From Carmen’s Amazon Author Page: Hello! I’m Carmen. As if 36 years in the classroom weren’t enough, I now “teach” from home, helping aspiring authors with their own manuscripts, researching marketing strategies, and working on my next book. You can find me in the mountains of northern New Mexico where my husband and I enjoy a peaceful, quiet life caring for our animal family and any stray that happens to stop by.
Below are Carmen’s responses to a Q&A interview about her work as a writer and published author.
Q. What genre do you work in? A. The majority of my works are literary regionalism with a touch of magical realism. My first book, El Hermano, is a historical fiction based on my father’s induction and subsequent rise to leadership of our community’s brotherhood of Hermanos Penitentes. My second book, Las Mujeres Misteriosas, is a ghost story mystery, which pits La Muerte against la Llorona in a fight over the soul of a young woman. My third book, Cuentos del Cañón, is a short story collection. It’s a companion book to the first because it’s comprised of the backstories of characters featured in the first book. My fourth, Viajes con Fantasmas, is a sequel to the second, which will publish this summer. My fifth, a short story cycle, is called La Quinceañera. It’s a parallel narrative of three plots which intertwine in 12 separate short stories. It is currently in the editing stage. I have also published 17 short pieces, fiction and non-fiction, in online literary magazines since 2017.
Q. Why that genre? A. I found my voice in the first book and discovered that my readers appreciate both the stories I tell and the style I use to tell them. The realization that I could be a small voice whereby I could inform, educate, and entertain those who are interested in my culture is why I love writing regionalistic literature. It’s what I know, what I love, and what I want to leave behind as my legacy to New Mexico’s literature. We New Mexico Hispanics have a rich history, but we are not well-known. We are distinct from Latinos of other countries, and I want to tell everyone I can reach about our uniqueness.
Q. What inspires you? A. A locked wooden box, which revealed the secrets of los Hermanos’ brotherhood, inspired my first book. I was disappointed with the way their religious practices were sensationalized in other publications. I wanted my book to show readers that the brotherhood is so much more than what people think. That box gave me the historical information I needed to set the record straight – so to speak – without revealing private information none of us has to know, since we are not of them. Now, I’m inspired by elements of my culture in addition to religion: dying traditions and customs, superstitions, folklore, and beliefs, lifestyle, dialect — all of which I include in most of my works to show younger generations how our ancestors lived, to remind those my age and older of the old days we share, and to preserve the past. I’m inspired by life and death, real human struggles, my career — so many themes in life to write about. I’m also inspired by a variety of writing genres. This allows me to experiment in writing.
Q. What is your preferred work environment as a writer? A. I worked as a teacher for 36 years, leaving my beautiful home built by my husband on the land of my ancestors. I retired in 2014 and am living the life of my dreams: working from the comfort of my home surrounded by mountains and meadows. Several times already I have caught a movement in the reflection of my PC, which turns out to be elk or deer peering in the window next to me. There is nowhere I’d rather be.
Q. Who do you most admire and in what ways were you influenced by this individual? A. That’s a hard one. I can’t focus on anyone, other than Jesus Christ. I admire those who persevere, who are honest, and humble, and who attain their goals through willpower and courage — too many to name individually.
Q. Where can your work be purchased? A. All my books are available on Amazon, Barnes & Nobel and Goodreads; they can also be found on a variety of other websites as well as local venues: Tome on the Range in Las Vegas, Op.cit in Taos, Bookworks in Albuquerque and several other locations.
Bio of an ‘Accidental Artist’: From Sharon Stillwater’s website
I was born on a cold, snowy night Dec. 18. 1942—a volatile mixture of Native American, faded aristocracy, Scottish reclusiveness and French haughtiness. I grew up in far northern Ohio surrounded by flowers, farm and animals, and looked after by sainted, salt of the earth Midwesterners. It was out of this Edenesque early childhood, that I developed the strength and courage needed to face the struggles of life and to endure. Read more…
Sharon Stillwater has a lovely website. I recommend you go there and look at her stunning art and read her complete bio, including the tribute to her husband. This tells you much about a woman who has found a lifeline in art. She expresses herself in compelling ways with rich colors and creative imagery.
