~Irish saying that translates literally as “People live in each other’s shadows.” (via @nualamusic)
Today is the 30th of September, and the facet of my heart that shines brightest in New Mexico sunlight beats in time with those of my soul family there as they celebrate the Feast of San Geronimo.
This celebration is sacred to my friends, and we don’t talk much about the meaning of it all. Rather we bask in the company of one another, we celebrate a successful harvest with food and community and we encourage the Lady of the Mountain to don the golden colors of autumn.
There is talk of Shadows when the Koshares appear to wreak a bit of havoc, which adds to the festival atmosphere.
It is a day to sit in communion with the land and the mountains and the folks who live on and with it. Today I send a lot of love out into the cosmos, especially to my beloved Land of Enchantment.
“The water in a vessel is sparkling; the water in the sea is dark. The small truth has words which are clear; the great truth has great silence.” ~Rabindranath Tagore
To arrive at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House in Taos, New Mexico is to step over a barrier of sorts. Time and space are steeped in a special fluidity here which makes them more malleable than elsewhere. Every year my goal as a workshop facilitator is to pack as much practical ‘how-to’ into a week devoted to the travel-sketch-journal process, whilst also making way for more ethereal notions such as magic, friendship and community. For opening up to what we each have to offer the world. For finding our own visual voices.
“Every one of us should risk living in the full flow of our own originality. And never to compare yourself with anyone outside you but to trust that inner voice that is speaking to you and whispering to you from the well of great possibility that lives inside you.” ~John O’Donohue
This year is my ninth year working in Taos in this capacity. Over the years I have come to trust that while each season will be new in many ways, we can trust that we will be embraced by a familiarity to sink into which makes space for the best work. I like to think of our travel journals, as well as our classroom space, as vessels to be filled during our week together. My job is merely to hold the space, to hand out bite sized demonstrations and then steward each participant along their own journey. In spite of two last minute cancellations (alas, too last-minute to offer their spaces up even the most last-minute takers) I had a relatively packed house. These numbers bring an energy to the room and to the work we do, and yet there was a lovely intimacy within this group straight away.
We went from an empty vessel….
……to the buzz of a room of artists happily working along together.
Some dear friends from Taos Pueblo visited us on our first day together to share their process of crafting beautiful pottery with mere land, water, time and fire. This was a new idea for this year and I wasn’t sure how I might fold it into an already full teaching agenda, but everyone was quite pleased with the experience (if not the eventual results from the firing).
Time spent pinching pots, forming beads and wee fetishes was time learning about this place we found ourselves – Taos.
It was wonderful to get our hands dirty with the very land itself.
Working with the clay deepened our journaling work indeed…..
We talked of color and form. We worked on studying ellipses (hint: they aren’t hotdogs or footballs.)
Some participants went so far as to use bits of spare wet clay as a painting pigment.
We allowed our wee works to dry through the week. Some cracked, all shrank a bit, but by week’s end, things were dry enough to attempt trial by fire.
Alas, the wind kicked up on firing night and our little works had to eventually be fired on our final morning by our friends out on the Pueblo. In the end, only a few things survived unscathed and most of us went home with mere shards of our work.
For a variety of reasons, I am still glad we spent the time to play with the clay. For one thing, I think everyone came away with a deep reverence for the professional pots made by native hands from native land. Their pots are deceptively simple – until one has attempted to create one, that is! It is a good thing to know how difficult some work is. We can then appreciate it all the more, yes? We all also enjoyed getting our hands dirty and using the clay as pigment. As my workshop is about capturing the spirit of a place, and our experiences in that place, this mini afternoon workshop-within-a-workshop was worth the investment for the beautiful drawings that came out of it.
But of course, there was more to be captured. There were mornings with the buffalo where we gathered before dawn in small groups to visit the herd we’ve come to know so well. I never know year to year if this is something we will get to do again, and so every year I am deeply grateful to spend time with these ancient and wild beasts. Many lovely drawings were made of the magnificent buffalo, but I was firmly planted in teaching mode and so didn’t manage to get a snapshot of these works.
We talked of how to capture light.
Especially, when we find it in darkness….
We took much time to study the colors found in New Mexico such as rust and turquoise, and the complexity of cloud forms.
We doodled ‘carrot people’ from afar and each other closer to hand.
We attempted the challenging yet forever whimsical birdhouses in Mabel’s courtyard…..
