Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Ecstasy and the Agony

We left Santa Fe with our granddaughter, Lucy, and headed for Indian Country.  The first day we arrived at the North West corner of New Mexico where the Zuni Pueblo is located.

My granddaughter, Lucy

It is clearly a poor village but behind the general store we found the only Bed & Breakfast in town, called "The Inn at Halona".  It is owned by a Frenchman and his wife, a Native of New Mexico who comes from a family of missionaries.  The Inn was originally built in 1910 as her family's home and was turned into an Inn in 1998. 

The Inn at Halona

It is beautifully decorated with different fabrics for the curtains and bed spreads in each room, Navajo rugs, Zuni paintings, drawings, and pots and family mementos everywhere.  In the main house there are 4 rooms around a sitting area and a long table which serves as a breakfast table for all.  Luckily, everyone doesnt  get up at the same time so that a rotation system exists. The breakfast is scrumptious and huge.  Some of the choices are croissants, biscuits, different breads, eggs any style, many different juices and delicious fruit, etc. It is truly an oasis in the desert.

The main drag of town has many shops selling to tourists and commercial buyer the art that the Zuni produce.  They are best known for their small animal carvings called fetishes made out of different kinds of stone.  One can tell differences in quality after seeing only a few pieces and the best carvers with the choicest stones earn their reputations and their price.  On the same road we found Chu Chu's the only restaurant in town, it has a typical diner menu with additional Southwest specialties.  They are best known for their pizzas which are large in variety and size and quite good.

The only restaurant in town

The visit to the pueblo has to start at the Visitor Center. Though I purchased a permit to film, most places were off limits.  The Tribal Office was particularly nervous because the following day there was to be a religious dance and they did not want any of the preparations compromised.

It was suggested that we first visit the Zuni museum which was in a building that you might naturally avoid because the entrance is somewhat hidden and it looks more like a factory building than a museum. Inside, however, it is quite a different story and we were most impressed.  It is an up-to-date installation with some very good and interesting objects.  The presentation was not meant for the tourists, though they are welcome, but for the Zuni themselves to learn their own history and culture.   All the labels were written in Zuni first and then translated below in English.  It is ideal for teachers and students alike.

Penelope & Lucy at the Museum

The highlight of our Zuni visit was an almost private talk, with just one other couple, given at the 17th century Mission church. The walls are covered with a mural cycle showing life-size figures of the different katsinas of the four seasons by a Zuni artist, Alex Seotewa.  The local priest allowed them to be painted in the Catholic church because he believed that if the Zuni saw symbols of their native religion they would be more willing to enter the church.

Alex told us bits of his life story including a visit to Russia where he was invited as an honored guest.  His wife, however, was frightened and would not join him because the USSR was still a communist country then.  Alex, was, however, very well treated and asked if he would like to spend an afternoon painting with the young artists at one of the Dachas.  They gave him a large canvas and paint and said that they would be back for him in 3 hours.  Only then did he think, "What am I going to paint in 3 hours." He decided to paint the Zuni plateau which he saw every day and had painted often.  He told us that he finished in 2 hours and 50 minutes.  When the dignitaries came back to pick him up they were impressed with the picture and said that they would varnish it and send it to him when it was dry.  He said, No they should keep it as a gift from the American people to the Russians.  He has heard since that it resides in one of their embassies.

Alex Seotewa & Lucy

After Alex spent more than 30 years working on the murals a new priest was appointed to the pueblo Mission and he decided that it was more interesting to build a new church rather than restoring the old one.  He did not renew the lease so the Mission building reverted to the tribe.  Alex was ordered by the Tribal Council to stop working immediately and told that all supplies and scaffolding left behind would become the property of the tribe.   Making the situation even worse, nobody is taking care of the deconsecrated church so the roof is leaking and the murals are beginning to deteriorate. Therefore, his title not mine, "The Ecstasy and the Agony" which Alex said he wanted to use for his autobiography, someday.

1 comment:

  1. Terrific blog post! Part of my Peace Corps training, back in the mid-sixties, involved living in the Zuni smoke-jumpers' "garage" in Zuni, NM, with one bare lightbulb illuminating the scene of we volunteers playing cards on the dusty floor. During the day we learned how to make mud (adobe) bricks, and helped the Zuni to build traditional "shalako" houses.