Sunday, March 27, 2016

What is Culture?

Two questions are being asked in Santa Fe right now and being repeated throughout the Country:  What is Culture and where is Culture?  It is known as Cultural Mapping.  The name given to it here is  “Culture Connects Santa Fe”.  The concept is to connect different communities within a city through culture.

To achieve this goal the Mayor, Javier Gonzalez, appointed a blue ribbon project committee headed by JoAnn Balzer, who sits on many boards of the cultural institutions here as well as being a major contributor to them.  A search was then begun to find a professional to come up with a report.  A Native New Mexican, Estevan Rael-Gálvez, was found to lead the way.  Rael-Gálvez was the State Historian, as well as Executive Director of the  National Hispanic Cultural Center and Senior Vice President for Historic Sites at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  He is tasked with coming up with a report for the Mayor and City Council, identifying the multiple expressions that make up the culture of Santa Fe, and projecting how to use it to improve the quality of life in the city.  Here is an image of Rael-Galvez with constituents at one of the Culture Connects meetings.

Politics are never simple and the Mayor has put the entire project into the hands of the City Arts Commission most ably run by director Debra Garcia y Griego.  There are nine commissioners headed by the chairman of the Century Bank and in the interest of full disclosure, for this project, Penelope Hunter-Stiebel was asked to be the liaison between the commission and the project committee.

The committee was sent out to interview individuals from all parts of the city as to what do they think of as culture.  With my background it is art, theater, film, music and the like.  For others it is quite different.  One gentleman spoke about walking in the foothills and mountains. Others thought of parades, religion, wearing Indian Jewelry these were some responses to what Santa Fe Culture meant to various constituencies.

There have also been open houses around Santa Fe to aid in the mapping.  Around a large room in a museum or public library or convention center tables are set up.  At one of them we were asked to say where we were comfortable in the city and where not.  Many placed their color coded green dots for being comfortable on the main plaza or near cultural arts institutions.   Many put their red dots of where they were uncomfortable in what was perceived to be Hispanic neighborhoods.  Interestingly, a significant number of the red dots went up in a gated community which is known as a place where some of the wealthiest Santa Feans live who have been criticized in the past for using too much of the Southwest’s precious water for their golf course.

A second table was set up like a board game. It had us putting markers on places where we might like to find different aspects of culture, including visual, performing  and culinary arts.  Of course, many obvious places were shown, but also possibilities such as schools and parking lots.   Schools are usually dormant in the evening so activities can certainly be offered there and when parking lots were mentioned I right away thought of drive-in movies, a whole culture that has all but disappeared.   I wonder what the increase in attendance at bars is for young people now that they can’t escape to the local drive in.  When Rael-Galvez brought up, only half jokingly, putting a Georgia O’Keeffe in a Laundromat, Robert Kret, director of the Georgia O’Keeffe museum and a member of the blue ribbon committee, did not scoff.

For the activity I found the most fun we were given colored post-its to write what Santa Fe’s culture sounds, tastes, looks, smells and feels like to us.  One of my responses was roasting chilies which one smells in parts of town every fall.  Someone else said it sounds like church bells. Another said it looks like rainbows, which often shine like halos over the mountains.  If I had thought of it at the time I would have added the clouds, since many say this part of the world is all about the skies.

Each town and city has its own culture but when you dig a little deeper, you find that each constituency has its own culture, and then it comes down to the individual.  In Santa Fe we have three basic constituencies, Native American, Hispanic and Anglo who arrived here in that order.  We also find, however, that there are divisions within these categories: for Native Americans which pueblo or tribe you come from; for the Hispanics, whether your family came  from Spain, Mexico, Cuba or Central America; for Anglos if you were you born here, how long have you lived here or are you a seasonal visitor.

It will be up to Estevan Rael-Gálvez and the Mayor to try to bring us all together so that we can begin to communicate better through culture and make sure that no one feels left out!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The New Santa Fe Pens and Pen Show

Strange how these Missives go; I had two subjects all planned out and then I could not get the material so I am writing about my third activity this weekend which I actually wrote about two years ago ... The Santa Fe Pen Show.

This year the Pen Show moved.  One of the shopping malls within walking distance of the center of town has been bought by a charter school, Santa Fe School for the Arts so all the shops there had to move or go out of business.  Happily Santa Fe Pens, owned and run by Neal Frank, decided to move.  Not as convenient, being a hike from the center is a much larger mall called de Vargas, named after Don Diego de Vargas (1643 – 1704), a Spanish Governor of the New Spain territory of Santa Fe de Nuevo México,  the mall however, has become a bustling place thanks to a number of additional shops and activities.  To put on a show Neal must expand beyond his new intimate shop into the aisles of the mall.  In this case I can describe the location as unlike any place in in New York City.  It is opposite the gun shop!
Neal Frank far right

Fountain pens are anachronistic today but as said in my last Missive on this subject they have taken the place of my pipe, which was a warm “feel-y” in my life.  A friend, learning of my newest addiction, commented. “but don’t you get ink on your hands?”  Yes, you do and in fact I am typing with a purple middle finger right now (all the better to express myself with!) but it does eventually wash off.  The sensation of writing with a fountain pen is quite different from a ballpoint or roller gel.   It is like the difference between an automatic and manual transmission in your car. 

