Where history meets art

Allan Fotheringham February 7 2000

Where history meets art

Allan Fotheringham February 7 2000

Where history meets art

Allan Fotheringham

There is only one solution, for a scribbler, when caught in America during a presidential election year. Since the candidates, the usual suspects, have already been running for almost 12 months, the sensible voters even now are bored with them.

The solution, then, is to get as far away from the action as possible—and retreat into the past. The most isolated and underpublicized spot in the country is Santa Fe, 2,100 m high in the purple mountains of New Mexico.

Everything is old in Santa Fe. The Spanish arrived here before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. The great pink adobe former City Hall is the oldest public building in the United States. America’s oldest Madonna, a 31-inch statue of the Virgin Mary called La Conquistadorai, is in the Romanesque-style St.

Francis Cathedral. It was brought here from Mexico City in 1625 and is the core of the Santa Fe Fiesta that’s been held annually since 1712.

D. H. Lawrence, that dirty old man, is probably responsible for its charm today. Some time between the wars, he discovered the beauty of the place and wrote about it so passionately that it attracted fellow romantics.

The curious English founded a writers’ and artists’ colony—fascinated by the rich mixture of Spanish, Mexican and Indian culture.

Today, strange little, beautiful little Santa Fe is the thirdlargest art centre in the Excited States of America—after New York City and Los Angeles. A plush guidebook lists, under “downtown” Santa Fe, 68 galleries, studios and museums.

One of those is the classy Meredith-Kelly Latin American Fine Art, just off the main Plaza. Mary Kelly, from Ottawa by way of Toronto, moved here, opened a gallery and named it after her daughter, a rising TV star at CFTO in Toronto. Currently advertised is a work by Diego Rivera, Mexico’s Picasso. Price? You don’t want to ask.

That’s not to mention Canyon Road, the “art and soul” of the town that doesn’t have a highrise or a neon sign and seems short on McDonald’s. Canyon Road, based on an old Pueblo trail, winds between the Santa Fe River and whispering cottonwood trees.

There are 85 galleries side-by-each, ranging from very impressive sculpture (my art expert tells me Canadians are too uncultured to appreciate sculpture) to shlock; a sign in

one cowboy-belt joint advertises: “ONE DAY IN 1859 ON THIS SITE NOTHING HAPPENED.”

What is intriguing to the scribbler, who has been wandering recently in the Inca ruins of Peru, is the obvious link of “primitive people”—the Incas of South America through the Aztec empire of Mexico north to such outposts as Santa Fe.

In Chaco Canyon, the centre of the Anasazi way of life, there are the remains of magnificent architecture, an obvious product of an industrious people who flourished from the mid-800s to the 1100s. There are multi-storeyed villages of the Chaco culture connected by a well-engineered road system.

The scribbler can see, in the wonderfully preserved ruins, traces of that magical Machu Picchu discovery high on a Peruvian peak. And these were the primitives?

Consistently, there is a wake-up call for a scribbler who is a Canadian, from a land that throws endless millions at a native population because of a collective guilt complex.

At Gallup, west of Albuquerque, there is a magnificent 180-squaremetre mural covering the walls of the McKinley County Courtroom. It was commissioned by Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, trying to drag his nation out of the Depression of the Dirty ’30s.

The mural paints the history of New Mexico and the southwest from prehistoric to modern times. It brings to life the ancient Indian cultures, the arrival of the Spanish, the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, the gold rush, and the coming of the railway—the famed Santa Fe.

The scribbler wonders, as he wanders, about his own country’s confused, meandering guilt about its native people. When the Spanish conquistadores arrived in 1540, they began repeated burnings of the pueblos of the natives. It wasn’t until 1748 that the governor finally decreed the native Indians would be allowed to rebuild their homeland.

The Zuni, who abide on the largest Pueblo Indian reservation in New Mexico, descendants of the Anasazi who have stood their ground against Spanish domination, smallpox and land abuse, now get 75 per cent of their income from their crafted turquoise and silver jewelry.

A small dose of reality? Just a quick jump away on a mesa is Los Alamos, where they built the first atomic bomb. This was called progress.