Wednesday, April 30, 2008

a gritty day in navajo land

Actually, we started bright and early in Chama, a quaint little town in northern New Mexico known best for its narrow gauge railroad.  We'd spent the night at the Cumbria Suites, which might be described as a handful of rooms added to the back of the owner's house.  But it had a three foot basketball goal on which we dunked mightily to get our pre-coffee juices flowing.  Also worth noting-- at the actual coffee shop in town, we saw that our old chums Brewer & Shipley were slated to play the Chama Fest in June.  One Toke Over the Narrow Gauge Line!

Anyway, our trip west from there on US 64 was largely uneventful except for a gas stop that yielded the slowest pump ever--10 minutes (not kidding) for two gallons.  Mike's mission to pick up supplies at the supermarket nearby was equally time-challenged.   So we made it to Farmington a little later than planned, meeting up there with Jason Beasley, a very nice guy whose father has had much to do with bringing Navajo folk art to greater visibility.

Our first stop on the route behind Jason's Bigfootish vehicle was in Upper Fruitland to visit Mamie Deschillie.  Now 87 and a little less vigorous than when she walked to Washington, D.C. in the 1980s, Mamie is the grande dame of Navajo creativity.  Paintings, dolls, cutout animals and other non-traditional images have made her famous well beyond New Mexico.  She was willing to speak with us (with interpretation by her son Jerome) but in the old Navajo way, preferred no still photos.

Forty miles south of Farmington, with more guidance from Jason, we found carver Johnson Antonio, and he had no problem with us taking pictures at all.  Due to the blustery winds that were starting to whoop, we moved the piece he had in progress and his tools inside his hogan, and watched him work the wood.  No power tools for him.  Johnson started carving after he retired from the railroad, and lovingly pours his heart and soul into these representations of many things Navajo.  Even though it's a tough life out on the reservation, he says he prefers it to being in town.

And after following Jason down more incredibly dusty roads near Chaco Canyon searching in vain for the Willetos, we'd agree that it is a very tough place, harsher than almost any we've seen.   Thanks again to Mr. Beasley for the tour, and for so deftly weaving us into the fabric of these artists' lives.  We're richer for it.

Music in the Van-- Starbucks English Invasion compilation, Ryan Adams "29", Lucinda Williams "World Without Tears"
Highest Gas Price So Far $4.59 diese

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