Surrounded by Art

mountain gate stormy skies

I have always believed that helping a child to enjoy art and want to create it, is one of the best things I could do as a teacher and as a parent.  That is why I always had art, including visual art, music, poetry, writing and cooking in my classrooms. (You can see that I have a broad definition of art, which includes “crafts” and anything where a person can express themselves deeply and creatively). I think that is why I was chosen to help start a wonderful school called Prairie Creek Community School in Minnesota.  That is why I chose to work for 13 years in a teacher collective that valued arts in its curriculum the same as academics.  That is why I ended up teaching in a public school called Malcolm X Arts and Academic Elementary School. And now, that is why I choose to live in New Mexico.

I’m not saying there isn’t plenty of art in California, because obviously, there is.  Both personally and professionally, I enjoyed the art around me.  I started out doing art projects with my children from when they were about one year old.  I did it for their enjoyment, but I also did it for the part of myself that was frustrated with not doing enough art in a busy life.   My oldest daughter went to one semester of high school at an amazing art school in Napa, and graduated Mills College with a studio arts major.  My youngest daughter is a wonderful dancer, choosing to dance in church, as well as help teach it in the collective where I used to work.  I have always surrounded myself at home with pictures, carvings, and needlework, that members of my family have made, and with quilts and dolls and carvings made by myself and my friends.  I get joy daily from all of these things.

At school, I was always fascinated by the art my students made, including amazing stories, sculptures, songs they wrote, and dances they danced.  Although we emphasized process versus product, both aspects were appreciated, and I believe the students learned ways to express themselves that they might not have had the chance to try otherwise.   They also had lots of free time to create adventures, plays, and explore ideas on their own.   We visited museums, read good literature, and learned to appreciate others’ art.

But it took work and money to go to museums, or even to go the coast or the redwoods in CA, and I got caught up in the mundane activities of life, and maybe even lazy, and did not get out to enjoy the art and beauty of the big city, nor of the landscape. Plus there were always lots of people around, and there was a lot of traffic to deal with in order to get where you were going. (And everything cost a lot of money.)  When I discovered this place in NM, I realized that the natural landscape is art which is around me 24/7, all I have to do is walk out onto my front porch and look at the mountain or the sunset, or sit in the back yard at night and look at the star pictures, or drive into the nearest town on a quiet highway and take in the desert and mountain scenery.  I am awed every day by the beauty around me, which is exemplified in photos taken by us or by neighbors and put on Facebook.

And then there is the art we feel inspired to make here — every morning I look out the window (from my bed) at the beautiful fence decoration that Sarita designed and painted, showing the mountains, quail and jackrabbit in our area.  A friend is making a gate for the front of our house, with the design of one of my tattoos (another way I used to cultivate art to have it with me at all times). Every time I sit on the front porch or come home from somewhere else, I will be able to enjoy that amazing gate.  I have pictures and weavings in the house made by local people and believe me, I can cover some walls!  I have a china cabinet with my precious dolls in it, and my family dishes, maybe only important to me, but beautiful for their history.  Many of my songs connect me to this desert, and I have noticed that almost everyone I know here does some kind of art for personal enjoyment.  It could be: knitting an alpaca cape, sewing baby quilts, making bronze sculptures, doing watercolor paintings of local landscapes and fauna,  soldering metal gates,  building and restoring an old adobe, taking pictures at a rodeo, making folk music with a group of musicians, writing newspaper columns, designing chicken coops or cooking with vegetables and fruit from a garden.  The area inspires all of us, the lack of nighttime activities in town gives us time and space, and the small community really knows how to appreciate all the wonderful art that comes into being.  Tomorrow night I am going to a reading of a self published book at the library by the daughter of a neighbor across the street.  Today I’m playing music with friends, getting ready for a couple of casual performances next month in appreciation of some of the community volunteers. Last weekend we participated in the nearby college’s fine arts performance, as well as a nearby town’s festival celebrating pies and piemakers, for which an up and coming documentary short was made (“Pie Lady of Pietown” directed by Jane Rosemont).  I’m looking forward to the sale along the highway downtown of my friend’s quilts, in which she used the pictures from the bluebird flour sacks.

I have never felt so surrounded by art, by artists, and by appreciators of art.  One doesn’t have to be an amazing artist to be noticed,  although there are many many amazing artists around here.  Much of the art (and crafts) help support the community organizations, which are highly valued here, and I am happy to learn about them as well as contribute to them.  I think there are many people to meet who will be informative and inspirational.   Already, Sarita has found a mentor to instruct her with spinning, a very deep love for her.  I can only be curious as to how I will be guided, changed, or inspired by the artists I encounter.  All I know, is that I’ve always considered art, and the process of making art, one of the most important things for my soul, and now I definitely feel that I have time and space, surroundings and a community that completely supports that.  Pretty good.

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