New Kid on the Block

(Story by Cullen Curtiss / Photography by Gabriella Marks)

If you were fortunate to grow up in a neighborhood, you might agree that the collection of streets and intersections, of stoops and sidewalks, of hoops and hopscotch is where it all begins, your sense of place and belonging. My husband’s childhood Garcia Street neighborhood has changed a bit from the 1960s and ’70s, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that he took his first steps there, in the only house his parents could afford. That he used to buy his mother cigarettes from Tito’s Food Line on the corner. That dogs and kids ran free over adobe walls and through the streets. It doesn’t matter what it is now, only what it was. It was his neighborhood and it shaped him.

As it celebrates a decade, New Mexico School for the Arts is so very pleased to have established their permanent home in the neighborhood where it belongs.

Co-founder of NMSA with Cindy Montoya, Catherine Oppenheimer nods Yes when I ask if she had her sights on the Sanbusco Market Center before it was even for sale. “When Borders left, the writing was on the wall,” she says as she opens the door to the yet-to-be-mirrored dance studio. She removes her shoes, and bounces in first position, ever the ballet dancer, and questions hard-hatted Nicholas, “This is sprung, right?”

We move through the remainder of the dance and theater space that was once Cost Plus World Market. There is so much light, a critical design element of the entire school. Walls glide to create separate spaces over a vast sprung floor that will be the one area able to accommodate the entire school, which now educates 250 students and promises 400. “We made an offer when Sanbusco first went into bankruptcy, and they laughed at us!”

Over the next few years, that team, including architects, contractors and lawyers investigated many other potential sites— St. Catherine’s Indian School, a building near the Department of Transportation, the College of Santa Fe, the Scottish Rite Center. “We figured out a way to make all of them work, but this was by far the best,” Oppenheimer says, opening the door to the Paseo, the former Sanbusco thoroughfare connecting all retail stores, and originally, a drive-through for lumber pick-up at the Santa Fe Builders Supply Co. The generous walkway allows a large circle of black-T-shirt-clad theater students to improv, hurrying cello-and guitar-bearing musicians to get to practice, and friends in quadruple to skip hand-in-hand. The former storefronts’ glass walls extend the footprint of each classroom, and convey a message of transparency and flexibility (most classrooms flip from an a.m. academic focus to a p.m. arts focus).

“After three years, they were putting [Sanbusco] on auction.com, and we decided to go for it,” Oppenheimer smiles. “It’s one thing to say, in theory, that we need a permanent building for our school. It’s another thing to raise $30 million.”

And yet they did, and the school is owned, debt free. “Now with this physical plant, this will be New Mexico’s school,” she says. “That, plus a great culture and a great track record, I do not have any qualms about the school continuing on a path to success.” That path is trussed with a mix of critical elements: to name a few, location, culture and resources (the academic program is funded through the state charter by the state of New Mexico; the private sector and foundations support the arts, the outreach and the residential component).

Oppenheimer (who was also NDI-New Mexico’s co-founder) had experience scoping out neighborhoods. She recalls the early days of sweeping up needles and broken vials from the parking lot of NDI’s permanent Santa Fe home at the Dance Barns, and similar situations at the Albuquerque Hiland location. “But these schools change neighborhoods,” she says. “They create a lot of traffic—people, ideas, movement.”

As Oppenheimer envisioned, NMSA buzzes in the Santa Fe Railyard district, just steps from the Rail Runner’s terminus and bus line connections, delivering students from all points. “It’s part of the cultural life of the city, embedded in the heart near museums.” Not your typical new-kid-on-the-block-who-has-trouble-fitting-in, NMSA had been building strong partnerships with its now-neighbors (and several other local arts organizations) for years, those being SITE Santa Fe, form & concept gallery, Warehouse 21, Jean Cocteau Cinema/Stagecoach Foundation, Violet Crown. These and others offer indisputable proof that art is important to people, meaningful to Santa Fe and its visitors, and that cultivating a child’s creativity and passion gives them a chance at a future as an artist.

Director of Communications Sean Johnson says, “Our arrival here is meteoric for the area. We can be an anchor in this community.” Johnson’s use of the term anchor comes with confidence. In the years spent building a case for a statewide arts school in Santa Fe, Oppenheimer and her founding team visited a wide variety of publicly funded statewide residential art schools in Alabama, Mississippi, California, Minnesota and North Carolina, and two private schools—Idyllwild Arts Academy and Interlochen Center for the Arts—and what they saw buoyed them. “North Carolina School for the Arts was built in the middle of the state, in the country, and a city has grown up around it in 75 years,” says Oppenheimer. “This model works.”

And the time seems right. The University of New Mexico Bureau of Business & Economic Research published a report in 2014 titled, “Building on the Past, Facing the Future: Renewing the Creative Economy of New Mexico”, in which it wrote: “Cities, states and nations across the world are embracing arts and culture, and creative industries generally as a foundation for the development of a 21st century economy. With a genuinely unique history, a creatively engaged population and a strong national and global reputation, New Mexico is well positioned to succeed in the development of its own creative economy.”

Also in the report, one of the five noted challenges reads: “Development of a workforce for creative industries, including creation of employment and training opportunities for individuals entering the field and the retention of skilled professionals.” Similar findings nearly 15 years ago lit a fire under Oppenheimer when NMSA was just an idea some NDI parents shared. “They came into my office and said, ‘Can’t NDI start a school? We’ll help you. The academics and the dancing can be combined.’”

