Sunday, February 26, 2012

Dyed in the Wool

Wool plays a storied role in northern New Mexico Hispanic and Native American cultures.   It started with hearty Churra sheep brought from Spain by the Conquistadors in 1598.  The wooly critters provided both sustenance and warmth as they continue to do today.  That's particularly true on the Navajo Reservation where the sheep are now called Churro and you can get a mean Lamb Taco.  Try La Posada, the Mary Colter designed railroad hotel in Winslow, Arizona for a couple of those babies.

For 300 years 70% of the Rio Grande Valley's inhabitants earned their livelihood in the textile industry but that had all but died by 1900. Today there is a small, struggling wool industry in Taos, Chama and Mora.  At this writing two wool and weaving enterprises in Taos are closing or downsizing.  One, the handsome Weaving Southwest at Taos’s 100% corner that has offered magnificent rugs, brilliant yarns and looms for a couple of years is adopting a a less costly internet model and a small upstairs weaving studio half a mile west of the Plaza.  The other is closing for good.
But the heart of the wool and weaving culture still beats in the village of Mora 45 minutes east of Taos. There Tapetes de Lana, literally tapestries of wool, has soldiered on since 1998.  Started by Carla Gomez, Tapetes was founded to keep alive New Mexico’s wool history, to provide economic opportunity for the poor rural agricultural community and to keep young people in their ancestral homes. Though it has enjoyed some longevity fully half its workers and trainees are Anglos from afar.  So there’s yarn being made and rugs are being woven but not necessarily by the people for whom the opportunity was created.  It's a bittersweet coda to be sure.   

Still Tapetes de Lana is rich in the earthy textures of native wool and naturally dyed yarns and boasts a treasure trove of Industrial Revolution era spinning equipment in the factory out back.  The machines dating back to the 1880s are a visual feast of gears, bobbins and whirly gigs.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Cruz Blanca

La Morada de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe in Taos is the largest and most important of the early 19th Catholic lay chapels that checker northern New Mexico and southern Colorado.  The morada has fallen into decay but repairs have begun to fill and seal its eroding visage.  Note the wire lathe that is ready for a fresh skin of mud, water and straw.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Hard Twist

I keep a hundred images or so ahead in my blog catalog. Started out three years or so ago with a small library and try to keep enough fodder to always have something worthy.  On Sundays I scan the stored photographs to see what grabs me.  It's always a kind of surprise.  What I'll pick.

This week's selection, Hard Twist, appealed to me because of the composition and because the shallow depth of field pushes the eye to the wire which is sharp for about six inches.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

F Troop

Fort Union, the largest Army fort and supply depot in the southwest, was so critical that it was built three times starting in 1851. The first couple of times the soldiers did it themselves with green wood and greener skills.  The successful construction of the third fort in the traditional “Territorial” style employed skilled Hispano craftsmen using aged native lumber, clay and stone and a strong local cash economy emerged.  
Without stockades or ramparts the fort looked more like a small frontier town with streets set at right angles and a population of soldiers, officers and their families. A substantial hospital served not only the military community but the local population. 
Fort Union was emblematic of “Manifest Destiny” and heralded American expansionism in the southwest during the mid-nineteenth century.  It was first established to defend Indian attacks that threatened the westward thrust of pioneers along the Santa Fe Trail and several rutted pathways where buckboards and prairie schooners once passed are visible crossing the fort’s 53 square miles of grassland.

Knowingly or otherwise Fort Union was built on private land within the Mora Land Grant and despite twenty years of legal challenges the rightful owners were paid exactly zero for their property, a result not entirely unprecedented in the annals of our Westward Ho moment.
Then In a pithy turnabout is fair play episode early in the Civil War Confederate forces that had already occupied Santa Fe wanted to capture Fort Union. They marched eastward before being intercepted and beaten by a garrison from the fort and militiamen from southern Colorado.  And so The Battle of Glorietta Pass ended the Confederate incursion into New Mexico and its troops retreated back to Texas.  
Fort Union lies just north of Watrous and about five miles west of I-25, the main route between Albuquerque and Denver.  Hold on to your hat.  It blows like a banshee.