Below are her answers to questions about her has an artist. She is one of the coordinators for the Pendaries Art League show scheduled for July. See event details below the article.
Q. What art medium do you work in?
Q. Why that medium? A. It is where I first started painting and learning to mix colors in about 1997. I had actually planned on heading to sculpture but fell in love with colors and oil paint. I love the sheen of oil and find it easier to get soft edges. I do a lot of mixing on the canvas. I also like that you don’t have to put it under glass.
Q. What inspires you? A. Wilderness and the human psyche.
Q. What is your preferred work environment? A.My home studio, which is also my sun room.
Q. Who do you most admire and in what ways were you influenced by this individual? A. It is not one individual but so many friends and others who live with integrity. They inspire me to keep going, keep hoping and keep trying.
Q. What do you most want visitors to the show to know about you as an artist? A. That I feel that the art comes through me as a gift and I do not feel that it is something my ego can take credit for.
You have made art in some magical form. The thing you made is ready to sell. Excitement pounds! Gallops, if you will, stirring the heart and mind to unnamed and unnameable possibilities. Think of the thrill, the accolades, the glory!
But, wait! What if your brilliant creation falls flat, has no resilience, gains no traction, ends up on the scrap heap, a dud, a flop, a bomb? Snickers and derision scrape like thorns across your naked heart leaving you only slightly alive, hope buried under insecurity, a shuddering fear of failure.
Stop. Right. There. Doubt never lit a fire under anyone. Fear frustrates flights of fancy, stabs the brain with “I can’t! I Can’t! I CAN’T!” That kind of thinking mocks the creative spirit, binding her with thorny creepers.
You are ART. You are WRITER. You are CRAFT. Believe in your work. Everything begins and ends with your confidence in what you have made, through your sweat and tears, laughter and fears, worries and joys. Believe in your WORK or no one else will.
Let excitement pound! Thrill at the galloping hooves of hope! You are an innovative life force. Put it all out there and trust your gift – whatever that gift may be. Leave a mark. Inspire laughter. Arouse passion.
You cannot know what your work will do to, or for someone else. And does it matter? What your work has already done is made a difference in you. You have done something no one else can do.
Ply your craft with dedication and single-minded focus. Create to your heart’s content. Let excitement permeate the sweating artistic process, believe and be proud. You produced something unique. Put it out there with courage and not an ounce of doubt.
I hope Michael doesn’t mind me sharing this story before you get into reading his Q&A. He is first and foremost an artist worth listening to. Sharing his story is an honor. This began with an query from Michael that indicated he’d gotten the One Roof Publishing Q&A link from the Las Vegas Arts Council, and was interested in participating. I, of course, welcomed the opportunity. I always want to have a digital dialog with artists from every discipline. Fortunately, my first question was, “With your varied and successful career as a classical guitarist, what brings you to Las Vegas, N.M.?”
I can almost imagine the pregnant pause when Michael received the question. He promptly let me know he was in NEVADA and was unaware there was a Las Vegas in New Mexico, until now. So the crux of this story is that the local Las Vegas Arts Council ranks high in search engines! And Michael Lucarelli came upon it when searching for resources in that otherplace. Perhaps he will visit this Las Vegas and enjoy the history and charm of a true original.
Once Michael and I worked out the where, I welcomed his responses to my questions, which follow. Incidentally, he moved to Las Vegas, Nev., because of weather, which is more agreeable than the weather in Salt Lake City. “But it’s also great to be where the action is,” he said.
Michael’s bio excerpted from www.michaellucarelli.com: Award winning Classical guitarist Michael Lucarelli has enthralled audiences throughout the U.S. for more than 30 years. He is known for his diverse programming and expressive style, tastefully blending classical, popular, jazz, Spanish, South American, as well as his original compositions. He is an annual favorite at The Sundance Film Festival where he has entertained for industry notables such as Steven Spielberg, DreamWorks Animation and Arts & Entertainment. His music videos on YouTube have received more than 35 million views from fans world-wide. He has twice received an Individual Artist grant from The National Endowment of the Arts. In 2014 Martha Stewart Weddings named him one of the top weddings musicians.
