THE ART OF THE LOOM


Coming into Southwest Indian country for the first time some fifty-five years ago was a revelation in many ways. We drove through the hot desert land of Chumash, Hopi and Navajo before arriving in New Mexico, home of the Pueblo people. My own art had taken a turn toward the Southwest, and we had begun collecting a few pots and pieces of jewelry from indigenous artists.

I was fortunate to have my good friend Georgia Abeita Oliver as my companion while I accompanied her “home” for the summer. Wherever we are born, home-going is a special occasion which never gets old. There were friends and relatives to meet and greet, and a cultural education for me as a guest.

To be steeped and accepted into the culture of another is a privilege for which I have been grateful these past many years.

The domestic skills such as weaving, pottery, jewelry and basketry seem to be practiced primarily by individual villages. Pueblo and Hopi pots, but Navajo weaving and jewelry.


Two Grey Hills rug, Navajo

My husband was staying in the La Fonda hotel in Albuquerque several years before my trip, where he saw a very large Two Grey Hills rug on the wall. The story goes that a customer wished to buy the rug, and he was sent to the Two Grey Hills village to bargain for it. He came back dismayed because though he offered them twice its price, they refused to sell to him. I had a similar situation a few years later when I commission a rug after I was back home. When it arrived, the rug’s colors were not what I had wanted, so I returned it with the hope of another more suitable rug to come; but did not hear from them again. We are, after all, two separate cultures with different views on what is important. I did not make the same mistake again in all my years of travel in Indian country.

Why is it that the Navajo are the master weavers? Why not the Pueblo? The Hopi do weave lovely small runners, though and the men weave their prospective bride a burial shawl. I always thought that was either a threat or a warning.


“How the Navajo Got The Rug” watercolor by kayti sweetland rasmussen

My own interpretation of how the Navajo got the skills to weave is that maybe it just came down from the sky. That is as good an explanation as any. We met an old weaver just outside Taos, patriarch of the Trujillo family, who had been weaving since he was a boy. He made us a nice large room size rug which is in my studio.

It is easy to imagine how so much of the architecture got its beginnings; the whole desert terrain with its mesas and sculptural forms is ever present. Making use of natural materials like clay, wool, and natural dyes keeps people connected to the land. I have always preferred to work with clay for that same reason. It connects me also with my own forebears who were potters for over 200 years in England. It just feels natural to me when I think of the generations before me who made their living through love of clay.

The Saturday markets are crowded with people bringing everything from pickups full of wool to homemade tamales. In fact the best tamale I ever ate was at a flea market in Gallup, New Mexico. In the days I first visited New Mexico and Arizona, one frequently saw the wife’s mother sitting in the bed of the truck with the bundles of sheep skin for sale. She usually was in a large chair like a queen surveying her subjects.

I bought a cradle board made by an old woman who had brought only one to sell. A young pregnant girl was trying to decide if she had money enough to buy it for $40. Seeing me waiting in the wings, she graciously offered it to me. I said I noticed that she might need it more than I did, and she said “But YOU want it.” I have yet to see someone in our society be that generous of spirit.

Native people, whether Southwest or Northcoast, as somewhat suspicious of strangers, but through the years I have known and cared for people from both cultures, I have always found acceptance and love.

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PASSING IT FORWARD


We are a sports minded family, greatly encouraged by the devotion of Dr. A, who made an early mark in high school track and basketball. As a family we attended all football games, tennis matches, crew races, and track meets. I, on the other hand, was put into a posture class in high school, although I was a fast enough runner to escape any boys chasing me until Dr. A appeared.

Sports are, after all, a pure kind of competition. As in horse racing, it depends upon who comes in first. We watched the track meets for some years to follow the son of a good friend who was showing promise as a runner. His grandfather and father were morticians, and we sometimes traveled to Fresno meets in the large black limo, which lent a certain amount of grim humor to the occasion.

In many situations, a bit of gentle help can get you a job, or even get you into a University education. Working up the chain of command, Dr. A contacted his best friend who knew somebody with a voice, who got our young runner into USC, where he excelled in the 800m, or two times around the track. He also ran in a medley, where he and the others who ran it with him still hold the record.

He did not qualify for the Olympics, but his good friend Rex Cawley went on to win the 400 m hurdles in the 1964 games in Tokyo, and still holds the record to this day.

