Tag Archives: Taos New Mexico

New Mexico Portals

You have traveled too fast over false ground;

Now your soul has come, to take you back.

 

Take refuge in your senses, open up

To all the small miracles you rushed through.

 

Become inclined to watch the way of rain

When it falls slow and free.

 

Imitate the habit of twilight,

Taking time to open the well of color

That fostered the brightness of day.

 

Draw alongside the silence of stone

Until it’s calmness can claim you.”

~John O’Donohue

 

My yearly pilgrimage to the Land of Enchantment began with a few days of solo travel, enabling my body and soul to sink back into this place.  The last year has been a challenging one in many ways, not without its bright spots as well, and I had been craving time and space to sit with the everything of all of it.  New Mexico has a way of giving us what we need.

I drove and drove, many long, mindless miles, embracing the quietude that comes with such spacious landscape.

Chaco Canyon is a vast and far-flung destination but worth the effort it takes to get there.  With a near full moon upon us, the regularly scheduled star gazing tour provided by the National Park Service, instead became an evening walk amongst the ghosts of this strange land.  Haunted and beautiful, indeed.

By the time I made my way to a charming little Super 8 in Bloomfield, NM that night, I had been up for 22 straight hours and slept, dreamless.

I found Chaco to be a mixed bag of ancient history, natural splendor and cognitive dissonance.  On the one hand, I was grateful for the opportunity to visit and experience this Unesco World Heritage site, and to the NPS for their careful and respectful stewardship.  And yet, more than one ranger remarked that native people in New Mexico and beyond have stated that these places are meant to fade back into the ground after they have served their purpose – all of their great mysteries, feats of architectural engineering and ghostly human stories lost to the sands of time.

I left Chaco a bit conflicted about it all yet enchanted all the same with wonderings about what sorts of people lived or worshipped here and what we might have in common.  It was so good to be out in the wide open spaces of New Mexico with the vistas both outward and inward it provides to a tired soul.  Grateful for my solitude and art supplies, I soaked it all up.

Then, just like that, it was time to head to O’Keeffe country….

I was fortunate enough to snag a ticket to a “Special Tour” of Georgia O’Keeffe’s home and studio led by a personal caretaker of Georgia’s and her brother, who worked the gardens in her later years.  This tour worked magically into my schedule for traveling to Taos to teach the following week and so I invested in it.

There is such serenity to O’Keeffe’s Abiquiu home.  Her aesthetic was modern yet earthy – timeless, really.  No photos were permitted of her indoor spaces but I was captivated by the light, the serene colors, and the fact that she too kept jade, aloe and other such plants that many of us keep in our own homes.  She collected stones and bones and other things she found beautiful and surrounded herself with them.  Knowing this about her and seeing these collections in her home and just outside felt very personal, artist to artist.

I was captivated by the sense of this place.

Eventually, upon arrival back home here in Ohio, I chuckled to see that my own hollyhocks had bloomed while I was away, and I was welcomed by my own ghostly skull….

I’ll admit to geeking out a bit while in the home and gardens of this iconic artist.  I stood in the very doorway Georgia herself had found compelling enough to paint again and again, exploring its shape and form and depth.

Photo of me, captured by a kind stranger and fellow tour goer.

It was like standing in a portal of history.  And I have always been a lover of doorways to other worlds.

These few days could have been ‘enough’ to fill this empty artist’s cup and set me to painting once again.  But alas, I had not come to New Mexico for the making of my own work.  I was here to teach.

Taos has become my home away from home in the years I have spent teaching there.  Much like Georgia O’Keeffe herself, the lure of New Mexico brings me back time and again, every summer, and each year I discover more captivating beauty and I continue to build community as well.  Mabel’s family has grown and changed with the newly employed and the newly born, yet Mabel herself is still in charge of the place and I was welcomed home with open arms.

photo credit – Christine Kuhr

I took to getting settled, washing the dust of the road off in my familiar claw foot tub in Tony’s bathroom upstairs, and unpacking all of my boxes of books and supplies – readying the classroom space for a week ahead of work and wonder.

By day I worked and by evening I caught up with dear friends.  It had been a year since my last visit and that is far too long.  I was caught up on the latest dog walking paths, and introduced to new dirt roads and rushing riverbeds. I held a new Little Bird and gleaned a small smile from her.  I was told with a wink and a smile that if we only found a little slice of land, that we too could build a small adobe space of our own near town, and that I’d have all the help I’d need for this handmade home.   I’ll admit I am tempted.

