New Mexico

I'm going to New Mexico! What should I do?

I'm going to New Mexico! What should I do?

I grew up in Northern New Mexico and have spent much of my adult life living in and around Santa Fe. I love this area of the globe a great deal and have explored a lot of it over the years. People love to visit New Mexico and I often get questions about where they should visit on their vacations.

I get this question so much I thought I'd better write a blog post about it. Please don't think that that is altruistic of me. It is self defense. I love my home state and I'll happily spend 30 minutes writing someone an email listing all the places they should go. This post is my shortcut for future requests. If you have other ideas especially of fiber-related places to visit in Northern New Mexico, please leave them in the comments. 

ATB9 goes New Mexico

I have a few more thoughts about the work I saw at ATB9 last week at the Fort Wayne Museum of Art. I thought I'd start with the two artists from my home state of New Mexico: Mary Cost of Santa Fe and Donna Loraine Contractor of Albuquerque.
Left to right: Fractured Square Series: Reds, Blacks & Golds, Square by Donna Loraine Contractor; When Fortune Flowers by Lindsey Marshall; Etude 3 by Joyce Hayes; Semblance of the Ancient Ones by Tori S. Kleinert; Skyscape by Mary Cost
Mary Cost and I worked with James Koehler in Santa Fe. I have enjoyed watching Mary's work blossom over the last few years and I really love her architectural pieces like this one.

Skyscape; 53.5 x 38.5 inches, hand-dyed wool, cotton
I love Mary's hand-dyed yarn. The subtle variation of color in the yarn makes the surface look alive and is perfect for her depiction of traditional adobe stucco walls. I also like the way she highlights the top of certain forms with a brighter color.
Skyscape detail
Donna Loraine uses a finishing technique that is possibly derived from the traditional Hispanic weaving from New Mexico. She braids the warp and leaves this fringe visible. I love the subtle stripes that she uses throughout the piece. I believe she uses tapestry yarn that is hand-dyed by Weaving Southwest.
Fractured Square Series: Reds, Blacks & Golds, Square; Donna Loraine Contractor, 37.5 x 39 inches, wool, cotton
Reds, Blacks & Golds, Square detail
Donna Loraine uses dovetails for her joins. Mary Cost uses the James Koehler interlock join that I detailed in this blog post earlier in December 2012. I found the joins in both of these pieces to be important to the overall look of the piece.

Cochineal: there is bug blood in your cherry coke!

My landlady wrote a book (Life on the Rocks by Katherine Wells) which mentions cochineal on the mesa and I remembered a couple years ago seeing some white fuzz on some prickly pear cactus a mile or so from the house.  This morning in the rain I went back to check, and sure enough, it was cochineal!
After some online research and a return to the Colorways Summer 2011 online magazine (there are some fascinating photos in the article in this emag of the bugs on the cactus: "Sell me your gold, silver, cochineal..." by Linda Ligon) I learned a few more things about cochineal:

  • There are about 70,000 bugs in a pound of cochineal.  I won't be using the ones on my mesa any time soon for dyeing.
  • The insect produces carminic acid (17-24% of the weight of the dried insect per Wikipedia--which we all know is ALWAYS correct) which is used to make cochineal dye.
  • It used to be used extensively for dyeing fabric, but now is used largely in the cosmetics and food industries as a red dye.  At least it isn't carcinogenic!
  • The insects create the powdery/webby patches for protection, camouflage and to prevent dessication.  My cochineal bugs were very well protected as the bugs were deep inside their webs.
  • They like prickly pear cactus the best.
  • They do range into NM but are generally at lower elevations than this mesa (about 5,600 feet)

  • When their eggs hatch, the nymphs crawl to new areas on the cactus or using the waxy substance they are surrounded with, "balloon" to a new host cactus.  Then--get this--they start feeding on the cactus, molt and lose their legs. (!)  That would seem to make further transportation a bit difficult.
  • It looks like cochineal currently sells for twice the price of silver by weight.
  • I found this interesting cochineal farm in Oaxaca that gives tours.  And they have a workshop you can take about cultivating cochineal.  This sounds like my kind of vacation!  Unfortunately I'd probably have to move south to grow them in the US.  It'll be hard to dye much yarn with 10 bugs... and I don't want to kill the entire crop either.  Unfortunately dyeing with them seems to involve death on the part of the bug (when they are pregnant!).

  • And after all this fascinating information, I had to pull out my color books.  From Colors: What they mean and how to make them by Anne Varichon, I found out that there are actually three primary kinds of cochineal.  Besides the Mexican kind that live largely on nopal (prickly pear) cactus, there is the Armenian cochineal which lives on reeds and grasses in Armenia and Turkey and the Polish cochineal which feeds on German knotgrass and lives near the Baltic Sea and in the Ukraine (p 124).
  • Some history from the same book (p 124): dyeing with cochineal seems to have been done since about 700 BCE in Peru and large fields were cultivated long before the arrival of the Spanish.  The Conquistadors realized that this insect represented enormous wealth and escalated production.  Starting in 1520, they exported hundreds of tons of cochineals to Europe and around the world.
  • The annual yield of the nopales fields in southern Mexico can be 264 pounds of insects per acre.

"Spanish Red, I noted in my diary that night, is usually born between the fog and the frost in places where land is cheap and the prickly pear, on which it is a parasite, grows in abundance on the desert sands. It is a holy blight, a noble rot where the treasure is rubies rather than the gold of dessert wine. It is a deep, intensely colored organic red, but it will never be used for Buddhist robes because there is too much death in it. In the twenty-first century women around the world coat their lips with insect blood, we apparently dab our cheeks with it, and in the United States it is one of few permitted red constituents of eye shadow. 'And finally,' I wrote with a happy frisson, 'Cherry Coke is full of it; it is color additive E120.'" [Finlay, V. (2002). Color: A natural history of the palette. New York: Random House. p 137-8.]