Collegiate loyalties run deep, and the gratitude for having been the beneficiary of his opportunity, our friend Kevin Hogan, is still giving back. He is a tireless supporter of USC, and is head of the USC alumni in the Bay Area. He recently was somewhat instrumental in helping the grandson of the man who helped him so many years ago.

No one walks alone, and we all need a little help now and then, even if it just mentally. I wrote recently about the passing of our friend Leroy Sprinz, whose strong spirit overcame the debilitating loss of his arm. I spoke with his widow this morning, and she told of so many of his former students who had called her with such gratitude for their former teacher.

We all have something to give, whether it be physical help or merely a smile of encouragement. I have had many people tell me that they had no talent. Talent doesn’t reside in the Arts alone, and any artist worth their salt will tell you hard work trumps talent any day. If you think you have nothing to give, try passing on that recipe your aunt Hattie won a prize for at the county fair. Someone will thank you every time they make it.

When we write these little blogs, we are sharing something which is special to us, and which we hope will somehow register with you.

THE GREYHOUND BUS


During the years I was busy growing up in Long Beach, CA, my maternal grandfather came to celebrate each holiday with us. Having been long divorced from my grandmother, with whom we made our home, he lived alone in the tiny town of Tujunga, nestled in the arid foothills of the San Gabriel mountains east of the city of Los Angeles. He moved there sometime in the 1930’s, taking advantage of the dry mountain climate as a palliative for his asthma.

I remember the long hot, infrequent drives we made when we visited him. Upon arrival, we asked for him by name, and were directed to the clump of large oak trees in the park, where card tables with other old men seemed to play unending cribbage games. But our best visits were when he came to stay with us.

It never occurred to me to wonder how he got to our house. He had no car, yet there he would be standing on our front porch; a small grey man, dressed in a grey suit and wool cap, carrying a battered cardboard suitcase and a jolly smile. To my knowledge he never owned a car, so he took the bus whenever and wherever he wanted to travel.


“GO GREYHOUND AND LEAVE THE DRIVING TO US”

Aptly named, the Greyhound bus has been in operation since 1914, thanks to a young entrepreneur named Carl Eric Wickman, who came from Sweden in 1905 to work in the mines in Minnesota. When he was laid off in 1914, he went to work as a Hupmobile salesman. Failing as a car salesman, he took his own vehicle, a seven passenger car, and transported mine workers from Hibbing, Minnesota to Alice, Minnesota, (which also happened to be where the saloons were) for 15 cents a ride.

In 1915 he joined forces with a similar service going as far as Duluth, Minnesota. By the end of World War 1, Wickman had 18 buses, and saw a profit of $40,000. Four years later, he purchased a West Coast operation and began the first national intercity bus company.

The Greyhound name had its origins on the inaugural run from Superior. Wisconsin to Wausau, Wisconsin, when the operator, Ed Stone, saw the reflection of his 1920’s bus in a store window as they passed. For some reason it reminded him of a greyhound dog, so he changed the name of that segment of the route from the Blue Goose Lines to Greyhound. The name became popular, calling to mind the speed of the greyhound dog, and later applied to the entire network.

After my father retired from the Navy, he and my mother moved to Grants Pass, Oregon, my father’s hometown. In order for me to visit, I had to drive or take the bus, as there was no airport, and the railroad only went as far as Dunsmuir, CA. So gathering my two daughters aged four and six, the three of us set off on our first Greyhound bus ride. My husband drove us to the downtown station in Oakland, CA for an overnight adventure. And an adventure it was.

A big city bus station at night was seemingly a gathering place for people who had no place else to go. As I look back on it, it brings back memories of the depressing Marilyn Monroe movie “Bus Stop” But a night trip with small children seemed a better option for us,.

Once on the bus, we found it to be large, spacious and clean, with enough room to spread out. I had packed enough snacks to last the night, but the convenience or inconvenience of bus travel is that it stops at every small station along the way to pick up or drop off passengers. Greyhound operates 2,700 stations across America, but in small to mid-size cities, an agent can operate from a convenience store or a roadside stop.

It seemed that just as we fell asleep, we were awakened by the bright lights of a new stop, and the voice of the driver telling us to get off and stretch our legs, drink coffee, or get a bite to eat. Luggage is stored in an enormous cavern under the bus, which sends bangs and crashes throughout the night as it is loaded. Then we were back in the bus and on our way again.

The long night over, in bright sunshine with dry mouths and sleepy eyes, we were met at the Greyhound bus station in Grants Pass by happy grandparents. A successful journey.