“And then I sat next to Stuart Ashman when he was Cabinet Secretary of the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs, and he said, ‘The truth is that New Mexico is increasingly importing its artists and middle and senior managers in the arts. We are known for our arts and culture and yet we are not nurturing and developing our own youth to participate.”

The fire was set aflame. Oppenheimer ran with the idea brought to her by the NDI moms, one of whom was co-founder and current president Cindy Montoya, whose 10-year-old daughter, now a professional dancer with Stephen Petronio’s company in New York, was Oppenheimer’s student. Serious and committed students like Montoya’s daughter spent 20-25 hours a week at NDI, and then traveled home to all points north to tackle homework and chores, and to eat dinner.

As we walk past the soundproof practice rooms, Oppenheimer says, “Cindy built the school—the culture and community, the data and assessments, the mindfulness. It is reflective of who she is in the world—deeply kind, caring, gracious, funny, with a never-give-up attitude. She’s created a culture like that.”

While obtaining her master’s degree in education with a focus on English-language learners and at-risk students at the College of Santa Fe, Montoya became even more sensitive to the different kinds of kids that make up a classroom. She says, “At the end of the day, all parents want is for their children to be safe and supported, and that’s all that students want as well. This is where our cultural values begin.”

We stop at the intersection of lockers and each say hello to someone as students jostle past and teachers weave and smile. It feels like a bottleneck. NMSA’s former home at St. Francis Cathedral School was approximately 32,000 square feet, and its current home will be more than double that once the money and the phased plans of dorm, cafeteria and performing arts center align. Oppenheimer says, “Part of our culture was built on being on top of everyone, and the artistic collisions and creativity. Now, music has its wing, dance has its, etc. So we were conscious to put all of the lockers in this space so there has to be a collision.”

And conscious with everything else, it would seem. Teachers and students were consulted in the programming-inspired architectural and design decisions. What do you need in order to teach and learn well? (One peek at the science lab, and it’s clear that a science teacher was asked for input.) The school practices a “non-punitive” approach to academics, based on the concept of learning in the arts, which is always reiterative. Oppenheimer says, “Any kind of artist expects to do another rendition, and get lots of critiques. We start where you are. We take the shame away. We help you reiterate and get a deeper understanding.” This approach is ideal for a great number of NMSA’s students who hail from 67 communities/pueblos in 15 counties and many of whom enter behind grade level. Montoya says of the ultimate goal, “Everyone can grow, but this is how you close that gap.”

Another gap-closing methodology “to make things obvious and transparent,” according to Montoya, are the grade-level academic seminars. Students can get help with a range of issues—executive function, social-emotional, time management, exam preparation, academic aptitude. Oppenheimer says, “Early on, we realized we were asking artists to be open and create, and this brought up a lot of challenges.”

Students are encouraged to intentionally explore their personal identity and cultural history to emphasize that “we value different perspectives. We learn from our unique dimensions of race, gender, family and home,” Montoya says. “We all have something to learn.” I read a quotation from a student: “If I hadn’t come here, I would have given up on my passion.”

Oppenheimer and Montoya nod—they say that sentiment represents most of the kids. “Part is passion and access to lessons, but mostly, they found their people. It’s about belonging. They are the common culture here,” Oppenheimer says.

With the location right and the culture working, a 98-percent graduation rate and 95-percent college acceptance rate, the next steps are to just plain fly. Certainly the City will be flying as a result: an economic impact analysis conducted in 2016 found that NMSA’s recurring contribution to the City over the next 10 years in their Railyard neighborhood is estimated to be $8 million annually.

Of course, there’s still quite a bit of money to raise to launch the subsequent phases. And that committee is the only one Oppenheimer still chairs, which is meaningful for a person who has been chair of every NMSA committee. “It’s time to step back,” she says.

But her last words make me wonder if she will or if she can. “I am in the midst of a culture that is inspiring. It gives your life purpose and meaning. I was there for the kid who wouldn’t move, who slumped and dragged his feet and then all of sudden busted out and let their body have space.”

Regardless, Montoya will be there. “Having the opportunity to lead NMSA has been the golden ticket,” she says. If you’ve not already, you’ll see those NMSA kids walking around in their new neighborhood someday soon, where they are happy to belong.

To learn more about the New Mexico School for the Arts, go to nmschoolforthearts.org.

The Road to Dixon

Photo by Wendy McEahern

(Story by Stanley Crawford)

The village of Dixon is named after the former Confederate soldier who was its first postmaster and English-speaking teacher, a first or early “outsider” in the postconquest period. Dixon is a lone exception in Northern New Mexico, where all other towns and villages bear Native American and Spanish names. Eventually, the Presbyterians set up a clinic in the village and then a hospital out on NM 68, beckoning doctors and nurses. A small hippie invasion took place in the late 1960s and early 1970s. My wife RoseMary and I, along with our infant son, Adam, were part of that influx, though RoseMary and I were a little older than the hippie average, being in our thirties.