ORP: What drew you to pursuing music as a profession? Michael: Luck, really. I was days from joining the military. I worked at Sperry Univac (computer factory ) for almost eight years, while studying classical guitar privately with Ricardo Lineres from Peru. I was also studying martial arts and going to competitions. After my roommate talked me out of joining the military, things fell into place and I took a leap of faith. I walked away from a career job with full benefits and went to the University of Utah in 1985. I started playing the guitar at various gigs the day I started college. Hard to believe I’m still doing it after 32 years.
ORP: When you started out, what was your goal? Michael: I began playing the electric guitar in 1973. I wanted to be a rock star. I started classical guitar in 1980. When I began my career professionally in 1985, my inner wish was to write one great piece for the guitar. I’ve been blessed. Now I’ve written many. I am very goal oriented.
ORP: In what ways has your goal changed over the years? Michael: I’m still composing much more prolifically than the early stages. One recent goal was to write compositions that were more intermediate. Another goal is to write a method book, which is 70 percent finished. But my current goal is to get something going in Las Vegas, Nevada.
ORP: In terms of your accomplishments, are you where you want to be as an artist? Michael: I believe I did more than I ever expected I would do with music. I never thought I’d have 38 million views on YouTube, or I would release 15 CDs, or compose so much music. In some ways, I’m lucky; I just follow where the guitar leads me.
ORP: What gives you the greatest joy, practicing or performing, and why? Michael: They’re different. Each is extremely enjoyable. Practicing is a sacred and special place, a completely different experience from performing live. There is a reason – if you love music – you practice for five hours a day.
ORP: What do patrons say that gives you the greatest satisfaction as a classical guitarist? Michael: That comes from different angles. I love the comments I get from YouTube, people who say they started playing guitar because of me. In my case, it was Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin. As an artist, when you give a concert, you always love when someone says how great you are or how much they enjoyed it, but when I read comments like these on YouTube it really moves me:
“My sister died last week. Thank you for helping me get through that.”
“I have a chronic heart condition. Whenever I’m having a heart attack, I put on your Moonlight Sonata and concentrate on my breathing. That’s helped more than anything I tried.”
It’s strange and heartening to know that what I’m doing can effect people on such a personal level.
ORP: Solo performance seems to be your preferred style. How do solo performance and performing with others differ? Michael: Yes, I mainly do solo. I did play with a trio a few weeks ago. Several concerts I’ve done titled Lucarelli and Friends, are a mix of various ensembles. I love playing ensemble but it is a bit more work. Solo guitar creates its own unique world. But playing with so many ensembles over the years has helped me be a better soloist. You learn to phrase things differently. More importantly you learn to listen! I do have a CD, Romantic Christmas, with violinist Kellie Parkinson, and Romanza with mandolinist Martin Swick, who passed away a few years ago. I did release a CD this year titled Blue Sunday, which is more jazz and New Age, but I’m doing all the instruments, something I’ve always wanted to do. It’s on YouTube. You can stream it or purchase it on iTunes. It features me playing electric guitar on four tracks. I haven’t played Electric guitar since I was 23.
ORP: At this point in your career, are you satisfied with your level of performance, or is it always evolving? Michael: It’s always evolving, and yes, I am satisfied. When it stops evolving that’s when I’ll call it quits. You get older, your vision changes, you have to deal with those things along the road, but you always seem to reach higher ground, explore different avenues. I never saw YouTube coming. That’s a whole other world. I was lucky to be at the starting gate. I never dreamed people would be able to see me play the guitar all over the world, and having viewed, would enjoy and be inspired by what I do.
ORP: What excites you as a musician and performer? Michael: To make a better world and to light up the inside of people who connect with my music. Physicists think music is one of the highest achievements of man. I think most people would agree. To be able to try and express the inexpressible. Some people call it God. I don’t think there’s a word that could describe how it makes me feel. It would have to be a musical sound like om. To think that there are an infinite number of dimensions and we are only living in four! What else could you do but create art. I love to think what music would sound like in the fifth dimension, or 100th or 1000th or one millionth. It’s lovely to think about what I do with my spare time.
ORP: What is the one thing you want people to know about you? Michael: I love the Beatles, and that I finally got – after years of study – the meaning of “…all you need is love.” It is the path to freedom.