“Our pigeons live in a Mexican village reared high up on thick, long posts. I love the expression of their frame houses, that have been added to by José for years. They lean strangely in all directions, and look like a settled community.
… One has to pick one’s way among them on the flagstones from the house to the gates. They feel they own the place and I guess they do. We never let cars drive in beside the portal any more as they used to do because the pigeons wouldn’t move away fast enough and they were always being run over. Finally I put a sign on the gates and locked them. It said, ‘Please don’t drive in. The pigeons don’t like it.'”
~Mabel Dodge Luhan
We worked and we worked and we worked.
We also spent time outside of class at the Pueblo watching the light dance as it does.
Sometimes I see things that give me some indication of what Georgia O’Keeffe may have been after in her paintings….
All too soon our week together was coming to an end. As one person put it, the days seemed spacious and extensive and long in the best way possible, and yet the week as a whole simply flew past us.
We had a final farewell dinner in Mabel’s iconic dining room.
We presented the amazing kitchen staff with a gift of our own making, being so grateful for their hard work keeping us fed and watered all week.
That evening we signed each other’s books, “yearbook” style, and visited together. Some even worked a bit more in our beloved Juniper house classroom! I took “The Vans” outside for a photo shoot, just for fun. It’s my hope that even more folks will carry their sketch supplies around in vans like these in future…..
It is nigh on impossible to capture this week in a blog post. I look back over the years of posts about this trip and I marvel at the layers of meaning and experience I have managed to convey each time – of the changes that have shifted into place over time. The kinship of place I feel toward Taos is complex. In one way, I always feel as if I am coming home. As one friend back here in Ohio (though who travels to Mabel’s on occasion) recently stated, “It’s Mabel. Everything will be fine. Pulling up in the parking lot always brings me to my knees. ” I agree with her.
Friends always ask me, if you love it so much there, why don’t you guys just move? I haven’t yet felt that call, but every time in Taos is harder to leave behind, to be sure. The town upped its game further this year with my introduction to a special breed of sheep called Churro. One of the workshop participants is a shepherdess and has been renting a small place on the outskirts of town which just happens to have a small herd of these amazing animals. After the workshop, Rosemary, Steve and I visited our new friend on her little farm and got to meet the sheep, the farmer who is their steward in this world, and to marvel at how the hidden depths of Taos seem to have no end. I could not stop staring at these sheep.
Those of you who know me, know I adore all things sheep. I have even joked that one day perhaps I’ll be like Beatrix Potter. I’ll publish and sell a bunch of books, and then retire to a sheep farm. One never knows…..
In any case, next year, 2020, marks a nearly decade of this work finding its way in Taos. I feel it may be a special year indeed. (Though to be fair, every year is a gift of it’s own.) I will be offering up pre-registration to this year’s workshop participants first and then to a broader audience after that. This will happen in the first week of September when summer’s travels are through and I begin to set sights on next year. I have a feeling that #TaosSketch2020 may fill fast, so keep your eyes peeled around that time for announcements. For now though, I will unpack here and rest up for what the rest of summer has to offer.
Since arriving back home here from Taos, I have been reading a bit (in between catching up at work and in the studio and providing flexible, cheerful taxi services for my endlessly busy kids). The first book is Edge of Taos Desert, by Mabel Dodge Luhan herself. It’s a wonderful chronicle of Mabel’s first taste of Taos and how she came to live and love there with the kind of reckless abandon we might all wish to apply to our lives now and then. If my clumsy musings in these recent blog entries have whet your appetite at all for New Mexico and specifically Taos, I highly recommend this book.
The other book I am reading (rather re-reading) is called Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley. This hefty tome is a feminist take on the old King Arthur legend, to put it succinctly. It’s been a favorite of mine over the years, specifically when I feel a brush up against the Otherworld… like recently with this trip to Taos. There’s a play between two worlds in the Mists; the world of magic and the ‘real’ world of then modern day. Only those schooled in how to find it may approach Avalon. It is in danger of being lost forever. It’s precisely this notion, along with a flexible view of time, that brought me back to this old favorite. On some level, being a couple of weeks past now, Taos seems like my own proverbial Avalon. A place away from any reality that I have here. Everything is different there. Time, the weather, my responsibilities, smells, food. Everything!!