Our route to Dixon was convoluted. RoseMary and I met on Crete in 1967, moved to Ireland in mid-1968, then on to San Francisco in early 1969. There, we looked up young painter Joe (later Dwarka) Bonner whom we had gotten to know in Crete. He was living with two couples who had some eight children between them. The film “Easy Rider” attracted Joe and the Duckworth and Sowanick families to Embudo, where they landed in a cheap, run-down adobe owned by Byron S. Harvey III (great grandson of Fred Harvey), and we eventually followed them, renting a house in Dixon.

That was the 60s. It’s now 2019, and it feels like the time of year when I look around and ask, “How did you get to Dixon?” Implied is, “… of all places.“ I believe it’s partly because our annual Studio Tour (November 2 and 3) puts us definitively on the map for so many beyond our village, and so I just cannot help but reflect on what’s shaped our community. I asked around and here’s what I found:

For some, it’s a combination of factors. In November 2018, an attractive and vivacious middle-aged couple from Portland, Oregon, came to the 2018 Dixon Studio Tour.  In the course of wandering around the back lanes of Dixon they came across a house for sale along the Río Embudo. They were very taken by the place. On their way home, one of them turned to the other and said, “If the Dixon Coop has kombucha, we’re moving here.” The Coop did. They made an offer on the house from the Albuquerque airport, and moved to Dixon in the spring of this year.

And for some of this year’s Dixon Studio Tour arts and crafts participants,  the odysseys are roundabout, direct, and all manners in between.

Ceramicist Betsy Williams first became familiar with the area as a St. John’s College student when she was 18.  Eventually she went on to New York City to work for a Japanese bank, where she picked up some of the language.  A visit to a Japanese ceramics show fired her interest, leading her to Japan and the master potter Yataka Ōhashi, with whom she apprenticed for five years, also becoming fluent in Japanese.  She returned to Northern New Mexico in 1999, hoping to live in a rural area with access to the art market of Santa Fe, where she could sell her work.  She found a place in Ojo Sarco, a few miles above the Embudo Valley, where she lives with stone sculptor Mark Saxe. They own Rift Gallery in Rinconada, where they both display their work.

Painter Clarence Medina arrived in Dixon the most direct way possible: he was born in the Embudo Hospital, a year before our daughter Katya.  He started painting at age 14 and worked for a number of local craftspeople, essentially training himself how to work in watercolors, acrylics, and finally oil paint.

As in the case with RoseMary and me, a number of artists and craftspeople were led to Dixon by friends who either resided here or knew of the place as hospitable to artists. Painter Candace Chaite is a case in point: a friend suggested Santa Fe, where she did indeed move for a few years in the late 70s and early 80s, before a spell in New York. She heard about an available house in Dixon in 1995 and made the jump. She has always been a painter, starting her current body of abstract work in 1972. Similarly, creator of handmade books Jeanne Treadway was urged to move to the area by artist friend Hank Brusselback, once of Dixon, but now of Taos. As well, jewelry maker Johnny Hernandez, originally from Southern California, said that “…somebody on the road told me there was an artist colony somewhere” in Northern New Mexico. Eventually he settled in Taos, but moved to Dixon when he felt Taos became too “crowded.” His friends Consuelo Pacheco and the late Tomás Atencio were instrumental in his move.

“Oh boy, how did I get to Dixon?” ceramicist Miya Endo said, in response to my question. First of all, she moved from Indiana to Santa Fe in 1999, attracted by the natural beauty of the north. (Her father’s family still lives in Japan.)  In 2003, her Santa Fe rent was raised to an unaffordable level. Through the ceramic circle connections she had made, she bought a portion of Dixon potter Peter Duggan’s place. She immediately became involved in the Studio Tour, the Dixon Coop, and the Dixon Farmers’ Market.

Photographer Ron Monsour tagged along on an inheritance. His girlfriend at the time, and future wife, Carol Frost, had inherited a 10-acre orchard in Rinconada with frontage on the Rio Grande. When they visited the place in September of 2009, the first time for Ron, in order to decide whether to sell, there was no question in Ron’s mind what to do. The Rinconada daytime high was then 76 degrees—compared to 102 degrees in Dallas, where they were living. Carol got a job in Taos, and Ron quit his Circuit City job, and eventually got serious about selling his photography—an example of which adorns the Dixon Studio Tour map this year. Ron’s neighbor, potter Lee Akins, tells a similar story of abandoning Dallas for a riverside orchard property in 2008. And like Ron Monsour, marble sculptor Brian Barreto, who apprenticed in Munich, followed his girlfriend to Dixon.

In the late 1970s, at the age of 17 or 18, Pranav-Eric Evenson was on a Trailways bus that arrived in Dixon to pick up passengers and drop off packages at Zeller’s Store, now the Dixon Coop. Looking out the window at a farm across the highway from the store where a woman was working in the field, he thought, “This is the most amazing, peaceful place I’ve ever seen.” He jumped up and went to the front of the bus and asked the driver the name of the village. This was to be the first round of a circular process that eventually brought him to live in Dixon. There was the accidental encounter between his former partner Mark and a woman who worked at a La Bolsa nursery, where they both worked for a summer. That was followed by time in Questa where Pranav-Eric and Mark herded some 40 feral cats, a few at a time, to be spayed and neutered by the Rinconada vet (for every four treated they got one free), and who told them of a place to rent in the riverside bosque area of Dixon, which Pranav-Eric eventually bought.

These are a sampling of the dozens, if not hundreds of stories of the ordinary and unusual ways that people, artists and not, have found their way to this once remote village of Dixon and its surrounding hamlets. Over the decades the influx of newcomers, including many retirees still young and energetic enough to contribute to the community, working with longtime local residents, has given us the Dixon Farmers’ Market, the Dixon Coop Market, and the award-winning Embudo Valley Library—and, of course, the Dixon Studio Tour, now in its 38th season, the longest continuously running studio tour in New Mexico.

Stanley Crawford continues to farm and write in the Embudo Valley. For more information about the Dixon Studio Tour, visit dixonarts.org.

 

Art Beat October 2019

(Story by Mia Rose Poris)

Through Oct. 13 at the New Mexico Museum of Art, the first exhibition in a series of six in Alcoves 20/20 features works by Dan Namingha, Diane Marsh, Mokha Laget, Emi Ozawa and Stuart Arends. On Oct. 18, Alcoves 20/20 #2 opens with a reception and features an artist walkthrough on Oct. 25. The Alcove Series, which relaunched in March 2012, consists of rotating exhibitions every few years that focus on new work by contemporary New Mexico artists. The six exhibitions of Alcoves 20/20 feature five artists at a time—all hailing from across the state and occupying various stages of their careers, from recognized creators to emerging artists. Curator Merry Scully says, “There are so many excellent artists who have made New Mexico their home. The Alcove series of exhibitions gives us a chance to focus in on a few of these artists and to generate conversation around their work.” For more on Alcoves, visit nmartmuseum.org.

Head to the Railyard Arts District through Oct. 12, where LewAllen Galleries offers an intriguing exhibition of recent paintings by David Ligare titled Elements. Ligare’s paintings are captivating, vibrant and reflect classical ideals of proportion, balance and restraint, just as they allude to Greek and Roman myth. In Elements, Ligare’s subjects—idealized expressions of stillness and motion, weightlessness and weight—are portrayed within the deserts of the American West and off the coastline of Southern California. Visit lewallengalleries.com.

On Canyon Road, Oct. 4-28, Turner Carroll Gallery presents Soulscapes, a not-to-be-missed exhibition of works by Russian-born artist Igor Melnikov with his realistic and haunting portraits set within landscapes that breathe lives of their own. “Melnikov places himself in a more ambiguous territory: somewhere between traditional and conceptual, paying homage to both the technical mastery of Old Masters and the psychological subjectivity of more modern artists,” the gallery writes. Soulscapes highlights 12 of Melnikov’s delicate paintings of children, depicting the dreamy purity of youth; it’s presented in conjunction with an exhibition of the artist’s works that opened in September at the Grace Museum in Abilene, Texas. Visit turnercarrollgallery.com.

Who’s out there fulfilling the ever-important need of bringing art and creativity into the heart of our community, our kids? That would be ARTsmart, that rad organization that fosters creative, intellectual, social and emotional growth among our community’s children through nine programs that serve more than 8,300 K–12th grade kids annually. Over at their Community Studio, a one-day-only event is fun for all, and supports ARTsmart’s mission of providing arts education to Northern New Mexico’s youth—it’s the ARTsmart Estate Sale on Oct. 26 which invites one and all to splurge on a treasure or two (or more—the cause is a grand one, after all). And of course, if you forgot to spring clean and summer slipped by, fall is here and it’s never the wrong time to purge those things you once loved but no longer need: donate your gently used and really awesome items of all kinds to help open the eyes and minds of local children—contact 505.992.2787 or tbrown@artsmartnm.org for more information on donations.

Albuquerque

In response to nature’s global crisis and the accelerating rate of species extinction, Species in Peril Along the Rio Grande at 516 ARTS, in a partnership with the Art & Ecology Program at the University of New Mexico, explores how the river connects us across borders and disciplines, and is designed to provide education and spur dialogue around the ecological issues of our time. Species in Peril, which features artists Cannupa Hanska Luger, Kierán Suckling, Subhankar Banerjee, Josie Lopez and Brophy Toledo, opens Sept. 28. Subtitled Contemporary Artists Respond, the exhibit highlights existing and commissioned works that explore a variety of perspectives on species undergoing mass die-offs and population decline along the Rio Grande watershed in Colorado, New Mexico, Texas and Mexico. Visit 516arts.org for more information about the exhibit and related presentations, activities, performances and beyond held at the gallery and around town through Dec. 28.

At Harwood Art Center Oct. 4 through 24, Enwomb by Cameron Krow is featured in the Main Gallery with sculptures that explore nests as symbols for the womb, inviting us to explore our relationship with the planet, mother, home, body and the place where they all intersect. Harwood’s Front Gallery showcases Biophilia – Our True Nature by Alison Green, with paintings that feature botanical imagery and are inspired by nature, myths and stories, our planet and humankind. A reception is held Oct. 4 from 6–8 p.m. Harwoodartcenter.org.

New Mexico Art League—that local, beloved art school, gallery and nonprofit founded in 1929—brings us Sky’s the Limit – New Mexico through Oct. 12, an exhibit that focuses on New Mexico artists’ unique interpretations of the vast and startling beauty of this great, enchanting sky. Opening Oct. 22 is True Likeness—Portrait and Figure, a personal look at local artists’ portrayal of the portrait and figure, and a deep-dive into the question: What is the secret to creating a true likeness of a person? True Likeness runs through Nov. 23; meet the artists at a reception Nov. 9, 5-7 p.m. Visit newmexicoartleague.org.