The Greyhound bus can take you anywhere, anytime.

WINTER DREAMS


MANY WINTERS by Nancy Wood

If I had known before, all the things I know today,

I would have begun my life as an old woman.

Tricked by old men telling me there was nothing to fear

Except leaving my youth behind.

What would have been the fun of that?

What home would my mistakes have had?

It is better this way.

Now I can wish for my youth to come back.

Just so I can tell it, how old age is nothing buy

Remembering how rich the green fields looked

Despite the lack of rain.

SHADOW PATTERNS


I don’t remember any of the expected exhibits at the opening of the Asian Museum in San Francisco when we attended some years ago. The building itself was austere, cold and grey as I think of it. Serious rather than fun. Since it was the opening night it was crowded with erstwhile art enthusiasts, some dressed in colorful artwear, many in more casual jeans and Birkenstocks, a few bearded, grey pony tailed men. The usual group who show up to see and be seen.

It was all very shibui. Quietly elegant I would have described it if asked. Not quite up to the old Gump’s store in San Francisco, where the rich classic and beautiful displays on the third floor was a frequent destination for me. On this night I was drawn to the large black chains hanging from the high ceilings arranged in intricate configurations. Obviously it was the intention of the artist, and I found myself admiring the shadow patterns on the walls more than the chains themselves, even more than the large installations on the floor. Even today when I think of that show, it is the shadow patterns which remain.

Sometimes the separation of the real from the imagined becomes more intriguing. In my art classes I often suggested sketching the shadows of leaf patterns of trees or architectural designs as a jump-start to a student with the blockage familiar to artists and writers at the sight of a piece of blank white paper.

Our memories are the shadow patterns of our life. The bits and pieces of our journey which lodge in the nooks and crannies of our remembrance. These ghostly shadows keep us in touch with our past.

I have a small antique chair which belonged to my mother in law, upon which she worked a lovely petit point seat cover. I sit on it each morning while putting on my shoes and socks. It is old, like me, and also like me, has a couple of creaks. My MIL always laid the blame on Auntie Carmen’s excess weight when she perched on it. My shadow memory kicks in with each creak. I don’t recall an overweight Auntie, rather a nice looking well-dressed, white haired lady who often joined my MIL’s bridge group. The shadow patterns become more complex when that memory segues into another, and yet another.

You could say that habit is a form of shadow memory, which presents a whole new concept. When we bought each of our homes, we made changes which better fit our plans. After relocating a light switch or moving a door, and even the refrigerator, at the beginning of our residence, it confounds me when I reach toward the old position of things which are no longer there. Is it carelessness or shadow memory?

EVOLUTION OF A GARDEN


When I was growing up in Southern California, the trees I mostly saw were palm trees. Out of 2600 varieties of palm trees, there were perhaps three or four living in Long Beach, California. There was a climable fig tree in our back yard which gave a nice view of the operating room in the dentist’s office next door. Other than that we were treeless. When the dentist caught me and neighbor kids spying, he gave us all a couple of tubes of Ipana toothpaste and told us to mind our own business.

When we got married and bought our first house, we planted a virtual forest of pine trees. A gigantic curly leaf willow shaded the back yard, and the front of the house was sheltered by birch and rhododendron.

we moved to Seattle, where a tree pops up if you drop an apple core. Part of our farm house property was woodsy, and we actually had to remove a few trees to build the barn. I wept at the loss of each one.

When we took possession of this house 45 years ago, there were a few resident trees. A large deodora cedar and a Shamel Ash in the front yard, plus numerous street trees. The previous owner had planted a few fruit, plus two good sized orange trees. Not too bad, but not what we had in mind.

Thus began the never ending job of re-decorating the garden, front and back. I say “never ending, because Dr. A frequently decides to change the position of a tree or bush and the garden has had many iterations in the years we have lived here.

There were grandchildren and dogs to think of, so except for planting beds, it became covered with brick. A large kennel and a shade pavilion went in, then a large pond, swimmable for a toddler, and pleasant to sit in on a hot day, went in the middle. We were traveling often to the Southwest, so the entire ambiance was redolent of New Mexico.

However, the Southwest isn’t known for its trees, and we missed a few shady spots in the back yard, which had become a garden, so the procession of trees began which sometimes seems never ending. There have been evergreen pear trees, oleander, apple, nectarine, flowering plum, birch, a couple whose names I can’t remember. Then a few fig trees showed up.

