Welcome to Wings's gallery here at Daily Kos.
As most of you know, he has a
brick-and-mortar adobe gallery in the old village at Taos Pueblo, called Hands on Silver. The name derives from his primary medium, which is silversmithing. There we also sell a wide array of fine art by Native American artisans, including paintings, pottery, storytellers, leatherwork, katsinam, traditional weapons, fetishes, sculptures, and other items. But what you may not know is that Wings is also a photographer. This evening's opening covers some of his work in that medium.
The photo above was taken a few years ago, in May, so things are not quite so green right now. We've also repainted the wooden door a brilliant turquoise blue. The rest remains the same.
This time of year, the gallery's closed - as is the entire Pueblo. It's the annual late winter/early spring ceremonial season, and outsiders are not permitted in the old village during this time. All galleries and shops must close for the duration, which can vary from just over a month to as much as three months. This year, it's supposed to be six weeks, but that may be extended. Occasionally, shop owners are permitted to open for a day, or a partial day, when it fits with the ceremonial schedule. In reality, today is not one of those days, but for our purposes, we'll pretend that it is.
Come on inside.
At Hands on Silver, browsing is very much a sensory experience.
First, I'm going to ask you to wipe your feet; we awakened to four inches of snow two days ago, and while it was virtually all gone by late the same afternoon, what we have now in its place is lots of red mud. The door in this ancient building is low, so if you're tall, watch your head - and there's a small step down into the room. (In the summertime, you would have to bend your head lower yet, because a bag of water would be tied to a hook at the top of the doorway: It keeps the flies out. Yes, it works.) If you need assistance with the step, Wings and I will help.
Give your eyes a few moments to adjust: Even on a cloudy winter's day, the light at Taos Pueblo is very bright, and these rooms are lit only naturally. There is no electricity or running water, nor any other such conveniences, in the old village; this time of year, the only light, save from doorway, window, and overhead entry, comes from the fire in the kiva-style fireplace.
Unfortunately, the first thing your eyes are likely to see is the sign below.
It's propped against the side of the fireplace flue, where anyone who walks in the door cannot possibly miss it. I made it for Wings several years ago, after the third theft in a period of weeks - that time, an expensive rose quartz and sterling silver Sun Spirit pendant that he'd just finished and brought into the shop three days previously. Most of the time, we've been pretty lucky, but a few months ago, someone stole a much more expensive piece, valued at $625. What made that one especially irreplaceable is that it was made of a very old natural turquoise cabochon in pristine condition. But, sadly, stealing from Indians on their own land is a long and time-honored tradition in this country, and it appears that for some folks, not much has changed.
But let's not dwell any longer on that. Back to the fireplace itself: The fireplace is in many ways the center of these old houses, and this one is no exception. It gets regular use even into June around here. Today's high was unseasonably warm, in the 60s, but windy, and this evening, it will get down below freezing again fairly rapidly. I know it's already cold outside; come over and warm yourself. That scent in the air? It's the piñon wood in the fireplace, spiced with the cedar and sage used to cleanse this room before we opened.
That other smell? Oh, that's the food. I cook traditionally on a fairly regular basis, and since we were having guests, I thought it would be a good idea to make enough for all of you. Just go through that curtain into the back room: It's usually closed off to everyone, but we need the room this evening. You'll find a big pot of red chile posole, made with stewed roast pork, slow-cooked for a couple of days with hot red chiles and hominy. There's another pot of slow-cooked pinto beans spiced with green chile, for vegetarians. There are stacks of pa'wen (made with masa, like gorditas) and flour tortillas for dipping, or for use in making buffalo tacos and fajitas. You'll find the buffalo strips, sautéed with lots of onion and green chile, warming in a pan on the table; everything else you'll need is there, too. There's also a plate of Wings's own elk jerky for snacking. And for dessert, there's my homemade frybread, with butter and several different flavors of honey. This is an alcohol-free gallery, and we don't allow anyone to bring their own, but we do have coffee, tea, and water.