This is from our final night together, minus one who had to leave us early. The joy in this photo emanated from this amazing group of people from the moment they met one another.

Soon the beautiful people attending my workshop arrived, some new to me, others who’ve been before and return home to Mabel’s to renew their contract with what has become sacred work.  I no longer question this truth -that what I do in these workshops is indeed a sacred kind of work.

Journal page with a telling horoscope for the week’s work, by Rosemary Berwald

What started out, for me at least, as a way to get to know the world and to slow down and take it all in with the wonder that befits it, has become an intense practice of creative mindfulness.  On the one hand, I’m introducing and sprucing up the old lessons of composition and perspective, line quality and color theory.  And yet, on a much deeper, richer level of the soul, I am working with people to disengage their inner critic (just give her a cookie and a window to sit by, she’s been hard at work and deserves a break, don’t you think?), to tap into their birthright of creativity and the act of making something which makes a heart sing.

Journal page by Christine Kuhr. ‘Light in the darkness’ study and caricature of Mabel etc.
Sketch by Marty Regan of ‘The Pink House’ at Mabel’s place
Journal page of ‘Light in the Darkness’ study exercise and quotes from the workshop time by Jan Reyes.
A collection of ‘tinies’ by Connie Ware – in which we play with the scale of our drawings to get out of our own way. Connie was a self-described ‘beginner’ at the start of the workshop. Beautiful work!!!

Occasionally, we worked in our books from memory, such as when attending a sacred Corn Dance at the Pueblo and we must only capture images in our mind’s eye.  I will note here that all of the images below are now in the private sketchbooks of these artists, as records of the day’s experiences.  Very different than taking a photograph, which is prohibited on feast days.  We have a deep respect and regard for this notion.

A lovely page spread by Mary Lynn Munro, based on a visit to the Taos Pueblo.
Jo Diamantes created her very own book for this trip which now holds these wonderful studies of the corn dancers. Impressions in memory, evocative of the actual experience.
Barbara George (Our B.J.!) was the first to embark on corn dancer studies, even before we did a ‘how to draw people’ exercise. I think these are just lovely expressions of the colors and gestures we saw that day.

But mostly, we studied from what we had in front of us there and then.  The Mabel Dodge Luhan House has much to offer in the way of beauty and things to pull into our sketchbooks and so we did.

photo credit – Rosemary Berwald

Photo Credit – Christine Kuhr
We even took some time one morning to sketch miss Little Bird and her sweet toes.

We discussed how to capture that sense of ‘hither, thither and yon’ which beautiful landscapes provide us with.  Otherwise known as ‘atmospheric perspective’.

photo credit Christine Kuhr
We also discovered how to make a believable rendering of rusty surfaces. Perfect for the odd Taos truck or rusty, steel sculptures.

We worked and played each day, sometimes into the night.  I was a bit manic with the magic of it all to be honest.

Photo credit Sally Hickerson

But I love this work and the people who are drawn to it.  I had to milk the time there for all it gave to me!  I even found time to settle in to a tune or two with the local session players who welcome me every visit ever so graciously.  For this I am deeply grateful.

As the week went on we sketched and laughed and drew and painted and ate good food.  We were treated once more to a visit to my friend Harold’s herd of buffalo which everyone enjoyed.  There was a morning visit, and an evening time as well, as the buffalo are shy and do not accept great throngs of visitors.  Small groups met Harold at his ranch home where we caught up with him and the herd.  Grateful for the grace of these magnificent creatures and that of their farmer/steward.

We were fortunate to see a few baby buffalos on our visit!

photo credit Christine Kuhr
We are welcomed back by Harold and his family year after year with hugs and a catching up of the year passed.
What a gift this friendship has become to me and to the folks to come along to my workshop.

Too soon, as always happens, it was that time.

Photo by Mary Lynn Munro

Time to toast to a week of work well done.  With dinner created for us by chef Jeremiah Buchanan whom we collectively adored!

Photo by Ryobun McCormick (find him on instagram @dragonswisdom)

We shared our books around and traded addresses and gifts such as a wee concert by Marty Regan who is a musician by trade.

It was time to pack up the classroom and mail home my supplies.  I was grateful for the help and company of a few students who stayed around for an extra day to assimilate all we had learned together.

And it was time to visit a few more places before we had to leave this Land of Enchantment.  Like the breezy hillsides of the DH Lawrence ranch.

These guys really liked the vegetables we brought for them to eat.
I enjoy just sitting under this tree and watching the sunlight play and hearing the wind whisper through its branches.

