SEE A GUEST POST ON MY FAVORITE PLACE IN ARIZONA AT TOUR ABSURD. Charnell’s photos of Canyon de Chelly decorate the page.
DESTINATION: American Indian Lands in the Southwestern United States
Maria the Potter of San Ildefonso (1948) by Alice Marriott
The Worlds of P’otsunu: Geronima Cruz Montoya of San Juan (1996) by Jeanne Shutes and Jill Mellick
The World of Flower Blue: Pop Chalee, an Artistic Biography (1997) by Margaret Cesa
I’ll Go and Do More: Annie Dodge Wauneka, Navajo Leader and Activist (2001) by Carolyn Niethammer
Reading biography can open a window into a culture and a time. That is why I’m recommending these four biographies of American Indian women from four different Southwestern tribes/nations. I want to tempt you to get to know the American Indian Cultures and to visit the Southwest.
I’m also recommending them because Charnell Havens and I recently completed an American Indian biography of our own, Quincy Tahoma: The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. The women in these books come from areas that Quincy Tahoma was associated with. Although only one was Navajo, he knew three of them personally, and surely knew some of the members of the family, if not Annie Dodge Wauneka herself.
I read the story of Maria Martinez‘ life in 1971. She was still coming to Scottsdale from time to time and her glowing black pottery had taken the western art market by storm. I learned of her work at The House of the Six Directions, a small store on Scottsdale’s Fifth Avenue that was an agent for her work. The owner of the store, Paul Huldermann, first ignited my interest in American Indian Art.
Although it was many years before I went to San Ildefonso, Maria’s pueblo, and she had passed away by then, I got some of the most important information for the Quincy Tahoma biography from Ramos and Gerdie Sanchez of San Ildefonso. Quincy had spent a great deal of time in both of their family homes before they were married, and then in their own home.
Maria and her husband were among the artists to represent American Indians at the San Francisco Golden Gate Exhibition in 1939. So was Quincy. One more thread of our research tied Quincy Tahoma to Maria Martinez. A newspaper article from October 1956 listed both of them as winners –painting and pottery–in the New Mexico State Fair. It was just two weeks before his death.
This biography is written by an ethnologist, but is far from being a dry scientific style. The conversations that are related tell us what life was like in the pueblo in the first half of the 20th century.
Painter and teacher Geronima Cruz Montoya came from the San Juan Pueblo, very near San Ildefonso (and childhood home of Gerdie Montoya Sanchez, mentioned above). Montoya attended the Santa Fe Indian School a few years ahead of Quincy Tahoma, and by the time he was in high school, she became the art teacher, replacing Dorothy Dunn who founded the Studio.
The co-authors of this biography, sought to tell it like a traditional Pueblo story. There is no attempt at strict chronology or cause and effect, rather things unfold as they are told. Again, we see the life of a pueblo, but we also learn more about Santa Fe Indian School and the life of a painter.
Pop Chalee, from Taos Pueblo, studied art at Santa Fe Indian School long after she had left high school. American Indians with artistic talent were encouraged to go to Santa Fe to “the Studio” to study at any age. She was thirty and Tahoma in his late teens when they first met at the Indian School. According to her biography, The World of Flower Blue, she greatly admired Tahoma. We know that Tahoma went to Scottsdale at least two winters in the early 1950s, and painted in Pop Chalee’s shop. He called Pop and her husband Ed Natay “cousins.”
Pop Chalee is the most urbanized of these four women. She was a sophisticated, savvy painter who understood salesmanship and public relations. Pretty and lively, she attracted attention everywhere she went. I first saw her paintings in Scottsdale in the 60’s, and was not particularly drawn to them because they seem to be more driven by commerce than by art. But she was extremely popular, and her paintings are certainly charming.
Annie Dodge Wauneka is the only Navajo and only non-artist of these four women. She was born into the family of the powerful Navajo leader Chee Dodge, and broke through the Navajo version of a glass ceiling to become the first female elected to the Navajo Tribal Council. She lobbied within the Navajo nation and in Washington D.C. for better health care for her people. Her accomplishments were rewarded with many commendations, including the Medal of Freedom from President John F. Kennedy. (Although it was presented after his assassination by his successor, Lyndon Johnson.)
Neithammer approached her biography in much the same way that we approached the biography of Quincy Tahoma–a great deal of document research combined with hours of interviews and visiting the scene of the subject’s life. Her book is essential to understanding the great cultural changes that blew through the Navajo reservation in the 20th century, as well as painting a picture of a uniquely forceful Navajo woman.
Since our book became available in April, we have been touring to introduce people to Quincy Tahoma and the book. This month, I am on a blog tour as well as making real-life appearances. ‘Why not visit A Traveler’s Library?’ I thought. You can see links to some of the other stops on the blog tour. Next Monday, I’ll be talking about a road trip on the Navajo reservation at Family Road Trips, and there are many more stops to come.
Have you traveled on Indian reservations and pueblos? Have you read Quincy Tahoma: The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist?