This woman was an incredible and wise teacher.

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    1. There truly are differences in culture, probably more then than now. One of the more interesting discoveries was to find so many highly educated people who simply preferred living in their traditional ways. Human nature really doesn’t change between cultures. I miss sharing those laughs.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. We have to keep our hearts open to discovery. It’s always better not to believe everything we’ve been taught until we check it out. My perception of the American Indian of the Old West was put to the test, and came out short. People are people wherever you find them.

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  1. I can only imagine what that time in Isleta must have been like — what a gift. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Georgia’s full name before. The “Abeita” caught me, and reminded me of something. A little exploring, and I figured it out. I once read some of Charles Fletcher Lummis’s account of his walk across the county. He ended up staying in Isleta, in the home of Pablo Abeita, who was governor of Isleta at the time. I can’t help thinking Georgia was related somehow.

    It’s wonderful to have someone to laugh with. In a world that insists on confusing snark or ridicule with humor, it’s even more of a gift.

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    1. It is possible that Georgia was related in some way to Pablo Abeita. The name is quite common down there. The governors are elected for one year, and her father was Governor at one time. I found it interesting that Georgia and others I met would say “Oh he is my cousin”, or some other relative. Not quite the same relationship we might call it. They also say “I know this person”, and yes, they really do! Most of the people I stayed with really were her family though. Lummis was very famous naturally. I tried to get a connection time wise with her but he was much earlier.

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    1. Barry, if you are still in Alaska and can get to Ketchican, go see Marvin Oliver’s gallery there. He is Georgia’s son. If he’s he’s there, tell him who you are. Great guy you will like him. He is professor at UW so spends time both places.

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  2. Your painting is great — you are definitely talented and accomplished. I like the way you’ve used negative space in the design. The story behind it is even better. You are also a gifted storyteller!

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