I needed to take the time to sit by the river at the Pueblo and promise that I would come back.  To memorize the sound of its waters which have come to me in dreamtime at times.

Time to ponder moody skies which seemed to beckon “Come back and paint, quietly.”

On my final evening in town, with all of my company scattered to the Four Directions, the skies opened up with the great gift of a thunderstorm. This brief storm was filled with ethereal pink light that I longed to paint somehow.

A friend of mine asked me the other day during our very ‘middle-age-appropriate’ discussion of “What Are We Doing With Our Lives” if I didn’t think that being a good teacher might be Enough.  I had been filling her in on the Taos trip and what a deep success I felt it had been all around.  I was telling her how enriching it is to teach something successfully, but that I have been struggling to make the switch back over to being a maker-of-things.  More specifically, a painter and maker of pictured-stories for small humans.  I feel blocked creatively, as if in all of the beauty found in the creativity of others, my own quiet artist self has taken to the hills.  I am seeking to woo her back home to roost.  I love being a teacher.  And I am so excited that my spring trip to Guatemala next year is already sold out and that next year’s Taos trip already has some takers (and I haven’t even listed it yet!!).  But I long to paint.  And write.  And draw.  And I must trust this longing, even as I pursue my work in these amazing workshops.  And so, no.  I don’t think it is enough.

I think part of this perceived block is just my inner-processing of what was a stupendously amazing trip back to a place which I love dearly and work which excites and challenges me.  A painter friend of mine reminded me to be gentle with myself.  That teaching takes a lot out of an introvert.  That making the switch back to quietude takes time.  And so I have been being gentle.  I have been holding off making this post about it all because in some way, to write about Taos time is to shut a lid on it until next time.  Buttoning that space up so that I don’t lose track of it between now and next year.  I hope to get back for a visit between now and then if I can.   Perhaps even for a workshop with Solange Leboucher who is a practitioner of Polarity Therapy which I have come to lean on as a tool of the soul when I teach out there.

I don’t know.  I do know that if feels good to get back here on this old writing space and share some photos and to attempt to convey in some small way the gratitude that I have for the work that I do.  I marvel at the scope of it sometimes, even as I ask more of it.

Til, next time….. enjoy this summer’s travels no matter where you go.

ps.

I met Taos based poet and Rumi translator Daniel Ladinsky while out with the girls. This is on his business card, which I love. Because I believe it to be true.

pps.  And these words, from Millicent Rogers…..

“Did I ever tell you about the feeling I had a little while ago? Suddenly, passing Taos Mountain I felt that I was part of the Earth, so that I felt the Sun on my Surface and the rain.  I felt the Stars and the growth of the Moon, under me, rivers ran.  And against me were the tides.  The waters of rain sank into me. And I thought if I stretched out my hands they would be Earth and green would grow from me.  And I knew that there was no reason to be lonely that one was everything, and Death was as easy as the rising sun and as calm and natural – that to be enfolded in Earth was not an end but part of oneself, part of everyday and night that we lived, so that Being part of the Earth one was never alone.  And all fear went out of me – with a great, good stillness and strength.”

Enchanted

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It would seem that I have returned, physically at least, from the Land of Enchantment.  Hopefully, if you follow these things, maybe you have been keeping up with my adventures on the road and in the workshop space over on the more day to day virtual spaces I occasionally post to.  Looking back at my last pre-Taos blog post, I was so very ‘prepared’.  My plan was to do some blogging from the road, yes?  What is easy for me to forget when I have been away from this place for a solid year is how on a different plane it is.  Once out there, the LAST thing I want to do is be on a computer, or device.  It was, I must admit, all I could do just to post updates via social media (here, here and here – do join us over on SketchShare!)  And so now, I have pages and pages of journal work to sift through, hundreds of source photos to catalogue, and more memories and stories to share than I could begin to dole out in any measured fashion here in a blog post.  I felt it better just to sit down and type out a few Thoughts on Things Taos, in no particular order.

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Returning to the Mabel Dodge Luhan House each summer for my workshop is something of a homecoming.  This becomes more pronounced each year as we have made close friends both at Mabel’s and in Taos town.  Each year I learn more and more about Mabel herself and I come to respect her journey to Taos and all that it wrought more so as well.  In many ways, Taos is the artist’s Mecca it is today because of Mabel and her influence.  She was an amazing woman.  I sensed she would have been very pleased with how the workshop went this year, on many levels.  When I go to Taos, I like to take a small something to leave on her grave as a sign of respect.  It would seem many others do the same. (one day there were a number of glazed donuts present.  I believe this made the local magpie very happy) Mabel’s is the only grave to be decorated in this little cemetery.  To me, I feel the veil is thin in Taos.  Best to keep those channels open.