Weave well friends! (and when you dye with cochineal, remember all the little bug souls)

Light from the forest fire...

I live on a south-east facing flank of a mesa north of Espanola, NM.  This mesa blocks my view of the Jemez mountains almost completely.  Thursday, Jun 30th at about 10 pm I drove to the top of the mesa and was shocked to see the entire top of the Jemez glowing or with active fires (Las Conchas fire).  The bright red-orange flames about 20 miles away in the dark night stopped me cold.  Fire is an immensely powerful force.

The play of light with the smoke swirling around my home is dramatic and mesmerizing.  I have learned that if I glance up from the loom and see that the sunlight on the ground is reddish I need to check for smoke (and open windows)... but also to go out and look up at the color of the sky.

  The smoke makes for exceptionally dramatic sunsets.  I did a piece a few years ago in a gradation of these exact colors.
Sunset June 29th from Velarde, NM over the mesa where I live.

I was grateful that I could escape the smoke and heat for a few days this weekend to head to Colorado to spend some time with my family.  As of Thursday June 30th, most of New Mexico was under stage III fire restrictions which indicates a complete closing of the forests (and a hopefully temporary end to my NM hiking escapades).  As I drove north along Hwy 285 I noticed that every forest service road was gated and signed as closed.  Some roads that didn't have gates had newly hung barbed wire across the cattle guards.  I pulled over at San Antonio mountain on a road I hoped to go down later this summer for some hiking in the Cruces Basin Wilderness... 
San Antonio mountain partially obscured by smoke.

As I was driving home today after enjoying 4 days of relatively smoke-free breathing in the San Luis Valley of southern Colorado (which did have visible smoke, but I couldn't smell it), I was shocked to see the Jemez.  The fire has wrapped around the north side of the Polvadera and I fear that the entire Jemez Mtn complex is in danger at this point (that is just my supposition)... on the google earth maps it looks like about a third of it has burned already.  I just couldn't believe that the fire was so close to Espanola.  (We are not in danger from this fire, but many people live in the area where this fire seems to be moving.)
Las Conchas fire from Highway 285 July 5th, 2011
I enjoyed a wonderful weekend of hiking, family, and hummingbird watching.  Tomorrow it is back to the loom and hopefully little smoke.

Life in rural New Mexico

Here is a little photo montage of life in rural northern New Mexico.  My question as I look at the photos I take near my home and consider new possibilities in my life is how much environment shapes the art I make.  Could I do the same work that I do if I lived in, say, Australia?  What about England?  I think the work would be different, but I couldn't possibly anticipate in what ways.  I think the big sky of the southwestern United States has a big influence on my thinking and vision in terms of making art, but I have no way of testing that (besides moving to New England or to Germany or perhaps the Himalaya... just kidding on that last one--mostly anyway)...

Here is a collection of signs I see on a regular basis in my travels around northern NM and southern Colorado.

This one has survived since the last election--in Cebolla, NM.

In Espanola, as in other parts of the country, "cokes" can mean many kinds of soda...  Unfortunately I just missed getting the passing low rider in the shot.

This one is certainly a comment on the continuing land grant disagreements in this part of the state.  This sign is near Tierra Amarilla in Rio Arriba county.

This one was actually in the San Luis Valley last fall where you might not be able to get a beer, but you can certainly find a potato!

In Chama, NM-- the rental seems to be missing...

What would New Mexico be without the trail signs?  The Continental Divide Trail runs from the Mexican border to Canada through New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana.  This sign is between Ghost Ranch and Tierra Amarilla.

I love this sign-- and it could only have been created by a West Rim Drive resident, Carson, NM (near Taos)...  I like that the word EVOLVE has the word love in it twice when written this way.

And then there are the myriad of cultural influences in NM...
This teepee was across the street from my school housing for most of the year... and regularly used for ceremonies I can attest by the frequent drumming late into the evenings.

The typical lunch selection in small town NM...

This one is from Gallup and every time I see it I think maybe they forgot a "C"...  I guess that would be a different kind of business though!

And some special Durango culture, captured by my partner with an iPhone from the passenger seat...

And on the way home today from southern Colorado I ran into several fairly routine obstacles.
A train to wait for...

A herd of cows and their wranglers (the herding dogs were riding in the back of the four-wheeler to the left of the white horse--this is a busy highway, speed limit here was 65 mph--and we have to keep those dogs safe!)...

15 miles later, the requisite farm equipment...

And a northern NM resident doesn't think twice about a washboarded gravel road without guard rails and at least a 12% grade like this being part of a regular commute...  heck, the canyon is beautiful!

The land of enchantment.

A new place to live...

Well, the news officially is that I have moved. I know many of you would add a word to that sentence--AGAIN. I know that some of my friends and relatives have instituted a policy of keeping my address on post-it notes in their address books because I've moved quite a lot in the last 10 years. Since I have moved into another rental, I'd say continuing this policy is probably wise. I moved the day before Thanksgiving. I can tell you that I was so grateful for the help of Lynn, my sister Laura and her husband Luke, Ruth Ann and Jim, and Heather and Sue. You all were so great. You were even gracious about moving my Yamaha upright piano which I dearly love out of a remote cabin into a pickup and then into a moving truck and then into a new house. Bless you for your muscles, your effort, and your good cheer. I hope that I can stay in this house for a long time. In fact, I may have to convince the landlord to sell it to me because I really don't feel like moving ever again. The new place is near Espanola, NM which is not all that far from where I used to live. The house is straw bale (a dream come true for me) with big windows and fabulous views. I am blessed to have found it. Doesn't this look like a good place for weaving tapestry? I welcome social and studio visits!