Spanning seven weeks, the ninth annual ArtsThrive: Art Exhibition & Benefit is an invitational exhibition hosted by the Albuquerque Museum Foundation and held at the Albuquerque Museum. Open Oct. 20–Dec. 8 with general admission, ArtsThrive has grown into a national juried exhibition (and the only exhibit held at the Museum featuring art for sale) and fundraiser featuring the work of more than 100 artists from Albuquerque and beyond. The artists receive 60 percent from the sale of their work, and the balance goes to the Albuquerque Museum Foundation to support future museum exhibitions and educational programming. Opening weekend is packed with special events and begins Oct. 17 with the Collectors’ Dinner, when guests enjoy a fabulous meal in the gallery and are the first to see the art. Visit albuquerquemuseumfoundation.org/artsthrive.

Laura Robbins’ exhibition at Wild Hearts Gallery runs through Oct. 27 and finds the extraordinary in the commonplace. Primarily created with glass and ceramics, Robbins’ work also integrates found objects into its imagery, whether New Mexico or ocean shores. “A Sense of Place is a celebration of places I feel a part of,” Robbins says. “Most pieces have elements of water imagery—our source of life. I believe that appreciating beauty and joy is a path to remembering and fostering connections. It’s a learning process—a practice we all need. Honoring and expanding our sense of place on our vast and small planet is a way of healing in these stressful times.” An artist reception is held Oct. 11, 4–7 p.m. Visit wildheartsgallery-nm.com.

Taos

This month at MoMo Taos, meet featured artist Anaïs Rumfelt and experience her work. Rumfelt, whose pieces are deeply personal and sometimes political, use the human form as a compositional element and expression of our condition as human beings, often through the nude figure. In 2017, Rumfelt was the first artist to show at the Harwood Museum of Art’s Studio 238, with her collection of 108 Crows. Take advantage of a chance to meet this gifted artist and delve into the creative process Oct. 19, from 5-7 p.m. Visit momotaos.com.

Three noteworthy exhibits at Millicent Rogers Museum are not to be missed: Majestic Owls (through Feb. 16, 2020), which includes pottery and katsina from the museum’s collection; The Faithful (through Jan. 26, 2020), an exploration of the sacred, devotional and continuing tradition of Southwestern santos; and Icon, American Style (through April 30, 2020), which features images from popular style magazines, never-before-seen letters and photographs from the museum’s archives, and a large selection of jewelry designed my Millicent Rogers herself. Visit millicentrogers.org.

Ramona Sakiestewa 

(Story by Daniel Gibson / Photographs courtesy of Ramona Sakiestewa)

The word creativity defines artist Ramona Sakiestewa. During a recent interview in her airy, contemporary studio in Santa Fe, Sakiestewa seems surprised at the suggestion that she is perhaps the most versatile of all Native American artists working in the United States. Decisive, willing to take huge chances, yet also very deliberate, methodical and modest, she responds, “I used to worry about ‘staying in my lane’ because most artists work in a single discipline, but I like trying everything.”

Indeed, the creative fires burn deeply in Sakiestewa. Though born in 1948, she is still embarking on new creative journeys after a career that has landed her work in major museums and collections worldwide, led to collaborations on massive architectural design projects, placed her side by side with the likes of Kenneth Noland and Frank Lloyd Wright, and filled countless homes with her beautiful works in textiles—from art tapestries to custom rugs—as well as her latest ventures in prints and other works on paper.

In September, the Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta honors her, for the second time in two decades, as its featured artist. But that’s just the tip of her current distinctions and artistic output.

Two of Sakiestewa’s tapestries, “Nebula 22” and “Nebula 23,” the last weaving works she created before switching her focus to works on paper, are included in the traveling exhibition (with accompanying large-print publication) titled Hearts of Our People: Native Women Artists. The exhibit premiered at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, and will move on to other prestigious venues nationwide, including the Renwick Gallery in the Smithsonian Institution.

The Early Years

The only daughter of a Hopi father and an immigrant German/English/Irish mother, Sakiestewa was born in Albuquerque. “I always knew I would be an artist since I was seven, though I did not know exactly what that trajectory would be,” she says. “I got a little industrial Singer sewing machine when I was four and began making doll clothing, and by the second grade, I was making my own clothes for school. I was always good at making things.”

When she was 14 years old, Sakiestewa got a job working at an Indian “trading post” in Albuquerque on Central Avenue near 14th Street, where she oversaw employees significantly older than she when the owner, Tobe Turpin, Sr., left town on one of his frequent trips. “I learned a lot in that job,” she says. “It was a good job with so many different facets.”

From 1966 – 1968, she was enrolled at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, while working fulltime at Columbia University in the engineering department. “It was tough, but I was young and could do everything,” Sakiestewa says. “I was so excited to be there! It was all so new and fresh, and I made many friends, enjoying the contemporary art movement and new music underway in New York.”

Next came a period of travel, including stints in Mexico City; Palo Alto, Calif.; and Santa Fe. “Mexico City was actually the place where I found the best contemporary art scene in my life,” she says. Sakiestewa spent most weekends seeking out the rich architectural gems of Mexico City, as well as the wall murals often associated with these buildings, by artists like Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco and David Siqueiros. Her wide exposure to the buildings and their arts infused her unconsciously, and would go on to play major roles in her creative life moving forward.

