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.

Advertisements

CONSIDER THE FLOUNDER


“Orange_ watercolor by kayti sweeetland rasmussen

Would you be better off not knowing?

Baby flounders look like any other normal fish, swimming upright with one eye on each side of their face. Then they undergo a bizarre transformation: one eye migrates to the other side of the face. It’s like a fishy facial reconstructive surgery. No scalpels or sutures, though I haven’t talked to anyone willing to try it out.

While you’re digesting that information, it doesn’t take long to accomplish this act. Five days in some cases and less than one day in some species. If a fish can have an awkward adolescence, this is it.

In exchange for this indignation, flounders get fabulous binocular vision. Great if you were scuba diving. You would have advance notice of any possible predator coming your way. Binocular vision would be useful for a lifestyle of lying in wait on the bottom of a sandy or stony bottom dressed in incomparable camouflage watching for an opportunity to snatch an unsuspecting shrimp or other unfortunate passerby.

In addition to the miracle of vision exchange, flounders have the enviable ability to mimic their background. Think of the advantage this might bring to those of us humans who might prefer to remain in the background? In a high school biology example of a flounder who had been placed on a checkerboard, the change began within minutes; the flounder had produced a believable rendition of a checkerboard on its back.

This ability to mimic background by changing their distribution of skin pigment is poorly understood. If one of the flounders’ eyes is damaged or covered by sand, they have difficulty matching their colors to their surroundings, which hints at some level of conscious control by the flounder. These guys may be smarter than we give them credit for.

My grandson is a wildlife biologist, and a world class fisherman. I wonder if he knows all this.

Selected from new book What a Fish Knows by Johathan Balcombe

PERSPECTIVES OF A CHURCH


“Ranchos de Taos”
watercolor by kayti sweetland rasmussen

It’s entire name is “San Francisco de Asis Mission church and it has stood in the plaza in Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico since 1816. Possibly one of the most photographed churches in the Southwest, its rear view has attracted the attention of artists from all over the world because of its smooth sculptural adobe form.

Ansel Adams used the church as part of his Taos Pueblo art book Georgia O’Keeffe described it as one of the most beautiful buildings left in the United States by the early Spaniards. I have been fascinated by its colonial era beauty since I first came upon it in the 1960’s. I have painted it many times in watercolor, oils and acrylic and it changes each time, and each time I paint it, I love it more.

Front view of Ranchos de Taos Church

“EULOGY”


“Black Elk,” watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

“Eulogy” by Sherman Alexie

My mother was a dictionary,

She was one of the last fluent speakers of our tribal language.

She knew dozens of words that no one else knew.

When she died, we buried all those words with her.

My mother was a dictionary.

She knew words that have been spoken for thousands of years.

She knew words that will never be spoken again.

I wish I could build tombstones for each of those words.

Maybe this poem is a tombstone.

My mother was a dictionary.

She spoke the old language.

But she never taught me how to say those ancient words.

She always said to me “English will always be your best weapon.”

She was right, she was right, she was right.

Excerpt from commencement speech Gonzaga University
Sherman Alexie, writer, poet, film maker
Spokane/Coeur d’Alene Native

HAIR OF THE DOG


It is no laughing matter. We have hosted many varieties of canine throughout our nearly 71 years of wedded bliss, during which time I have been more or less on top of the cleaning game. The Health Department has never visited our home with poor housekeeping complaints in hand.

However, we have been “done in” by a Jack Russell Terrier, whose shedding has caused us to purchase several vacuum cleaners in the past few years. The last one was a lovely Dyson, which was difficult to care for. Our handyman was able to unclog Charlie’s hair, so we gave it to him and bought another simpler machine.

When I was a girl, my Grandmother did not have a vacuum cleaner. We used a Bissell carpet sweeper, and she hung smaller rugs on a line and beat the dust out. Auntie had a vac, and taught me to sweep over each area 7 times. (She may have taught me to chew my food 30 times since that was a new fad in the ’30s, brought about by Dr. Kellogg of corn flake fame. We have had many vacuum cleaners through the years, including a heavy and expensive Kirby, which came our way when I bought it from a door-to-door salesman. It was the best one we ever had, but I was a lot stronger in those days.

To solve the seriousness of our problem, I also bought a tool called a “Furminator” to brush Charlie. It worked fine, but I neglected to use it during a period of malaise. It somehow disappeared, so I have purchased another. I will hide this in a better place.

“A Gentle Descent” watercolor by kayti sweetland rasmussen

This painting has absolutely nothing to do with dog hair, but it was relaxation after all the vacuuming. The mountains are gently draining a spring thaw into a deep, dark and mysterious pool. To give the sky some tactile interest, I sprinkled canning salt over a coat of paint.

OUR MOTHERS


“PERSEVERENCE” watercolor by kayti sweetland rasmussen

Just as the tiny tree in this painting struggles through rocky soil to reach its independence and achieve its potential, we too struggled to loose the loving bonds of our mothers.

We spread our wings and announced to the world at large “Look! We have listened; we have learned; we can survive”

We have been blessed, and we are grateful.

WAITING ROOMS


‘INUIT MOTHER AND CHILD’ watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

We are all in some sort of waiting room. Some with anticipation and some with trepidation. It depends upon where you are waiting; grocery store, post office, assisted living facility or doctor’s office. The grocery store is a toe tapper, while you wish the person in front of you would hurry up and count her change, and return the unwanted can of beans. The post office could go both ways; did you get a bill or a check? The people in the assisted living place, are waiting for God, and it could also go both ways. The doctor’s waiting room is far and away the most interesting.

Our hospital is getting older and seems smaller, and the number of patients has increased; drawn by the advent of Silicon Valley technology. For lack of space, various disciplines have been combined in spaces far to small to contain them. While waiting for my rheumatology doctor, I watched mothers and children waiting for pediatrics, There were also cardiology and oncology patients cooling their heels.

A beautiful young woman dressed with a jeweled head dress offered a seat which I gladly took. She was from India and her husband had come here to work for Google. She misses her parents and the fact that her daughter has never met them.

Two young fathers carrying their babies checked in and I remarked to myself that fathers never came to pediatricians appointments, let alone carrying their offspring. Another sign that times have changed. The day of the stay-at-home mom is over.

As refreshing as these fellow waiters were, a dark cloud arrived in the shape of a grumpy looking gentleman in his late 70’s dressed in baggy work pants and jacket, checked in with the young woman at the desk and obviously was disgruntled by having to give a co-pay. Mumbling all the way, he threw himself into the small chair with a scowl. He gave a challenging look toward the check in counter and groused: ” I pay enough as it is around here. Now you expect me to wait here?”

I was glad to go in to meet the cute young woman doctor who is always a pleasure. After chatting and acquainting her with any new problems, I told her about the current state of the waiting room, including a description of Mr. Grumpy. She laughed and said “I think he is my net patient.” I hope she was able to make his day a bit better.