ORP: What performances to you have coming up? Michael: Aug. 5 I will be playing at the Park City (Utah) Arts Festival, Oct. 20 Las Vegas, Nev. I mainly play private events. We’re playing on the biggest stage – YouTube. I have several videos coming out including Take Five,House of the rising sun, and Come Together, starting the first Friday of each month.
Generations: The Art of Eloise Lindeborg and Chris Casey, A lifelong artist and the grandson she never knew, on the 100th anniversary of her birth
That’s the title and subtext of the proposal Richard Lindeborg presented to the Las Vegas Arts Council in the interest of curating an exhibit showcasing the work of his mother and his nephew. The two have had different life experiences and never knew each other, but the bond of art connects them to each other and to the gift of creativity. Below are responses to questions about the show, which will be up at Gallery 140 for the month of April.
Q. Aside from the obvious, expand on the theme “Generations”. What are the differences in styles and subject matter of Eloise and Chris? A. (Richard) I can only tell you what I see – not what a person trained in art and art history would comment on – but my mother and nephew clearly come from different generations, and not adjacent generations. Some differences between their work, reflect the 60 to 70 years between their careers. They both have a certain formalism in their work, but it is revealed quite differently in each. Chris uses formal shapes in his pottery, almost classical in many ways. My mother’s early work was formal portraits and still life paintings, probably reflecting the training of her professors. Despite this formalism, the art programs in the Big Ten, where she was trained, were not regarded by some of the East Coast schools as sufficiently grounded in the academic tradition. Chris’s decorations – and his graphic works – build on formal curve and line combinations in a free form way. Some of my mother’s works from the 1950s are pared down combinations of the same elements. Chris’s comments about his own work indicate that he starts from a simple idea and improvises on it until he is satisfied with the result. He admits the possibility of unexpected results. My mother seems to have had a mood or a message in mind and designed the whole piece to convey that feeling through shape and color. A. (Chris Casey) The Generations theme is significant to me both because I grew up surrounded by Eloise’s art and more importantly because, as the only other practicing visual artist in my family, she provided a precedent for pursuing a life (of) making art. Her abstract works were my favorites growing up and they’ve undoubtedly had an impact on the work I make currently. I believe the biggest difference between the art world she existed in and the one I inhabit is the incredible power of the digital age and the access to resources and exposure it can provide.
Q. Do you believe the artists in this show were/are influenced by the world around them, and if so, in what ways? A. (Richard) My mother was influenced by the natural world of scenery, objects, and people and by the social and political forces of her time. Her earliest works reflect the Pre World War I training of her major professors and are rather academic. The work she produced while studying in Europe at the start of World War II are much more contemporary than academic, even reflecting some of the ideas current in Germany at the time. By the 1950s she had evolved into a much looser style, focused on people and places familiar to her. Psychological and political influences started showing up in her work in that decade and in the 1960s. Chris’s sensibility is much more modern. He was very into computer games and computer game design at one point, and his work clearly comes from his generation’s experience. He uses lasers and computer graphics – tools not available to my mother. A. (Chris Casey) I’d say I’m more influenced by technology in general over video games, especially these days. I try to embrace technology in any way I can whether it be through software like Photoshop or through hardware like 3D printers. However, as an abstract artist, I do make a conscious effort to exclude overt portrayals of people and objects in my art. I see the function of my art more as an escape, a place to rest, than as a critique of modern life.
Q.Eloise was your mother; Chris is your nephew. Chris never had the experience of knowing his grandmother, but grew up knowing about her art. As curator of this show, did that influence the work you chose for exhibit? A. This is going to be a 50-50 show, in that it features two artists, and two different sensibilities in the curating. Chris is representing himself. How much he is influenced by his grandmother’s work may, or may not, show up in how he selects his work. My mother has no choice but to be represented by my selections. I grew up with many of these paintings and have had 45 years to reinterpret them since her death.
Chris grew up living in a house that featured his grandmother’s art and visiting his grandfather at the family home here in Las Vegas where her art was always on the wall. I’ve been preparing for my mother’s part of this show for more than 15 years now, photographing and cataloging her work. My wife, Susan, knew my mother and has known her art for more than 50 years. She helps me choose and steers me away from my prejudices. Chris has witnessed this process over time and with varying degrees of interest. I suspect he has taken some aspects of his grandmother’s art to heart.