A Calling to Art

Back in New Mexico, Sakiestewa spent several years as the minority arts coordinator for the state. Working with the Española Weavers Guild, she helped secure a major grant for the group and provided ideas on how and where they could host exhibitions. She realized that if she could help others launch an arts career, she could do so herself. “I could see the roadmap,” she says. “My arts administrative work was not personally fulfilling. I wasn’t making anything, or creating. So, I quit my job, borrowed money from my father-in-law to launch my weaving business and dove in. I managed to pay him back in three years.”

Sakiestewa began with functional work like placemats, table runners and custom rugs, decorated with abstract, flowing, ethereal designs based on patterns in nature and her Native heritage. She also taught herself how to master dying raw yarn with vegetal and mineral dyes, but realized working with commercially dyed fibers was far more practical in terms of time involved and what she needed to charge for work. She used vertical looms, the traditional form of Pueblo and Navajo weavers, but again found that modern, horizontal looms allowed for faster and more complicated work.

Her tapestry career thrived and led, eventually, to collaborative projects with artistic icon Kenneth Nolan and with the estate of Frank Lloyd Wright. To raise funds for the latter’s foundation, she executed 14 or so tapestries based on Wright’s original drawings, though he had already passed on. “It was very exciting,” Sakiestewa says. “I had to channel his spirit to get it right!”

In 1994, she was asked by the team designing the National Museum of the American Indian on The Mall in Washington D.C. if she would develop three “design vocabularies” for the interior and exterior of the building. The project consumed the artist for almost 11 years as she worked off and on, and she considers it one of the highlights of her life. When you enter this impressive, lovely, powerful building in native sandstone, you are passing through the doors Sakiestewa designed. When you sit down to a theatrical performance, you are looking at her curtain. When you enter the main rotunda, you are surrounded by her striking copper wall treatment. Everywhere you go, there she is. “It was so gratifying, because I got to work on a scale I could never afford,” she says. “But more importantly, it has been so satisfying to see that Native people from all over feel they own it, that it is their place and a sacred space.”

Many other architectural projects followed, from designing floor carpets to core master planning, including a project in Kurdistan, for Marriott Residence Inns in California, the Tempe Center for the Performing Arts, and the Chickasaw Cultural Center in Oklahoma—to name a few.

Yet despite her success first in textiles, then architectural design, today, Sakiestewa is busy producing beautiful works on paper, paintings, watercolors and prints. Printing based on her original works is largely done by professionals like Ron Pokrasso, Michael McCabe and the Tamarind Institute in Albuquerque. She is also cutting up prints, then hand-stitching elements back together, literally tying together her past media and present, and producing household goods embellished with her distinctive nature and Native-themed designs.

Way before this point, most artists would have said, ‘I’m there.’ But as, a life-long learner with a home jammed with books, Sakiestewa notes, “People tell me I’ve ‘made it’ and ask why I keep on. But you never ‘make it’ nor do it alone. I had long wanted to pursue other media and felt I had done my very best work I could ever do with my last tapestries. So, I turned to works on paper, and now product development. You have to keep working at it. You age out, even as an artist. There’s no stopping, not for me.”

Ramona Sakiestewa is represented exclusively by TAI Modern in Santa Fe. For more, visit ramonasakiestewa.com.

La Emi

(Story by Stephanie Hainsfurther / Photographs by Emily Joanne)

La Emi takes the stage and becomes Seduction herself in a dark purple dress with a dramatic, ruffled train. She is young but the flamenco traditions she carries in the proud tilt of her head are old and run deep. With a few strikes of her heel, she expresses the burdens of life and loss, acted out in time-honored step and gesture.

Renowned cantador Manuel Tañé and popular flamenco guitarist Kambiz Pakan accompany her. When her cuadro (troupe) joins her, the stage supports a joyous dance of exuberant youth, with solos by Nevarez Encinias and Roxana Jian, both of Yjastros: The American Flamenco Repertory Company. This choreography is brash and bold; the whole performance is perfection.

Until now, that choreography, with the exception of La Emi’s own solo, was under the purview of Joaquin Encinias, founder and artistic director of Yjastros. Encinias, of course, is the son of Eva Encinias Sandoval, founder of the National Institute of Flamenco, which collaborated with the María Benítez Cabaret tablao at The Lodge at Santa Fe to present La Emi this past summer season. María Benítez is the co-founder of María Benítez Teatro Flamenco and the Institute for Spanish Arts, a major force behind the popularity of flamenco performance in New Mexico.

La Emi studied with Benítez beginning at age four; she was teaching other students in the Northern New Mexico public school system at age 12. The dancer went on to work with Eva Encinias at the NIF and Juan Siddi Flamenco Santa Fe, and with Carmela Greco (daughter of dancer José Greco) at her Seminario de Flamenco y Danza Española in Madrid, Spain. Greco performed with La Emi two years ago at The Lodge.

Going forward, however, La Emi is on her own. This month, she will become the chief choreographer and artistic director for her own troupe, EmiArteFlamenco, producing shows and tours along with her godfather Vicente Griego “El Cartucho,” a longtime flamenco singer and the lead vocalist of touring band ReVoZo.

