Lia Lynn Rosen
As a center of creative and spiritually based arts and culture for thousands of years, how can our past in New Mexico inform this season of gift giving? How can our heritage of the handmade—at one time, the sole source of all material culture—transform a time of year when commercialism, a year-round focus on the mainstream culture, overtakes most aspects of public life, from relentless advertising to background Muzak®, now beginning at Halloween and continuing through the year’s end? As an alternative to this well-known excess, we may instead choose to be guided by a common root of generosity, gratitude and celebration with family and friends in the dark of the year, when our gifts may become lights for collective remembrance and revaluing of what is most important in our lives.
In New Mexico, as in locations with other ancient cultures, knowledge of the handmade and “creativity as necessity,” alongside agriculture and land stewardship, are mainstays and have remained a way of life, a tool for survival and identity and a deep expression of shared cultural values. As an artist-potter and educator who has learned a great deal from the ancient fine arts of our state, I’d like to suggest that this heritage can serve as a model for our gifting and giving, creating for those we love with the integrity of the human-made: baked, knit, written, molded, sculpted, strung, painted, sung and danced. These expressions are among the most personal and valued. Indeed, in a time of the “virtual” surpassing the real, we hunger evermore for fine crafts that are sincere expressions of timeless values.
I live and work in the upper plain or llano of the Turquoise Trail, a traditional ranching area just east of the Cerrillos Hills, a now-rural residential area off Highway 14. In this windblown, vast landscape, one of many pueblos of the Galisteo Basin existed for 400 years until the time of the Pueblo Revolt, when the inhabitants likely joined with another nearby pueblo. Prior to that, San Marcos Pueblo, c. 1250-1680, was a major center throughout the Southwest for pottery-making production and trade. The people also engaged in the mining of fine metals (including lead, mostly used in glaze decoration) and stones, particularly turquoise, to fashion, as today, into the gorgeous jewelry our region is known for. In ancient times, clay, metals and minerals were respectfully mined and used to create culturally based artworks that transmitted and held shared, deeply held beliefs that expressed the core of those societies. We must also note the striking difference in this careful use of natural resources in contrast to the plundering-for-profit that came later in the 1900s, with the mining of turquoise in this area to its near-depletion.
Here, in New Mexico, as perhaps in no other place in the country, one can find evidence of carefully made native artworks on the land itself, all over our state: “shards” of a kind of intentional, necessary and mindful commerce (the root of “commercial”) and trade, but with a different intent and focus than the addictive mass marketing of today. How we learn from and honor this heritage of a saner model of giving, trading and producing can be a guide for all of us and especially those of us working as artists, growers, healers and educators.
I often say that each artist today operates as a “tribe of one,” working as an individual, yet carrying our own cultural values and norms and, with a good deal of experimentation and exploration, responding to materials with fresh ideas and innovation. This kind of approach is key to our work having unique expression and authenticity of our own time and place. Yet, as many of us quickly discover and can readily observe, subsequent commercial success of some of our work may cause it to become stale due to the repetition stemming from “fitting in” to the capitalist framework. It is up to each of us to determine how to balance our creativity, our work and the need to make a living, and how to respect the love and care that our own and others’ work, at its best, may contain. How we approach the holidays in our gifting—making and giving—may be inspired by those who came before; be it a grandparent, tía or the ancients. Our aware consideration of how we give can be a contribution to building a healthier alternative to the mainstream and create a culture that can contribute to an ongoing flow of art, expression, education and humanity in our times.
Lia Lynn Rosen is an artist-educator living and working on the Turquoise Trail with her business, Tierra Sagrada Pottery (TierraSagradaPottery.com). She has been working with clay, kids, families and community for over 40 years, studying ancient Southwestern pottery, history and culture for most of that time, cultivating a keen awareness of the history and importance of where we live.