Q. This is personal for you. Does that make it harder or easier to select the works that reflect the artists? A. My mother died when she was 56, and without getting to the point in her artistic career when it was time to start thinking of a retrospective show. I don’t have very many clues as to which pieces she would have chosen for such a show, so I have to make my own choices for the most part. I’ve lived for a long time deciding what I like and don’t like without her guidance, so I don’t labor over the choosing anymore.
Q.You grew up watching your mother create. What would you want people to know about her that reflects who she was as an artist? A. Art has to stand on its own merits subject to ever-evolving public tastes, but many people are fascinated about the hardships some artists face and about psychological factors that might have influenced their work. I am keenly aware of how the duties of raising a family affected my mother’s career; how the male domination of the profession limited her opportunities, and still limits the opportunities of women artists; and how her poor health limited her energy for producing art and shortened her career. Her weakened lungs and circulation forced her to give up painting in oils and drawing in pastels, but she moved on to other media. Life was not easy for her as an artist, but she was driven to create and she kept at it as long as she could.
Q.Chris seems to have an eye for form and movement in his sculpture; his 2-D work reflects the same. In selecting work for the Generations show, did you want the two generational bodies of work to complement or contrast and why? A. If there is a point to be made in presenting Chris’s work and his grandmother’s in a single show, it will be made by the art itself. The show may reveal continuities that only a joint show would uncover. It may reveal previously unseen discontinuities caused by time or temperament. Once the show is up, we can all judge for ourselves.
Q.When will the show be up and will there be an opening reception? A. The show will be from April 2 to April 29, 2016, with an artist’s reception on Sunday, April 10 from 2 to 5 p.m. Normal gallery hours are Tue., Wed., Thu. and Sat/ 1-4 p.m. and Fri. 1-7 p.m. Call the Arts Council at (505) 425-1085 to confirm hours.
This is the first time a significant number of my mother’s pieces has been exhibited in Las Vegas in nearly 50 years. It is the first time Chris’s work has ever been exhibited in Las Vegas. And it is the only time their work has been shown together. That makes the show unique times three. All the work is of high quality and visually stimulating – and all of it will be for sale!
Note: I don’t have names of the people in these photos, but they were having as much fun as we were at the “Wine and Paint” event held on Saturday at the El Fidel Restaurant. Lots of interpretations and lots of laughs.
More years ago than I want to remember I took painting lessons. I gave up because I could tell right away that “great artist” wasn’t something anyone would ever call me. Not even “mediocre artist.” Bob, who was far more talented than me, took lessons as well, back when he was in the Army. He should have stuck with it, but that whole thing of being an optometrist got in the way. He concentrated on his patients and didn’t pick up a paint brush again until recently, when he started taking lessons from gifted artist Duffy Peterson.
So, along comes this thing called “Wine and Paint,” a fund raiser for the Media Arts Club at Highlands. It looked like fun and a neat way to support a worthwhile organization. And it was something we could do together. So we paid the very small fee ($35 per person with all the supplies provided), and entered into “Wine and Paint,” with a boatload of trepidation. Would every one there be a really good artist? How would it work? Would we be the only “mature” (okay, old) people there?
From the minute we arrived our concerns disappeared like a bad painting under a thick coat of gesso.
It was just plain fun. We were the only – ahem – older folks there, but the HU students and one HU prof and his wife made up a congenial group.
We found out pretty quickly the instructions were simple; the application perhaps not so much, but it was fun anyway. We laughed. We complimented each other. We ordered wine and food. We painted. We laughed.
The El Fidel Restaurant staff members were gracious and the food was yummy. Not every one ate. Bob and I had the fondue with bread and apples. It was fantastic! The wine and food where not part of the fee, but all in all, it was an evening of entertainment for very little cost.
We learned two important lessons (or at least I did, Bob probably already knew both): water is your friend, and you write with your wrist, you paint with you elbow. Okay, if you don’t get it, all I can say is you had to be there.
In the end we all came up with a variation on the painting we were recreating, or interpreting. One person who said she didn’t much like cats, painted stylized flowers using the color palette provided. Another did gargoyles.