“I have so much fun performing with Vicente on stage or in the living room,” says La Emi, citing her family ties as a solid base for her new entrepreneurial spirit. “We’re ‘New Mexico Proud’—definitely a product of the 505.”

At EmiArteFlamenco, she and Griego are passing down the art of the Flamenco to 40 or so students—“Twenty-five of whom are very serious girls,” she says, referring to the students’ devotion to the dance. Flamenco Youth de Santa Fe is the name, and they will perform Sept. 2 at Fiesta Fine Arts & Crafts Market on the Santa Fe Plaza at noon.

The organization has been renting the studio at 3022 Cielo Court, Ste. C, since January for their Spanish classical dance company and year-round instruction for all ages. La Emi herself recently has acquired a 21st Century Community Grant for a three-part residency beginning next year. She has choreographed for Opera Louisiane in Baton Rouge, La., and danced in the Santa Fe Opera’s production of Carmen. Upcoming, she will tour with Aspen Santa Fe Ballet for three weeks this winter in their Nutcracker.

Choreographing her company’s works is La Emi’s next mountain to climb. She has studied ballet as well as flamenco, but not modern dance. Next year’s residency will be spent working with dance forms other than flamenco and learning new skills.

Much has been written about the dancer’s passion for flamenco beginning at such a young age. Her mother is “a physical therapist with a big heart,” La Emi says. Both her mother and father are avid fans, having given their lives over to lessons—and driving to lessons—throughout her childhood. “Once I wanted to practice with castanets in the car on the way, and wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer,” La Emi says. “My mother said, ‘OK, but only for 15 minutes.’ I don’t know how she could stand it, but she always let me do what I needed to do for the dance.”

As in childhood, her grown-up support system is wide and deep. Jim Long of Heritage Hotels and Resorts, owner of The Lodge and other top New Mexico accommodations, is a huge supporter of La Emi and has imparted much asked-for advice over her career dancing in his tablaos. “I feel he is part of my family, and the Longs treat me like family,” she says. Her show has also scored Garcia Auto Group, Kia of Santa Fe, and Talbot Financial as additional sponsors.

Now that the summer season is over, and even with the responsibilities she has assigned herself over the next few years, La Emi will continue to appear at the Benítez Cabaret from Sept. 25 to Oct. 13, Wednesday through Sunday; and every day from Dec. 26-31. She also has scheduled gigs at Hotel Encanto de Las Cruces all during the month of November.

The choreography will be new, and all hers. Look for her signature of flamenco with a few more contemporary moves mixed in; when I told her I spotted Martha Graham, she was pleased. Make no mistake, this is pure flamenco, and the Benítez room is the place to enjoy it. There are clear sight lines from all seats, and you can enjoy a drink and tapas before and during the performance. Tables up front and on both sides are for larger groups.

Good thing that famous La Emi energy is strong and steady. After we spoke, she was off to interview a costume designer for EmiArteFlamenco. Colorful costumes are part of her aesthetic; the traditional ladies’ aprons in the jaleo I witnessed were youthful and cheery. La Emi’s personal costumes have come from Charo Peres in Madrid, Spain, and from the NIF, among other sources. From now on, they will be designed and made in-house, a big operation to take on at this time. She can handle it.

“My whole life is flamenco,” La Emi says. “I have absolutely devoted my time to it. It is the only thing for me, always.” Visit emiarteflamenco.com, hhandr.com/flamenco.

Soul Talk from Joy Harjo, Poet Laureate of the United States

Photo by Shawn Miller

(Story by Megan Kamerick)

The United States has its first Native American poet laureate, and although Joy Harjo is originally from Oklahoma, New Mexico played a significant role in her creative evolution. Harjo, 68, is a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. She first came to New Mexico in 1967 when she was 16 to attend the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe. She later went to the University of New Mexico.

Harjo has written eight books of poetry, a memoir and two books for young readers. She’s won a slew of awards. But she told the radio show Native America Calling in June 2019 that she did not start writing until she went to UNM, where she got involved in the Native student organization Kiva Club and heard other Native poets like Leslie Marmon Silko and Simon J. Ortiz. “That’s when poetry happened for me,” she said. “As part of the Native rights movement.”

Her poems are suffused with nature and landscapes. They incorporate ancient stories, mingling them with the collective feelings and challenges of living Indigenous in mainstream culture. In “Rabbit Is Up To Tricks,” she deftly combines tales of Rabbit, a trickster figure, with critiques of those who seek temporal power. In a world where there was enough for everyone, Rabbit decides to change the status quo and creates a clay man. He teaches him to steal corn and others’ wives.

The wanting infected the earth.
We lost track of the purpose and reason for life.
We began to forget our songs. We forgot our stories.
We could no longer see or hear our ancestors,
Or talk with each other across the kitchen table.
Forests were being mowed down all over the world.
And Rabbit had no place to play.
Rabbit’s trick had backfired.

Harjo calls poetry “soul talk.” Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden said in a statement when the institution announced the poet laureate selection, that Harjo has championed poetry for decades. “To her, poems are ‘carriers of dreams, knowledge and wisdom,’ and through them she tells an American story of tradition and loss, reckoning and myth-making,” Hayden said. “Her work powerfully connects us to the earth and the spiritual world with direct, inventive lyricism that helps us reimagine who we are.”