Before we begin, I need to include a note about tonight's music. In real life, you'd hear music coming from the gallery only rarely. Partly, this is because there's no electricity; occasionally, though, Wings will bring in my laptop, both batteries, and some of our Indian CDs so that he can listen to our music (and by that I mean only actual Indian music, by actual Indian musicians; you'll never hear anything by non-Indians in the gallery, including collaborations such as those by Carlos Nakai, because it's a space to promote Native work). Sometimes, he'll pick up a drum or a flute and play a while himself. But most often, the music you'll hear is that of children playing, pueblo dogs barking, magpies and ravens chattering, and the sighing (or, in the spring, roaring) of the wind.
But tonight is a special occasion, so I'm sharing some of the music from our own collection. We begin, naturally, with Taos Pueblo's own Robert Mirabal, singer, musician, author, and actor:
Now, the man himself would like to welcome you:
I'm going to reproduce some of the text from Wings's Web site to explain his art:
Wings of the Wind Photography
Wings first launched Wings of the Wind to showcase his efforts to capture the spirit of Taos Pueblo. Most Pueblo photographs that are publicly available have been taken by outsiders; very little photographic imagery by Pueblo members exists. To preserve the sacred beauty of Taos Pueblo, its people, and its culture and traditions, Wings began recording these images on film.
Wings uses a Nikon F-100 camera with an 80-400 lens, working with both color and black and white film. He has also begun experimenting with digital photographic art, using a Nikon digital camera. In either medium, the ethereal light in the Taos Pueblo area is ideal for capturing the mystical, spiritual qualities of Pueblo life. In photo studies shot at different times of the day, under different weather conditions, and during different seasons of the year, Wings works with this magical natural light to illustrate the stunning dichotomy between transformative and enduring natures of the Pueblo.
Over the years, Wings's choice in photographic subjects has evolved to extend beyond the Pueblo itself to the surrounding lands and mountains, all of which originally belonged to his people, and to his own lands, which has been in his family for generations. Frequent subjects include the stark and dramatic landscape; celestial and seasonal elements; indigenous life, including animal and plant studies; and his own horses and dogs. Special orders for specific subjects are welcome.
A sheepish note from Aji: If you've been following our saga, you know that we've had to put most of our things in storage. I was so pleased with myself, because I knew exactly where the photo albums and negatives were. I went to get them . . . and, of course, they've been (ahem) repacked elsewhere. And they're apparently hiding from me, because I've ransacked boxes and tubs and bags to no avail. Wings also has had to abandon doing the developing himself; there simply aren't sufficient resources or space at the moment. The photos here are a mix of ordinary prints and digital photos, most, I believe, 8X10s. If you want one of the photos shown here, I can have a print ordered; the same applies to the photos in the photography Gallery on his Web site. If you want something similar, but don't see quite what you're looking for, I can e-mail you other examples. Or, if you want him to do something specific for you, send me the specs and he can shoot to order, weather and seasons permitting, of course. I can't vouch for the availability of any specific animal; even our own are very picky are whether and when they're photographed. The wild ones come and go as they will.Below are some examples of Wings's work. We begin with a few shots of our current location, the Pueblo itself.
Signed prints are $150 each, plus shipping and insurance. If you'd like us to do the matting and framing, the price will be considerably higher; please inquire on an individual basis.
Over the years, he's taken plenty of the classic shots of the Pueblo's architecture. Most commonly, photographers will shoot North House: It displays the iconic and ancient multi-story architecture in one shot; it has the aesthetically pleasant features of the arbor in front and the mountain behind; and the lighting is better-suited to photography than that behind South House, which is backed by the sun's glare to the East and South. However, most of the Taos Pueblo photographs out there were produced by non-Indians - and thus, they're limited to those areas where outsiders are actually permitted to go. Here. you'll be able to see the Pueblo from a few different perspectives available only to tribal members. It includes nothing that you are not permitted to see via photograph; Wings very strictly observes his tradition's rules with regard to what can be shared with outsiders and what cannot. But even though some things may permissibly be seen by outsiders, to do so, you'd have to be able to go someplace where you're not permitted to go. That's where the following photos come in.