Bob said his cats looked like they’d been out all night and had a time of it. I said we should title the painting, “We might look like we’ve been in a cat fight, but we won!” I have to say his cats and my cats sort of resemble us. His were thin and scrappy, mine – umm – plump and complacent.
We asked Angela Meron, the instructor and an assistant professor in Media Arts at Highlands, to let us know when the club has another event. We want to be there.
This is not the only paint-a-painting in a single session opportunity in Las Vegas. Melody Perez of Running Horses Studio has a similar program. Paint Out is designed for beginners and first time painters, with full instruction and all materials supplied. To find out more about Melody’s great opportunities check out her website at www.runninghorses.org. We will likely do one of her classes soon.
For us, the main thing is to enjoy life, and this painting thing is one way to do it. Now we have two – hmmm – rather interesting paintings to show for our experience, and you know what? Every time we look at them, we smile.
My friend Meredith Britt is among the artists taking part in the Second Invitational New Mexico Painters Exhibition at Kennedy Hall on the campus of New Mexico Highlands University. The show will be up beginning Sept. 6 and run through Oct. 16, with the reception to be held from 4-7 p.m. on opening day.
Meredith is one of my favorite people. I thank her for kindly answering my questions and allowing me to feature her in this blog about the show. Her dry sense of humor makes me smile; her work lets me know how important art is to her.
She said about painting: “I’ve always painted. I’ve considered painting my main focus since I was 29 when I went back to school and changed my major to art.
“‘Formally trained’ sounds like I’m housebroken, which I am. I’ve been to obedience school too,” she replied to the question about whether she is self-taught. “Art kind of teaches you, whether you’re in school or not. As long as you’re making art, art is the teacher.”
In addition to painting Meredith does beautifully created collage art in vibrant colors with amazing detail. “I got started with collages just playing around with colored paper and glue stick when we had the Community Art Center by the bridge. Both mediums are so malleable – you really can’t go wrong. The artist always gets to play god.”
She refers to the artistic style of her painting and collages as Britt Realism. I can see that. There is subtle simplicity and power in her work.
Of the five bold-image paintings she submitted for consideration, three were chosen.
“The pieces I picked for the show sort of go together because they are all large-scale still lifes: an ice cream cone, a toaster, and a thermos with two cups and saucers. They all sort of relate to food so there’s another thread. I also entered a painting of a chair and one of the women’s room in the Highlands art building. Those didn’t get in. Maybe the curator was hungry. On another note, I seriously hope my work gives people some joy or helps them remember there’s a bigger picture. Nothing is as it seems.”
I asked Meredith what three things she wanted people to know about her as an artist.
“I want people to know that I believe art is everything; that I hope to inspire others to make art without judgment; and that I no longer think about the fact that I’m the world’s greatest artist.”
Meredith’s work can be seen at el Zócalo Gallery, 1809 Plaza in Las Vegas, an art space she is proud to share with others.
“Eleven of us members own it cooperatively. It’s one of the best things that ever happened to me. It’s a beautiful place and we all get along well. Everyone is invited to come see us – we’re open every day. I’ve been in galleries in Santa Fe and Taos, but I don’t need them now that I have el Zócalo.”
For more information about the Second Invitational New Mexico Painters Exhibition at Kennedy Hall, click here to read an article by Margaret McKinney.
What: Second Invitational New Mexico Painters Exhibition at Kennedy Hall Where: Kennedy Hall Art Gallery Dates: Sept. 6 – Oct. 16 Opening Reception: 4-7 p.m., Sept. 6 Cost: Free
These are a few snapshots from the People’s Faire. It was a perfect day. There were many booths and lots of bargains. The atmosphere was relaxing and interesting. As usual I saw lots of folks I hadn’t seen in a while so it was worth its weight in gold to reconnect. A couple of young men (teenagers?) were playing live while I was there. They had a powerful sound and were really talented.
I bought a couple of Christmas presents for friends. I also snagged a treat for me for only – get this – $7. A multi-strand necklace and two pairs of earrings. That’s right, folks – $7. I asked if that wasn’t a mistake and the very lovely artist who created the pieces said she was moving inventory because she wanted to retire. Believe me, I wouldn’t have strung those tiny beads for $70!
It was a great way to spend a couple of hours and the best part is that I got some great photos.
