Tuesday, March 24, 2009

I recently drove west with my younger brother to visit the Grand Canyon (my first time). As Albuquerque fell away behind us with its own sort of charm, the land stretched ahead wonderfully far into the distant horizon, inviting vast thoughts.

Western landscapes seem to do that. Quietly and unassuming, the land pulls you in. If you don’t resist and if you don’t give up too easily, you will press through first appearances of space without meaning to a place where treasure can be discovered. Often, the treasure is one’s own inner voice echoing off canyon walls, returning to the ears with refreshed clarity, dusted free of old presumptions. Sometimes it is the simple whisper of sand in air. Or the lone cackle of the raven.

Before that drive, we spent Saturday taking the Rail Runner to Santa Fe to visit the NM State House, locally called the “Roundhouse” because of its circular construction that symbolically represents the Zia sun, and, appropriately, a Kiva where native tribes conduct sacred communal business. We visited the many artisan shops along famous Canyon Road, window shopping and imagining many inspiring pieces being shipped to our homes before visiting the Rainbow Man’s shop just off of the town’s main square.

The Rainbow Man appears to be just another knick-knack shack when you approach it. Tucked tightly in among other shops in a line of seamless store fronts, its windows offer the same fanfare as do those to its right and left. However, if you persist, there awaits you a discovery that, although perhaps less existential than driving towards the sunset, is no less surprising and no less full of ancient impact.

This impact is compounded by the fact that you must first press through front rooms of fetish novelties, past Kachina doll reproductions, woven rugs, Day of the Dead décor and pottery samples. In short, you must look and move beyond a façade that is repeated a hundred times over in town squares all over the southwest; you must traipse through an empty desert of commercialism. If and when you do, you will be rewarded with the discovery of a back room that contains a unique gallery of history in the form of Edward Curtis prints of Native American culture.

From 1898 to 1928, Mr. Curtis photographed thousands of Indians in their homes and villages, posed for portraiture and performing sacred dances and rituals. Twenty volumes had been planned to be produced. People all over America subscribed to collect these books. However, the publisher went out of business before the project was completed. Now only 40 volumes remain in public circulation. You can see the 41st volume at the Smithsonian Institute. Or, like Dustin and me, you can penetrate the front rooms of The Rainbow Man in Santa Fe and peruse hundreds of prints saturated in goldtones, nobility captured in form and light.

You might see only framed portraits hung salon-style about the room and lying in piles sorted according to nation and tribe. Or, if you pause and listen intently, you just might encounter vast thoughts and hear voices bouncing back across the canyons of time.

1 comment:

Susan Douglas Kelley said...

Dear Dennis,
I love the way you think and that you share it with the world. Through your subtle prose you have provided me the opportunity to achieve a greater vision, however brief, beyond my focus on what I'm doing right now. Transcending the immediate hurly burly tasks requires great effort at times, and at others, merely a little window provided by a great friend. The gentle beauty of the world surrounds us wherever we are, even here in Nashville, Tennessee. Thank you for just the right frame of mind as I go to wake up my five year old son to experience the adventure of another day on this glorious planet. Love you, Susie