50 SHADES OF GRAY


miss clairolToday when women go from brown to blond to red to black and back again without blinking we think of hair color products as we think of lipsticks. There are bottles and bottles of hair color product with names like Excellence and Preference and Loving Care and Nice and Easy and so on, each in dozens of different shades. There is even Chocolate/Cherry and Champagne Cocktail, colors that ask “Does She or Doesn’t She? but blithely assume “Yes, she does.” Slogans like these were instantly memorable and managed to take on meanings well outside their stated intentions.

My own history with the hair color industry is memorable, having been a victim of my own foolhardiness more than once. Pick a color, any color, and I have given it a short-term lease on my head. I became a Ginger Rogers blond at the age of 16, which then became a strange shade of green at the end of the summer swim season. On another occasion I dyed it black for a Hawaiian party, which had to be removed swiftly before I spoke before a rather dull women’s group. It became a mottled thatch emanating from my scalp, with varying spots of brown, red and a terrifying streak of purple somewhere above my eyebrows.

After my residence with the Pueblo and the bestowal of my honorary name, I colored it a lovely believable dark brown, suitable for my new adopted identity. It remained this color for many years until I nearly believed it was my own. I could wander among the various villages in New Mexico while painting, and not be exposed as “that Anglo blond woman”. Many years later, I let it grow out, at which time I cut it short and asked my good friend what color she would call my hair. She too-promptly replied “Mouse”! So it was back to the bottle. Along with Miss Clairol, I gave myself a home permanent which unfortunately fought with the color and became a bright red Brillo pad on perched on top of my head.

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It was bound to happen—the day arrives when you find your first gray hair, a reminder that Time is marching on. But silver or gray is trending now in clothing, fashion accessories and home décor. We have all heard that men with gray hair are distinguished looking, while it just makes women look 10 years older. However, a few lucky women can pull off a certain amount of elegance. It’s a dilemma for sure. Do you grab the old familiar bottle, or do you try a new color—gray? It’s the only one I had not tried so I decided to give it a go. A number of years ago, somewhat elderly women became blue, do you remember them? They were generally seen with locks the color of a drop-in toilet freshener, and no, it wasn’t a mistake. They did it on purpose—it took any vestiges of blond out.

Streaks of gray usually appear near the ears, giving the impression of “Frankenstein’s Bride”. I once worked for a man who used dark shoe polish to color his ‘side wings.’ I seem to have accomplished the ‘gray mission’ on my own, without the aid of dye or bleach. A grandson once asked me if it was blond or grey. I told him to take his pick.
It still looks blond to me when looking in a mirror, but for some reason, it photographs gray. It must be a trick of the camera.

The thing to remember is that age is just a number, and hair color does not dictate whether you lead a sedate lifestyle, or behave like a character in “50 Shades of Grey.” The choice is yours.

CHILDREN OF THE DESERT


While attending a conference in New Mexico some years ago, my friend Georgia Abeita and I were pleased to be invited to a celebration where numerous young dancers performed in the costume of their various tribes.

There was lots of green chile stew and fry bread, and great platters of melon of all sorts.  There were dozens of displays of artwork for sale, including great pottery, basketry and blankets.  Far too much to take in in an afternoon although we gave it a good shot, and ended up happily leaving a little money by the end of the day.

But the excitement of the day for me came with the colorful dancers, with their feathers, beadwork and deerskin boots all moving in unison to the insistent beat of the drummers who sat alongside the circle of dancers.  Lots of tribal elders had their usual suspicious frowns, watching to make sure no one was photographing, which is always a bit nerve-racking, as you need to keep your cameras out of sight until the dance is over.

There were young men and women from all over the Southwest mingling and laughing together as young kids do until the serious business of dance began.  Then they arranged themselves naturally into the circle dance and gracefully flowed into the age-old steps with lovely looks of concentration on their beautiful faces.  The various tribes and villages were recognizable not only by their dress, but sometimes by their distinctive features.  Pueblo, Kiowa, Plains Indians of many tribes were represented, and the color was amazing as they passed by.

At the end of the dance, when talking to some of the dancers, I was given permission to photograph, and came away with these two young people which I painted when I returned to my studio.

The sweetness of the girl contrasted greatly with the wonderfully arrogant expression of the boy, who had not not yet  become confident in his young manhood.

O’Odham Tash  watercolor painting by Kayti Sweetland Rasmussen                                                                                         Black Eagle, Kiowa  watercolor by KSR

THE MANY FACES OF MATA ORTIZ


In a small village at the end of a long dirt road, magic happens every day.  It is an earthly magic, worked by men, women and children at kitchen tables and in backyards all over town, and its elements are very simple.

A handful of mud.

A few sticks and stones and human hairs.

A pile of cow manure or sometimes cottonwood bark, a splash of kerosene, a quick fire.

But out of the smoke and ashes comes something greater than the sum of these homely parts: beautiful pottery.  Seventy-five miles due south of the “boot heel” jog in the New Mexico border, in the heart of the Casas Grandes region of the Mexican state of Chihuahua. the master potters of Mata Ortiz turn dirt into art.

Not too many years ago, an American man was sifting through “treasures” at a garage sale in Texas, when he spotted two unusually beautiful pots.  “Where did these come from?” he asked.  A shrug of the shoulders was his answer, but persisting, he discovered that the pots were from Mata Ortiz in Mexico, where the pots were indeed beautiful, but the output was small.

As he was on vacation, he drove down to the village and found the potter who was responsible for the ceramics.  The village was poor, and most of the people indifferent.  The American foresaw a lucrative business for the entire community if they were all involved  in the manufacture of pottery.

Today, most of the people either hand-build the pots, decorate, contribute to the firing, which is done in the age-old way, just as the native American potters from New Mexico and Arizona have always fired: without electric kilns.

To watch these artisans work is quite marvelous.  From the hand building process to the hand decorating it is indeed magic.  Fine lines may use a brush with only one hair, and the pattern is never written down.  They may divide the pattern into sections which revolve around the pot, and somehow it always comes out even no matter how intricate.

With the aid of the American, they developed a marketing strategy, and today the Mata Ortiz pots are among the most sought-after with collectors.

Mata Ortiz pot

Manolo Rodriguez

Apache, Stone

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