I just want to thank the Las Vegas Arts Council for its dedication to the arts and artisans of Las Vegas and the area. This covers a lot of territory and includes the visual experience through exhibits, as well as writing and performance.
I heard once that there are more than 100 artists in this area. I suspect there are more than that. They are as important to our economy as the local businesses that invest in our community. Creating art is not only a joy, the artist is an entrepreneur, their commodity is the work they create. Support local artists. Buy original work for yourself and as gifts for family and friends.
Today I saw lots of handmade jewelry, ceramics, woodcrafts in a variety of styles, paintings, wearable fabric art, and much, much more. Many of these folks show in local galleries or participate in coop galleries. When you buy something from a local artist you are purchasing something unique and showing your appreciation for their work.
There were a number of nonprofits at the People’s Faire as well. One particular upcoming event caught my eye. On Sept. 27 from 12 noon to 4:30 p.m. the Friends of the National Wild Life Refuge will be sponsoring the 11th Annual Concert for the Birds. It’s a family friendly event with outdoor games, art projects for kids of all ages, a hayride, and more. The concert performed by the Mystic Lizards is from 3 to 4:15 PM. Put it on your calendar and plan to attend.
So, that’s how I spent my Saturday. I hope your day was as grand and pleasant as mine.
This week a parcel was delivered that was addressed to my late mother—Beverly (Downer) Querry Corbett. My mother died September 24, 2011 of natural causes in Oklahoma City, a few days before her 89th birthday.
Born October 4, 1922, in Norman, Oklahoma, to Ruth A. Downer, an Original Enrollee of the Choctaw Nation, and to Pierce A. Downer, my mother spent much of her early childhood on my grandmother’s allotted land near Newcastle, Oklahoma. Our family always called it “Choctaw Place.”
The parcel was accompanied by a letter from Chief Gary Batton. In it, Chief Batton honored my mother for her years of wisdom and her service with a beautiful “Wisdom Blanket.” I speak for her three children when I say that our mother was always proud of her Choctaw heritage and would have been deeply moved by this tribute.
I believe that my mother would have liked you to know about her family—to know things that should be remembered. I believe she would have asked me, as her eldest son, to tell you.
It was, I suppose, in first or second grade that I was first required to commit to memory and to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, the Lord’s Prayer, and the names of the Five Civilized Tribes. Only later did it occur to me that not every young scholar in the United States was so well versed in exactly which five tribes were deemed “civilized” as were my classmates and I at Andrew Johnson Elementary in suburban Oklahoma City. I assumed that fresh young people all across America pledged and prayed and chanted “Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Creek, Seminole” just as proudly and as loudly as did I.
I am very light-skinned—over the past couple of decades I have spent a good deal of time and money having skin cancer and pre-cancerous lesions removed, mostly from my face. My hair color has transitioned from orange (when I was born, I’m told), to white-blond (as a kid reciting things in elementary school), to reddish-brown (high school and Marine Corps), to raccoon-like multi-colored, to gray. (I do not mind that my hair is gray. A former Principal Chief of the Choctaw Nation told me once that I shouldn’t mind what my hair turned, just as long as it didn’t turn loose.) My eyes are blue.
To see a photograph of my mother as a young girl you would not likely question her Indian-ness. The same applies with increasing certainty to my grandmother, to her father, to his father (the latter I understand to have sported braids and, when astride a horse and under the influence of strong drink which was not unusual, would frighten women and children—and while that story may not be entirely accurate, I hope that it is), and, I trust, on back to a Choctaw woman named Otemansha, peace be upon her.
The Dawes Commission was organized in 1893 to establish a Roll of American Indians residing in Indian Territory between 1899 and 1907.
My late grandmother Ruth Adella Foster is listed Number 15,137 as of March 26, 1904, on the Dawes Commission Rolls as an “Original Enrollee” of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. As are her father and her two older brothers—her mother is enrolled as an “I.W.” or “Intermarried White.” My grandmother had a younger brother who was born after the Rolls had closed and so, to his eternal dismay, was not considered an Original Enrollee. E.A. Foster, Jr., was his name—we knew him as “Uncle Manny”—and he researched exhaustively the Foster family lineage, to wit:
My four-greats grandmother was referred to generally in documents I possess as, “the Choctaw woman, wife of William Foster” in Mississippi. In a couple of documents of court proceedings, she is called “O-Te-Man-Sha,” which I presume was a phonetic attempt to spell her Choctaw language name.