Santa Fe Pens sells all models, ballpoints, rollerballs, and fountain pens.  One can get  different nibs for the fountain pens in fine, medium and broad and sometimes with additional permutations like a nib for calligraphy: it’s fun to try different ones.  A broad nib is more for signatures and a finer nib more appropriate for taking notes.

At the Pen Show the tables are decked out with pens from many different makers.  Neal Frank, only invites distributors who work with him and many, such as, Parker, Waterman, Pelikan and Cross, don’t have representatives any more and work through on line companies.  Buying a pen that you have not held and cannot try first makes no sense to me.  Is it too thin? too thick? does it write smoothly?  All questions I want answered before I spend more that a few dollars on.

I had recently bought a rather expensive pen so I went having decided that I was just going to look.  It is fun and educational to speak with the distributors to find out about their pens and compare various models.  But then I spotted an all-wood pen, a material I loved in my pipes as well and I could not resist.  I bought a Delta, a brand that I am not sure I had heard of before and was sure it must be made in the American mid-west but no, it is made in Naples, Italy.

I find it interesting that in Santa Fe, with a population of some 70,000 (which can reach 2 million if we include tourists in peak season) Santa Fe Pens still exists after 20 years, while in New York, with a population of some 9 million (not including tourists) the number of pen shops where you can buy fountain pens has been reduced to one.   All the chain “stationery” stores such as Office Max, Office Depot and Staples say on line that they carry fountain pens but that is on line, not in the stores.   By the way I have also found that the pens I buy at Santa Fe Pens are usually similar or cheaper in price than on line and the experience is much more satisfying.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

A Secret Society Laid Open

There is a large impressive building in Santa Fe called The Scottish Rite Masonic Temple.  While all buildings in the historic district of Santa Fe have since been mandated to be adobe brown, Masonic Temple which was built in 1912 in a style recalling the Alhambra in Seville, is painted pink so that it will glow at dawn and dusk.

I never knew much about the Masons other than that they are usually referred to as belonging to a secret society.   We learned that this is something that they vehemently deny.   In fact, when we went to the Temple on a Saturday it was after a well advertised and reported invitation to see the building and learn about Freemasonry.  We were rather curious knowing that many of the Founding Fathers such as, George Washington, James Monroe, Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock and Paul Revere were Freemasons.

We had actually been in the building a few times for theater productions in their beautiful auditorium that retains Moorish decor and original painted sets. We have even been at a birthday party and a graduation party in the in the large reception rooms,  still it was with some surprise when we learned that our friend Doug Ottersberg is a Freemason and he was one of the “educators” for the afternoon.  He explained that when he came to Santa Fe 22 years ago to start a business here, knowing no one, it was the best way to get connected.

It is not known where or when Freemasonry began.  The oldest known document, however, is the Regius Manuscript dated around 1390 and thought of as a Masonry Constitution.   I like, however, the explanation that it started with stone masons who were free to travel and work where needed and in order to identify themselves they used passwords to prove themselves legitimate.  Those passwords were the first secrets of the Masons.

The motto for a Freemason is “Making a good man better”.  The goal of the organization, as it was told to us. is to help a good man become a better member of his family and his community. There are only two prerequisites to becoming a Mason: being a free-born man and believing  in a supreme being.   Religious denomination does not matter and I was told that there are many Jewish and Catholic Masons in New Mexico.  In other words, a slave could not be a Mason nor could a woman or child since they were also considered property in days of yore.   There are, however, Masonic organizations for women as well.

Their meetings take place in “Lodges,” of which there are two in the newer, detached building on the Temple grounds.  A mock meeting was held in one for the visitors that Saturday.   There were various ranking officials.  The lowest being a Junior Steward, then in order come Senior Steward, Junior Deacon, Senior Deacon, Junior Warden, Senior Warden...and the leader is the Worshipful Master.   These officials sit in designated positions in their Lodge, with the senior officials seated at the South and West sides and the Grand Master at the East, each on chairs, either one, two or three steps above the regular members who sit around the room.  An altar at the center of the large room has a holy book on it corresponding to the faith of the Worshipful Master In the case of the demonstration we were given it was the Senior Deacon who knelt before it to open it.

Not everything was explained to us.  Obviously, some things must be kept secret, but why no answer was given to a question as to what two globes above and to the right and left of the Deacon or Steward sitting in the West was beyond me.  One mystery was explained to me: the Logo of the Freemason is the compass and the square two instruments of architects with a ‘G’ in the center.  The ‘G’ as I understood it is for God and Geometry, though it is translated differently in different places.  Masons wear the symbol on a lapel pin.  Doug Ottersberg explained to us that his daughter could go up to anyone anywhere in the world wearing that pin and ask for help.