A great number of years ago, accompanied by two house guests, fueled with a bottle or two of red, and a good idea, a Mission fig tree took up residence outside our back door. It was debated throughout the afternoon whether or not it was too close to the house, but it was small, and hard to determine how large it would become, so in the hole it went and a bucket of water poured on it for good health.

Today in the warm California sunshine, without fertilizer or water, this fig tree is attempting to join us in our family room. It has burgeoned into a sturdy highly climable, shade producing, quite beautiful, but admittedly too close to the house tree. The critters arrive when the figs ripen, and those they don’t eat, fall on the ground. But the leaves are easy to pick up due to their large size so it’s a toss up.

Of the original trees, one very large orange tree remains, which two dear friends trimmed last week, for which we are so grateful.

The past years of drought told me that we needed another shade tree in another part of the yard. I thought perhaps another evergreen flowering pear would be lovely spreading its branches over this area, with a nice sitting bench underneath for thinking. I realize that it takes time for a tree to grow, but we plant trees for the next generation to enjoy.

Dr. A came home from the nursery with a tree which they assured him was an evergreen pear. Though that was a misnomer, it had a nice shape, and its shiny leaves were pleasant, so he planted it. There were no flowers, and it shed its leaves the first winter after they turned color. I took a picture of it and took it to the nursery for identification, but they didn’t recognize it.

Though it gives little shade so far, our mystery tree stands tall and proud and gives promise. We refer to it as the Shade Tree, and what more can one ask?

REMEMBERING LEROY


He was a familiar sight running past our house each day, useless, withered arm swinging at his side. He ran as if it was a challenge to the Almighty in payment for the curse of his loss. I encountered him once or twice at 5:30 a.m. while running with Max, our Dobermann. We would see him later in the day at the other end of town. I heard that he sometimes ran 25 miles in a day. He worked out daily in a lap pool in his small back yard. He and his wife lived around the corner from us with a menagerie of pets, while caring for each of their parents. His father in a wheelchair and her blind mother.

The name “SPRINZ” was written on the back of his t-shirt, reminding my husband of former major league baseball catcher Joe Sprinz, who played for the Cleveland Indians and the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1930’s. His claim to fame after he retired, was a publicity stunt attempting to catch a baseball dropped from a blimp in 1939. On the fifth try, the ball landed in his glove at a speed estimated to have been 154 miles per hour. It slammed his glove hand into his face, breaking his jaw in twelve places. He also dropped the ball.

Joe’s son Leroy, our intrepid runner, lived around the corner from us for many years. Though I had not really met him, he knocked on my door one morning asking if he could leave his father here while he finished his run. Not knowing what else to do, I said it would be OK. What led was a fascinating hour while the old man reminisced about stories of his baseball past to us. All the famous names in the years of our youth came back to him. He also recounted the story of Leroy’s withered arm. He had had polio as a youngster, and though the doctors wanted to amputate the arm, the boy fought to keep it, saying he would figure out a way to live with it.

He became a teacher at Newark Memorial High School in Newark, CA, and while teaching tennis and baseball, he played in the school band. Proficient with a variety of instruments, refusing to let an obstacle such as the loss of an arm stop him. Much like his father, he obviously enjoyed overcoming challenges.

After retiring, Leroy and his wife, Lory Ostenkowski, moved to Oakhurst a few years ago, to enjoy their leisure years in the company of tall pine trees and deer in the mountains near Yosemite. Both were prolific writers of poetry and haiku, and were generous with their output. Leroy also found time to play in the local community band while indulging his interest in photography, and running the mountain trails.

Leroy was a trusted critic of my work, approving of my blog, though he hated the word BLOG, thinking it ugly and an embarrassment to the English language. His wife Lory, became a victim of AMD, and he greatly enlarged any artwork I posted on their large TV so that she could share it.

I had not heard from him for several months, and sent an email to see if they were OK. Last night I decided that I would write again this morning. Before I went to my computer, his widow Lory, called to tell us of his passing two months ago. According to her, the polio got him again. Post-polio, which affects many survivors, renews all the original suffering. Their daughter, who lives in Alaska, found the note I sent while clearing out his computer after his death.

Leroy was a quirky, courageous and rare person who will be greatly missed. The legacy he left was that nothing is impossible to those who keep forging through in spite of unforeseen difficulties. RIP Leroy, I’m glad I got to know you.