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It is said that New Mexico is The Land of Enchantment and I believe it.  I also believe that this is more so the case the closer to Taos one gets.  It is so very different than anywhere else and you have to experience it to believe it yourself.  I come from a rich land here in Ohio, lush and verdant.  The air is literally heavy, especially this time of year.  In the past couple of weeks, I have been at about 7000 feet above sea level, compared to our usual 700 ft in Ohio.  Upon returning home, it can be a bit painful to breathe in this dense atmosphere, something I attempted to rectify with a slogging run in the humidity this morning.  I think it helped.

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(photo credit, Julie Keefe)

Under New Mexico skies, anything seems possible.  Creativity seems to seep from my pores.  Any doubts, backpedaling, nay-saying and other such things seem to disappear when I am there.  It is one of life’s riddles, how to bring that sense of possibility back to the day to day.  The answer is in my journaling work, I am sure of it.  And my art work outside of the little books I keep.  It’s becoming harder and harder to leave NM every time I go back, and this may be something that has to be dealt with on some level one day.  I must admit to the romantic notion of keeping a little casita in the countryside for extended visits to Taos, but I shall not let romance get in the way of my Right Work, which is here, now, in this place.  I have much to work toward.  Plans are already underway for next year’s Illuminated Journaling Workshop, June 14-19, 2015.  I will have pricing structure decided very soon and details will be found on the Taos page.  Some changes afoot from years past, but nothing major.  If you would like to be kept in the loop, drop me a line!  I am getting the sense that the 2015 trip may fill fast.  This season was the best yet.  I had a group of artists that spanned the spectrum of experience from professional to just beginning.  Everyone put forth amazing work in their books and I was in awe each day of how open to just doing the work this particular group was.  Even the beginners bravely dove in and gave new things a try.  By the end of the workshop I had a group of new friends among those I have known from seasons past, and there is already talk of next year.  I am so grateful for these women.

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In Taos, the world as a whole seems to be suddenly in our hands.  Everything is magnified in importance.  Laughter comes so easily.  Small talk simply doesn’t exist.  I feel completely at home.

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(eensy map by Sally Hickerson)

There is a sense of magic that pervades our day to day there.  This year, that magic came in the form of lovely new friends, and some future opportunities…

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Harold Cordova is a Taos Pueblo man who keeps a herd of buffalo on his land up in the mountains.  He is someone I have spoken to on the phone now and then, but never had a chance to actually meet due to logistics and the way Taos Mountain seems to run on her own time and agenda.  I had heard about Harold and his buffalo from one of the staff at Mabel’s who keeps us well fed on our visits there and is family to him (and to us!).  This year she handed me his number and told me to call him.  And so I did.  I always say at the beginning of the workshop that the daily agenda will be shared day to day, always open to changes in circumstance, weather, etc.  I’m so glad I do things this way, as no one gets too attached to a perceived locking in of their week’s experience, including myself.  We wound up shifting things around a bit late in our week to visit Harold’s beautiful herd of buffalo.

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It’s difficult to describe how great this whole outing was for those who went.  The sage was so pungent and fresh out in the field; the buffalo, timid and curious, seemed to look us straight in the heart, wondering what we bring to them of ourselves.  We snapped a few photos but mostly we just soaked it all in.  I had many delightful conversations with Harold, about animals, our relationships to them, Totems (Raven in particular) and Dancing Hummingbirds (he is a hummingbird whisperer).  We discussed magic, in a real sense, in the way we walk this earth and our place in it.  We talked about music and how traditional music in particular is a direct route to the soul, especially to those who can listen and choose to play.   It is my hope that we can share a bit of each of our traditions in a musical way some day….

The same day that the buffalo opportunity came to us, I was informed of an opportunity that has opened itself up to me.  In the spirit of Magical Thinking, I had offhandedly mentioned to Dorothy, Director at Mabel’s (I yet AGAIN did not get a picture of myself with her, but she is one of my favorite people at Mabel’s!) that I wondered about the idea of possibly being an artist in residence.  Was there some way I could get back there, off season, to do some work?  Anything, just to get more time out there?  Well, in her beautiful, twinkly way, Dorothy told me that a writer-in-residence program was being reinstated at the Mabel Dodge house, and that if I wanted to, I could apply and see about working with Ginger Small or some other book idea for a couple of weeks next winter.  But I had to do it STAT.  And, so, amidst everything, I submitted a brief written proposal and by Thursday, I had my answer and some dates for a residency in January 2015.  I’ll be making an official blast of this announcement once I work out the details, but if you are reading this, then you are fan to have made it this far, and so you deserve to know.  I am tremendously excited, and daunted, but I know my first full day back after the culmination of a taxing, though extremely successful, workshop is not the time to fret over Big Things.  But suffice it to say, Mabel Dodge Luhan and Ginger Small are now, inextricably linked….