View From the Wall, taken from a mid-level entry toward the west end of North House. The lowest level of North House is populated by shops and galleries, but these are homes, too. Many of them consist of only a couple of rooms - one for living, one for sleeping. As with all structures within the curtilage of the old village walls, there is no electricity, no running water. Heat in the winters, which can be exceedingly harsh, comes from the fireplaces and portable propane heaters. It's not only elders who live here traditionally, but families, as well.
Winter Horno. Speaking of the old ways, every indigenous culture centers, in great part, around its foodways. Perhaps the most iconic symbol of Pueblo cooking is the horno, which is the Spanish word for "oven." You'll see these little domes scattered all around the Pueblo, and they still see regular use, particularly for ceremonial purposes and feast days. The one pictured here is covered for the moment, but you'll see that it is kept clean, the blocks stacked neatly, ready for use at a moment's notice.
The Original Turquoise Trail, taken from a rooftop. If you know the ancient story of the Skystone, you know that turquoise is the link between earth and sky. Here, the northwestern winter sky is at least as brilliant as any turquoise stone you'll ever find. He shot this one looking upward from a lower-level rooftop, which gives the pine poles that cool curvature. And, yes, that's the actual color of the sky; it hasn't been Photoshopped or otherwise altered.
Speaking of roofs and sky . . . . This is one of the lower-level homes, freshly plastered and painted. The Pueblo undertakes replastering of the adobe on at least some of the communal buildings every year, and it's all done in the old way, with adobe made from straw and the local red earth, mudded in, troweled on, and finished all by hand. The individual home and gallery owners are responsible for replastering their own buildings as needed (and as they can afford to do it). Why the ladder to the roof? Because originally, that was the point of entry. Easier to keep your family safe when you can enter through the roof and then pull the ladder inside behind you. The front door is a more recent addition.
And speaking of the old ways, here's a beautiful interior example of how it's always been done. Look closely at the detail: You can see the straw in each individual handmade brick. Admittedly, the pine ladder does avail itself of modernity in the form of nails; time was, the rungs would've been notched, tongue-in-groove, and then bound securely with strips of leather.
Vigas, black and white. Here we have another example of the Spanish influence on contemporary local usage: Vigas (pronounced VEE-gahz). It's the Spanish word for "beams," as in the major supporting beams of a building's roof. In this area, though, it only applies to a specific type of roof beam, usually (although not always) round, and usually extended through the outer adobe wall, as shown here. They're a foundational element of both Pueblo and pueblo architecture (i.e., ancient authentic and modern knock-off).
Before we move on, I'm going to introduce you to one of our favorite Indian musicians, Andrew Vasquez (Kiowa). We both love his Wind River CD, and the intro, taken from his people's traditional stories, is hauntingly beautiful:
Next, I'd like to take you on a little photo tour of some of the Pueblo's lands. We're leaving the old village now, but what you'll see here is either actual tribal acreage or visible from it (and was traditionally part of it before the lands were stolen). The first photo is taken from the main highway as you head back toward town, but the rest are visible from our own front yard (and several were taken from that vantage point).
Sentinels, black and white, taken from Highway 64. I've always thought of these as the Four Old Warriors, sentries guarding the mountain. Sadly, the last years winds brought two of them mostly down, and shaved several feet off the other two. Before long, nothing will remain of these Old Guardians but bleached stumps. I'm glad he captured them as they were, because new folks will never know the strength and quiet power that stood guard there for so long.
This particular outcropping is visible from our front door, although he used a zoom lens to capture it this closely. I don't know the name of it in the traditional tongue, but I think of it in my own as Gichi-Anishinaabewinini, The Old Man (expressed as we would say it, as a sign of respect for an elder, not as a pejorative). He is strong and stark and powerful, and for millennia, he's kept watch over things we can't begin to imagine.