Harjo’s poems are often intensely personal. Many describe a helping spirit or an ancestor. In her memoir, Crazy Brave, she writes about the night, while a UNM student, when she began to write poetry. It was a time of struggle when she had two young children, a lover who had become abusive and she had suffered a crippling panic attack. Poetry came to her. “I knew this is what I was put here to do: I must become the poem, the music, and the dancer.”

She is also a feminist and her work is steeped in social justice. After she broke away from her abusive relationship, her home became a safe place for other Native women escaping violent men. Harjo graduated in 1976 and later taught in the English Department in the early 1990s, where her students included now U.S. Rep. Debra Haaland. But before UNM, there was IAIA. It was still a more traditional boarding school under the Bureau of Indian Affairs when Harjo entered in 1967. But it was also a fertile ground for new approaches to art education, featuring teachers such as Fritz Scholder and Allan Houser. It gave Harjo an escape from a life of poverty in Oklahoma where her abusive stepfather had plans to send her to a more traditional Christian boarding school.

Harjo said on Native America Calling in June 2019 that she “fled to save herself” and found a place where she no longer felt alone. “Native Arts were being percolated with tribes from all over the US and all of us coming together thinking about what does it mean to be a Native artist? What does it mean to be a Native artist of our particular tribal groups? What are we making of our time and what do we have to say?” Harjo said that became a route to her own art. In the “fires of creativity” at IAIA, her spirit “found a place to heal,” she writes in her memoir. She was with fellow young Native Americans who had similar stories.

“We were all ‘skins’ traveling together in an age of metamorphosis, facing the same traumas from colonization and dehumanization,” Harjo writes. But hers was a generation ready to transform those experiences “poised at the edge of an explosion of ideas that would shape contemporary Indian art for years to come. The energy crackled. It was enough to propel the lost children within us to start all over again. We honed ourselves on that energy, were tested by it, destroyed and recreated by it.”

Harjo’s first book of poetry, The Last Song, was published in 1975. In his essay on Harjo’s poetry in World Literature Today, John Scarry writes that it “is a work filled with ghosts from the Native American past, figures seen operating in an alien culture that is itself a victim of fragmentation.” One of the poems, “3 AM,” is set at the Albuquerque International Sunport, where technology could transport you to a distant city, but not the center of the world, which is how Harjo describes Oraibi, an ancient village on Third Mesa in the Hopi Nation. “Poetry became to me as a way to speak beyond ordinary language the kind of language we use when we remember that we’re related, that we are the earth, and that we’re related to the life here and to each other,” she told Native America Calling. “For me, the language of poetry helps me get to those places.”

An American Sunrise is the title of a forthcoming anthology of Harjo’s poems. It is also a poem with the staccato rhythm of jazz. It has the familiar cadence of Gwendolyn Brooks’ “We Real Cool,” and Harjo told The Poetry Foundation it was written in response to a call for Golden Shovel poems, a form initiated by Terrance Hayes to honor Brooks’s poetry.

“An American Sunrise” evokes those heady days at IAIA and UNM as the Native rights movement was blossoming and Harjo and her contemporaries were birthing their creative voices.

We were running out of breath, as we ran out to meet ourselves. We

were surfacing the edge of our ancestors’ fights, and ready to strike.

It was difficult to lose days in the Indian bar if you were straight.

Easy if you played pool and drank to remember to forget. We

made plans to be professional — and did. And some of us could sing

so we drummed a fire-lit pathway up to those starry stars.

Harjo, an accomplished vocalist and saxophonist with four albums of original music, set the piece to music, working with producer Barrett Martin. “I was writing a musical that includes Muskogean indigenous peoples in the origin story of blues and jazz. We have been disappeared from the story, yet there would be no blues or jazz without our contributions,” she writes in Poetry Magazine. “A few years ago we’d gone into the studio in Albuquerque and recorded drum and leg-shaker tracks for a possible album. I pulled up one of the tracks and built the voice (poetry, singing, vocables) and saxophone tracks over it, at the same kitchen table where I write.”

The song will be part of a musical play Harjo is working on called We Were There When Jazz Was Invented. Poetry has also been part of Indigenous culture for centuries, long before colonization, Harjo told Native America Calling. “We’ve always had poetry but pre-colonization the poetry is our indigenous languages,” she said. “We also understand the power of words and how using words can create or destroy.”

Harjo called much of today’s language “processed.” “Just like we have too much processed food and that doesn’t really nurture us. Poetry comes in to introduce a kind of nourishment where texting language or political speech language doesn’t,” she said.

Harjo’s term as poet laureate begins this fall and she said it’s a huge responsibility. She told Native America Calling she is taking time to consider what she wants to do with the role. “It gives a spotlight not just on me but really it gives a spotlight on Native poets and poetry and we have some of the best poets.

Perhaps the World Ends Here

Joy Harjo

 

 

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

 

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.

 

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.

 

It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.

 

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.

 

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.

 

This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.

 

Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.

 

We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.

 

At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.

 

Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.

 

 

 

“Perhaps the World Ends Here” from The Woman Who Fell From the Sky by Joy Harjo. Copyright © 1994 by Joy Harjo. Used by permission of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., www.wwnorton.com.

Source: The Woman Who Fell From the Sky (W. W. Norton and Company Inc., 1994)