Otemansha was of the “Sixtown” Tribe or Clan of Choctaw Indians. Oklahoma Historian Angie Debo says that “Sixtown Indians, Okla Hannali, spoke a distinctive dialect, tattooed blue marks around their mouths, and were shorter and heavier in build than the other Choctaws.” (Debo, The Rise and Fall of the Choctaw Republic, 1934, p.20)
When Andrew Jackson determined that the Southeastern Tribes should be removed from their homelands to what is now Oklahoma, so as to better facilitate the white folks who wanted more land, it was the Choctaw Tribe that was chosen to be among the first to go on what they called The Long Sad Walk. Those upstart Cherokees with their Trail of Tears came later. I understand that the Choctaws were chosen to be the first removed because they were deemed least likely to protest—they had already begun to assimilate and there were farmers and store-keepers and teachers among them.
There were, to be sure, different levels of assimilation. I remember one of my uncles telling about how our Choctaw ancestor, Otemansha, had held an important position in the Sixtown Clan back in Mississippi—that she had been a “Bone Picker.” At the time I didn’t know what a Bone Picker was and I don’t recall that my uncle told me. Had he done so, I feel certain that as a young boy I would have remembered so gruesome were the duties of that high office in Choctaw culture. If Otemansha were a “Bone Picker,” she was, indeed, an honored person and would have performed important duties in the funerary practices of her community at the time. She would likely have had distinctive tattoos that identified her position and her thumb and index fingernails would have been long and thick. For when a Choctaw Indian died, he or she was wrapped securely in robes and placed upon a wooden scaffold near the house and left to rot for a number of months. When the appropriate time had passed the “Bone Picker” came and removed what flesh remained on the deceased’s bones by using his or her fingernails. The bones were then placed in boxes and stored in a “Bone House” until such time as there were enough bones from the community to bury in a mound. To be sure, I have no real evidence that I am descended from “Bone Pickers”—only a story told by a long deceased uncle. But I hope the story was true. I like thinking of this woman without whom I would/could never have been born—I like thinking about her place in her community.
In preparation for Removal, in September of 1830, at a place near what is now Philadelphia, Mississippi, the making and signing of the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek took place. The Choctaw tribe ceded almost eleven million acres and agreed to remove to Indian Territory in what is now Southeastern Oklahoma. Among the nearly two-hundred signatories of that Treaty appear the signatures of my ancestors, brothers William and Hugh Foster, and the “X” of their brother Thomas.
Choctaws who wished to remain in Mississippi were offered 640 acres of land and Mississippi citizenship if they would sign up with Indian Agent William Ward. Colonel Ward, as it turned out, was not an honest man. When the deadline came for signing on to what is known as Ward’s Register, only sixty-nine heads of Indian families had done so. Otemansha was one of thirty full-blood Indians to sign; her sons James, William, and Hugh Foster (the latter two having also signed the Dancing Rabbit Creek Treaty, you’ll recall) were three of twenty-four so-called “half-breeds”; fifteen of the signers were white men with Choctaw wives. (Clara Sue Kidwell, The Choctaws in Oklahoma)
Possibly owing to the fact that traditional Choctaw people, when they moved or relocated, were bound by tradition to take the bones of their ancestors with them, Otemansha refused ever to leave her Mississippi home, as did her son James, who is my three-greats grandfather. James died in Mississippi in 1833 at about the age of twenty-eight. Otemansha died some four years later and is buried near the Pearl River. Hugh Foster was reportedly “killed by a white man” and is buried at Skullyville, Oklahoma.
The Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, which was ratified by Congress February 25, 1831, promised, among other things, autonomy of “the Choctaw Nation of Red People and all their descendants [emphasis mine]” to be secured from laws of U.S. states and territories forever.
I like knowing that I am a direct descendant of a woman who may have used her fingernails to scrape clean the bones of dead people.
Ron Querry is a renowned author of two novels about contemporary American Indian life in the southwest, non-fiction works, and countless articles in magazines and newspapers. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org