To sum up-- the program that was given out to the attendees that Saturday was headed, “Masonry is a beautiful or peculiar system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.”

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Inuit Art

It is amazing how short a time social media such as Facebook  has been with us and it has totally changed our lives.  More than once have I been introduced to people “virtually”.  The first time it happened I wasn’t even sure what it meant.  A dealer from New York met a collector from Santa Fe in Paris and knowing I lived there introduced us by email.  If I had gotten a phone call or letter that someone from Santa Fe had been at the fair I would not have wanted to get in touch for fear of imposing.  Yet, we have now become friends in Santa Fe.

It happened again last year when a wonderful Cherokee Basket weaver, Shan Goshorn sent an email saying in part, “Please may I introduce a friend of mine to you? Like you, he is an astute collector who also writes about native art and the art world. He is a retired teacher from NYC where he still resides and will attend Indian market next month, I believe for the first time.”  His name is Edd Guarino.   We did not meet that summer though we did correspond through email.  A couple of weeks ago, however, he came into the Ralph T. Coe Foundation, where I volunteer, brought by a friend of the Foundation President, Rachel Wixom.  He had come for the opening of an exhibition of works on paper from his collection of Inuit Art showing at the Museum of Contemporary Indian Art (MOCNA).

I became aware of Inuit Art when I visited my son, Danny, in Traverse City Michigan.  Needless to say, we went to the local museum, The Dennos, and their strongest collection is from the Baffin Island area of Nunavut, Canada.  It includes a 1,000 prints, sculptures, drawings tools and textiles.  Funnily enough I only remember prints and drawings in black and white.   There is probably much more but nothing else there particularly intrigued me.

I was most pleasantly surprised when Edd took me into his exhibition,  "Akunnittinni: A Kinngait Family Portrait".  There was color everywhere and fascinating subjects.  The exhibition offers a visual conversation between an Inuk grandmother, mother, and daughter – Pitseolak Ashoona (1904-1983), Napachie Pootoogook (1938-2002), and Annie Pootoogook (1969- ).   The matriarch bore her husband 17 children had to bring them up on her own after he died.  She settled in Cape Dorset where she was a pioneer draughtsman creating 9,000 drawings within 20 years!   “Family Camping in Tuniq Ruins”, 1976.  stonecut and  stencil, lent by Dorset Fine Arts, is typical of her intricate works of art.  I must say that I needed the title attached though I am sure that a Native would have understood the symbolism.

Pitseolak was encouraged to concentrate her art on community rather than the individual “Migration Towards our Summer Camp”, 1984, lithograph lent by Dorset Fine Arts,  if you like me were brought up on the East Coast think of an Indian camp not summer camp in Maine.  This is one of her last works and reminds me of the African-American Migration Series by Jacob Lawrence.

As in so many Native Families it is not just one member who is an artist but it becomes a tradition and even a dynasty of artists.  No exception here.  Many of Pitsolak’s progeny became artists and one of her daughters Napachie Pootoogook is represented here.  I love this lithograph of 1989 titled, “Nascopie Reef”  from Edd’s collection who supplied the following 3 images.  We don’t need any more information to realize how dangerous that reef is and of all the boats that have broken up on it.  The remaining images are courtesy of Edward J. Guarino.

I wrote the last paragraph before receiving the backstory, which Edd sent me: “Nascopie Reef documents an historic episode in the life of Cape Dorset residents.  The people of Cape Dorset depended on the supply ship Nascopie to bring them goods to get them through the winter.  In July, 1947 the R. M. S. Nascopie hit a reef off Cape Dorset.  The citizens of the town rushed out to the ship to try to get as much off of it before it sank, knowing that it carried the only supplies they would see all year.  Without them they could not make it through the winter.  This event was so traumatic that it is still vivid in the minds of the people of Cape Dorset so much so that a number of artists have created works that reference this incident.” I thought this an excellent example of how if the work of art is successful the history is not necessary though it helps to expand our knowledge.

Napachie’s daughter Annie is more involved in family than community.  The drawing of her grandmother, Pitseolak, is a woman we all know instinctively.  It is a sympathetic portrait of an older person.  Do note the child peeking in on the right side in this image of everyday family life “Drinking Tea”.

My last image by Annie, “Couple Sleeping” 2002-2003, a drawing with pencil, crayon and ink, shows a major progression in style using color as much as draughtsmanship  to depict the scene.  Gustav Klimt at the beginning of the last century used color similarly to form his subject.

I am asked why I continue to do these Missives week after week numbering well over 300 by now and there are two simple answers.  One is that if I stop even for a week I feel I may never start again and the other is that every week I am able to learn something new or at least get a fresh insight into another world.