Here's another view we see from our door, although not always in such vibrant colors and mysterious light. These were shot in autumn, probably late October, judging from the colors (which have not been altered in any way; we really do get these sorts of colors and light here). During the monsoon season (which used to be reliably August but now varies significantly due to climate change), late afternoon will quite often bring a literal rainbow bridge to that valley. In the wintertime, you can actually see sheets of snow falling from the sky between the peaks. Do you begin to see why we rarely feel the need to venture out for artificial entertainment?
Around here, winter provides an endless source of artistic inspiration, and when we get a storm, Wings uses it to its full advantage. Sometimes, it's the feeling of waiting, amid the chamisa and sage, as the storm regroups for another pass. Sometimes, it's the feeling of purification in the storm's aftermath, and the gifts it brings to everyday objects.
Sometimes, it's the peace immanent in Nature's own artistry, geoscaping in miniature, complete with cliffs and mesas. Sometimes, it's haunting: a reminder of our own fragility and mortality. But always, always, it's invested with a spirit that I've found only rarely in this world.
And once in a great while, with the snows come other visitors. The winged ones, for whom we both were named. Occasionally, Gekek (Hawk). More rarely, Migiizi (Bald Eagle). To catch a glimpse of either is a blessing, but when a pair of eagles will sit together long enough to be photographed, it's a day for giving thanks.
This might be a good time for a song from my own favorite musicians, Spirit Nation. The vocalist is singer/actor Tamara Podemski, Anishinaabe/Israeli, and she sings in my language. The following track, Ododaymiwan (spelled and pronounced slightly differently from how folks from my own are do it), is a telling, in Anishinaabemowin, of our origins, via our several original totems, or clans. It doesn't hurt that she also has a strong and beautifully haunting voice.
But come. There's more to see.
If you've read my personal diaries and comments, you know that we're "horse people." We have three (well, four; Number Four Horse is technically a boarder, but she's decided that we're her pet humans). Since modern horses arrived in this part of the world, they've played an integral role in Pueblo culture (as well as my own).
As you drive up the winding road that leads to the Pueblo, you'll see plenty of horses grazing in the various fields. If you were able to go into restricted areas, you might occasionally see small herds of them traveling together. A few years ago, Wings captured images of one such small herd, searching for food and water beneath the snow.
Not all the winter horses around here are flesh and blood. Occasionally, you'll find one made of cast iron and rusted steel. These were taken about five years ago, up by Peñasco (which is south of here, not north, but everyone says "'up by" regardless). There were several other metal sculptures on the property, mostly horses, but this one was special. Same horse, same day, shots taken in quick succession with black-and-white and color film, respectively. The angle is very, very slightly different, but it's just enough that it looks like a wholly different backdrop in the color photo. I can assure you, though, that it was only a matter a a few steps.
And then there's the end of the day, and the end of a long and dusty trail. Yes, that's one of Wings's old saddles, now long since retired. These days, it straddles one of the latilla fences near the bird feeder, presumably enjoying its memories of the journeys of days long past, under Cree's watchful eye.
TA'A AND CHI MIIGWECH
Many thanks, in his language and in mine, to everyone who joined us this evening. Please enjoy the food and music (maybe we can convince Wings to play for us) while you view the art. And, of course, if this were the real gallery, you could browse his exquisite silverwork and all the other outstanding fine art and craftsmanship from our other Indian artists. You can see additional photos and the latest in Wings's jewelry and other silverwork at his Web site, along with a few pieces in the Collectibles gallery from other Native artists. If you're looking for a type of art that you don't see on the site, e-mail me; if I don't already have photos of the paintings, leatherwork, drums, katsinam, pottery, etc., he can take them and I'll send them to you. And if you want to commission something specific, e-mail me or call his number (both listed under the Contact tab on the site).
I'll leave you with a final track from Spirit Nation's Winter Moons. It's called We Are Still Here, and the first time I heard it, it pierced me to the depths of my very soul. [And if you listen closely, you'll hear the title of one of my diaries.] This song, and what it represents, will haunt me - and sustain me - all my days.