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And so, quick as that, the workshop was over.  It was time to pack up our supplies and books and examples and souvenirs and mail them off.  It was time to say goodbye to all of the beautiful spirits we worked with, and to those who supported my workshop with their work (I simply cannot say enough about the gracious team of staff at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House.)  We took one more spin around the buffalo range with Harold for those who hadn’t the chance to see them the day before.  Lastly we scoped out some hiking paths with yet another dear friend from Mabel’s kind enough to spend an afternoon off of work to show us some of the hidden treasures just outside of Taos Town.

I am very fortunate to do this work.  I hope to build it up even more so.  Perhaps add another class during the year maybe in a different season.  As tough as Taos can be, dry, windy, difficult – Mabel’s makes it possible.  This was her original goal when she set up her home there.  To invite artists from all over the world to come and stay for a spell, to do their work and then to go back into the world to share what they had discovered amidst the quiet, mystery and sense of abandon to be found while in Taos.  Stay tuned for proper residency announcements, and perhaps more pages from my journal as I sort things out here back at home before the next trip.  I love the next two journeys, to Swannanoa to spend a week down the rabbit hole of Irish music and then onto Maine for our yearly dose of precious family time, but I am feeling called this year more than ever to maintain a distinct tether to life in Taos.  Life between dimensions is a tricky business.  But I aim to try.

Mini-trip

My Hub and I drove a few hours north for the weekend to attend the annual Kelley’s Island poker paddle in which a bunch of kayakers circumnavigate a little island on Lake Erie, stopping every so often to pick up a playing card that makes up a poker hand that will then determine prizes to win.  It’s always good fun and every year is different.  This year Lake Erie was a disturbing color of green due to a blue-green algae ‘bloom’.

Due to wind and waves, we avoided the eastern side of the island and did a 10 mile out and back.  I had an early bout of sea sickness (to which I am sadly prone) during the first leg of the trip but managed to walk it off on the beach with a salty snack.  The waves from the first leg, which are what some folks call ‘confused seas’, calmed considerably after that and I was able to perk up and finish the event.  (with three kings, a ten and a 7, I might add.  I won myself a nifty t-shirt!)

Later in the day, I stayed out of the water and sketched and watched while many people surfed in the waves.  Our camp site was on primo real estate… right by the water.  Windy, but beautiful.

Not willing to ruin a beautiful day with more nausea, I opted out of the opportunity to paddle on Sunday and instead explored the island on my own, stopping to write and sketch for a while near one of the island’s quarries, walking on a pebble beach and visiting one of my favorite houses.  This place just drips with charm.  I love it!!

And here is the view from the dream home.  Le sigh.

A favorite exercise of mine is to try and capture snapshots of what colors are around me.  This is especially handy when there is so much to draw that I don’t know where to start!

It’s good to collect love wherever you go.

Y’all know how I love to travel.  It seems I am only home a week or two and I begin to feel the urge to be on the move again.  Why is this?  I think it is because when I travel, all of my senses are being utilized in a way that the autopilot of daily life doesn’t always allow.  Capturing the quiet beauty of daily life is one reason I keep a sketch book, but let’s face it, my sketch book pages are even more exciting when I travel.

This past summer I traveled to Taos, New Mexico with an amazing group of students.  This venture was a success on so many levels! New friends were made, there was a renewed commitment to exploring our creativity and making an artistic practice part of our lives in a way that feeds our souls.  I am so tremendously grateful for it.  The dates are set for 2012…. I invite you to join us (click here for the lo down!) If you live outside of Cincinnati and want to join us, please do!!!  Any pre-trip planning and prepping will be guided in an online-class kind of fashion for out-of-towners.  We would love to have you join us!  This class is for anyone who wants to document their life in a visual way through a sketch book.  You can be an artist, but you certainly don’t have to be.  I believe if you can sign your name, you can sketch in a sketchbook.  Give it a try.  You’ll be glad you did!

There are already some folks signed up and space is limited.  I look forward to meeting you!!!