The interesting thing about blogging the trip in this ‘bit by bit’ manner is that I am experiencing a falling away of Taos into the mists of my own memory. I have re-learned the lesson that keeping an illuminated journal, at whatever level we are capable, is a way of capturing time in a bottle in a sense. These photographs, while lovely (especially those from Julie!), simply do not do it justice. They never will. And the little drawings that I might share with you here, they will not do it justice either, at least to you the viewer…. but to me, they do. Better than any photograph. I can open my sketchbook and remember where I was, what the air smelled like, if it was a tad too windy to draw. In the Mists of Avalon, specially trained priestesses utilize their magic to cross between the two worlds. There is a heavy level of mystery to what they do. To me it is not so mysterious. Keeping a sketchbook, or merely the act of drawing itself, is capable of bending time and allowing us to travel between the worlds of the ‘real’ (news of war and economic downturn, daily commitments and appointments, weighty adult responsibility) and the ‘magic’ (creating our own news, spinning some fun into those daily commitments, facing our responsibilities with a sense of humor and more and more love)….. I ask you, which world is real?
But we should really re-enter the gates of the Mabel Dodge house one last time before I get back to the daily life at hand (which includes… some new art ideas, getting my Mammoth Cave Quilt tidied up and finished, diving back into some Irish Music…. and a head/chest cold that has me draggin’…..)
When I left you at the last post, we had finished what I consider the Marathon Day of our time in Taos. We had gotten up that morning at dawn and not gotten back to bed until maybe 3 am the following morning (if the math serves me correctly, I believe we were up for almost 21 hours). Wildly enough, I was not tired heading into the next day which sadly would be our final full day of the workshop. The plan for this day included a visit to the ancient Taos Pueblo.
There are many photos and information you can find online about the Pueblo as well as information of the value of it to our world society as a dedicated UNESCO World Heritage Site. I encourage you to check out the websites linked above. Per the request of the woman who sold us our entry tickets to the Pueblo, I will not post any of my photos from our trip here on this blog.
Our amazing Mabel Dodge based pastry chef, Pamela had pointed us in the direction of her sister and brother-in-law’s gift shop earlier in the week and we were excited to track it down. After a lovely tour of the Pueblo with our guide, a young college age Pueblo woman named Kyle, we walked around a bit to see if we could find the Dancing Hummingbird. The Pueblo is not a big place but we did have trouble tracking it down… but once we did, we were rewarded with the best wares we had seen all day and of course a warm welcome from Pam’s sister Esther who treated us like old friends. It is my hope that by next year’s visit, we will be!
I picked up this little pot in Esther’s shop. She assured me that water from this cup would forever taste sweet and pure like New Mexico itself. Sold. 🙂
The weather that afternoon was very different from that of the day before. We went from unbearably windy and cold to perfectly clear with an entrancing sun and clear, bluer than blue skies. A few of my students took it upon themselves to organize that evening’s meal which enabled me a few minutes of time with my own, sadly neglected, sketchbook. There are few things I will do differently next year for this trip to Taos. I will still guard this experience like a Wolf Mama, keeping it sacred and precious and filled to the brim with spirit. I will bring even more suggestions and teaching moments to the table… but I plan to do less in the logistics department. I plan to be a little more organized so I don’t feel as if I am herding cats half the time, especially at meal times! My thanks to Penny, Stephanie and Linda for organizing dinner, and for the class as a whole for the magic of that final evening together. It was a time of tears and laughter and plans for next year.
This group of people, including the three husbands who decided to come along, have become people I now count as friends. They were a part of this amazing inaugural travel sketch trip that has been a dream of mine for years. Thanks to them, other chronic goals and dreams of mine are feeling pretty excited about the possibilities ahead. As exhausted as I (still) am post-Taos, I am basking in the afterglow of a job well done (for a first-timer at least) and already looking forward to the 2012 trip. If you have any interest in joining next year’s adventure-con-sketchbook to Taos New Mexico, the dates are roughly June 17-21 (give or take, still working out the details). Send me an email so that I can get you on the early bird list. I will be cutting it off at 20. We already have 13 potentials on that list. No money or full commitment needed, I just want to make sure I don’t leave anyone out of the loop who is interested at this time.
There are still many adventures ahead for me this summer. I hope to be over this gnarly summer cold soon so I can get some of my normal energy back and get crackin on the studio work that has been neglected in recent weeks.
I hope to have some things to show you on the Mammoth Cave Quilt (fondly called the MCQuilt around here) in coming days… as well as some other ideas I have brewing… I’ll keep you posted.