Mother Earth continues to spin in her orbit about the sun, and the seasons change with predictable regularity. Much of our lives fall into familiar patterns, and we sometimes find ourselves unconsciously repeating the steps taken by our parents and grandparents. This recently came home to me in a very surprising emotional way.
It was a typical Monday morning, and Michael and I had just completed our morning coffee and were off to our respective tasks. For Michael, Monday mornings generally mean grading student assignments, so he grudgingly ambled off to his office. I began what I enjoy the most – learning new things about Native American culture, artists, and their works.
To a large degree, I learn things from three major sources. The first source is the Internet, and we all know that everything on the Internet is true, right? But sometimes this source does give me a decent starting point, particularly if I am just starting to scratch the surface of an area.
The second source I consult is my network of experts – artists, gallery owners, and those who have a lot of information in the specific area of my interest. I love to have conversations with folks who have pieces of knowledge, and are so generous with their time and information to help me feed my almost insatiable appetite for learning.
The third source is one that I use extensively. My own gallery library has well over a two hundred books. Some of these are signed by the author, others are just books I enjoy reading. There are many historical fiction books about the Southwest, not only books I have purchased, but those passed down through the generations of my family. But my favorites are the many reference books I purchased or those which were initially acquired by my mother or grandmother in their research activities that I now use to gather information for the gallery – and myself.
Earlier, I was looking in a Tahono-O’Odham (Papago) basketry book, as I had just acquired a beautiful large figural basket, most likely from the 1940’s or 50’s, and I wanted to do some more research on the techniques and the figures the Papago used to make their baskets. I knew a bit about their basketry methods, but wanted to check several of my reference books to make sure.
Imagine my surprise when I opened the book and found a Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper page from the 1994 Indian Market, listing the winners by category. Immediately, I knew the source of the page – that was the very last Indian Market and very last trip my mother took to her beloved New Mexico before she passed away a few months later. She tucked this page away in the reference book (likely because of the size of the book pages, rather than the subject), probably suspecting that I might come across it one day. Twenty-one years later I opened the book and found her treasure for me.
My emotions swirled about for the remainder of the day. Yes, I do miss my mother, and wish that she could be here to see how I have tried to honor her legacy with The Dancing Rabbit Gallery. But in addition to honoring the foundation that she laid for me, I have also tried to build upon that foundation with my own efforts. I read some of the names of the 1994 Indian Market Winners, names like Jeff Roller, Nancy Youngblood and Russel Sanchez who are preeminent Santa Clara potters. There were other people whose names I know or who I know personally listed there as well- Alvina Yepa, Tina Garcia, Benjamin Harjo and Ada Suina. I feel like I am continuing my mission of learning the stories of these artists and sharing them with the world, highlighting their talents and skills, faithfully and respectfully portraying their vibrant cultures and varied backgrounds.
The cycle of life continues. Older artists teach the young, and then the young rise to their places of prominence. Skills and techniques are passed down, and the young (as often is the case) expand the scope of the art. As humans, we are fragile and only around for a limited number of years. But knowledge can be transferred from cycle to cycle, from person to person, from artist to artist. The fundamental traditions and culture of Native Americans are built on this premise. Listen to the stories, and pass along your knowledge to the young ones. That is the greatest gift we can give them.