Blue Doors of Taos

I’ve been collecting “blue door” photos since I moved to Taos last spring. The Taos Pueblo is a dream place for this and I made a special trip there expressly to take photos last October. It’s not news that there’s a tradition behind the blue doors and windows panes, gates and shutters. Old grandmothers (abuelas) will say they are meant to keep out evil.

This blue door is a landmark for finding my house. It faces the turn onto Maestas Road in Talpa. This door was my color reference when I decided to paint my doors early last summer (w/landlord’s permission, of course). And that brings up the question of getting the blue color right. Paint stores are not much help but if you take a photo of a door you like and submit it to them they will match it. Researching this blog on the internet I found that in Santa Fe there is a paint store that will sell you “Azul de Taos” paint, Big Jo True Value Hardware. They claim to supply the blue paint for the downtown historic and government buildings in Santa Fe.

Here’s a snapshot of my painted blue doors. For privacy I painted on the inside of the glass panes also, using the same paint for one of my colors. This is done with acrylic or latex based paints that are water soluble.

Also, I forgot to say that the owners of Big Jo in Santa Fe recommend that the blue paint be a matte type so the painted surface is not shiny. A technical detail, but one that this blog welcomes. We aim to cover the topic thoroughly. And by the way, I got this info about Big Jo from an online article taken from SuCasa magazine. They are experts on traditional design for New Mexico homes I believe.

This is the top of a door in downtown Santa Fe, the entrance to Father Sky & Mother Earth Gallery and Espresso. I would patronize them just to walk through this door and I also love the business name.

Also while scanning the internet for insights into the “blue door” mystique I found a blog by a man from New Mexico (now living abroad). In his 2008 blog on the same subject he claims that blue doors are a “tradition brought by the Spanish, originating in the Middle East, India, or further abroad.” They’re…”meant to keep the home free of malignant spirits…” A comment left on his blog from a reader said she had seen a lot of blue doors and shutters in Morocco while there.

I believe this was taken last summer on traditional Ledoux Street in Taos. I love the way the blue gate offers a view into the courtyard, letting you see the beckoning blue door beyond.

Well, needless to say I like blue doors. Some will even suggest that their sky blue color is associated with the Virgin Mary and offer her protection as well. One thing we’re all in agreement on is that the sky at high elevation places like Taos and Santa Fe is intensely blue. I’ll only add that the blue color looks aesthetically pleasing next to the warm tones of adobe. Amen.

Comanches Dance on New Year’s

It was around noon on New Year’s Day and I was driving along through Talpa on the 518 looking for some sign of the Comanche dancers. In luck, I approached a line of vehicles going the opposite way, headed by a truck with young feather-groomed people in the back. I pulled off the road and turned to join the line of cars and trucks. Following suit I pulled over and parked, got out and walked following those ahead of me. Everyone walked down this road to a residence. By the time I got there the drumming and dancing had begun and several photographing spectators were taking their shots.

What diversity of age and costumes here! Not to mention a great spirit of participation. These dancers and drummers started out at the St. Francis church in Ranchos de Taos at sunrise (around 7:30). The tradition is to dance from dawn to sunset on New Year’s Day. One could likely write a book explaining what this is all about and probably someone has. I found an article online that appeared in the 07/08 print issue of Ski Country magazine that I will offer as a link. It seemed to tell the story better than I could.

Here’s my short version:

Before the Spanish and Mexican colonists arrived in New Mexico there was a mix of Pueblo Indians and the wilder Plains nomadic type natives like the Comanches and the Apaches, to name a few. There were even some trappers and such in the mix. The Comanches (and Apaches) had horses before anyone else and they were, well, warlike and dominating in their ways. When it seemed a good idea to them they would steal from anyone, food or people as needed. So there was conflict in the region even before the Spanish and Mexican colonists arrived. Kidnapping and hostage taking was common and led to a blurring of original identity. In present time those living in the towns of Llano Quemado, Ranchos de Taos and Talpa participate in these Comanche dances in a spirit of reconciliation among those involved in past struggles.

I walked over to the west edge of the property and took this photo looking across a flood plain over to the town of Llano Quemado. The three towns, Talpa, Ranchos and Llano form a kind of horse shoe shape around this depression. The Rio Chiquito, which runs along near where I live flows into this area and eventually into the Rio Pueblo (which flows through the Taos Pueblo) and naturally ends up in the Rio Grande.

I drove around to Llano Quemado and took this photo looking east toward Taos. The residents of Llano get some great views of the Taos mountains. As you can see from the photos we’ve had some snow and it’s cold enough that it’s staying around. The high today was supposed to be below freezing, in the upper 20s. Still it was clear and bright, a sparkly day for starting a new year with optimism. I hope this blog will inspire many of you to do some independent research on the origins of this Comanche dancing tradition. I read that there is a resurgence of attention and energy going into its celebration in recent history and I can only say that I felt that in my limited participation today.

On my way home I noticed this group dancing in front of the Talpa church (which has services once a month). Turns out this was a different group. I had heard there was more than one.

Just before sunset I was sitting near a window where I could see the setting sun, and heard the unmistakable sound of drumming. I went outside to determine how close it was and which direction. As I stepped out the sound of the drums mixed with the crow of a rooster (from next door). I thought to myself, “where am I?” But I was pleased to be there wherever “there” was. Once the sun set the drums stopped, signaling the end of this year’s Los Comanches dance.

Taos Folk. @ Stables Gallery

Once again the Stables Gallery marches into the spotlight of my Taos blog with another compelling art event, a holiday market of local crafts. It claims that everything is made by Taos “hands and hearts.” They even have a website! The story is that four women got together and conceived the idea and this is their first attempt at such a project. There is talk about doing it again next year.

I apologize for not identifying the artists who made the objects I photographed. I just wanted to share my enthusiasm for the quality and the diversity I found there. You’ll have to go there to figure it out. Also I might add that the arrangement of the space, including the craft objects, was the work of a woman in the interior design profession. It really shows.

After the strenuous adventure of having a booth for three days at the Taos Yuletide fair over the Thanksgiving weekend I was looking around town for a place to sell my own holiday crafts. The owner of Moxie, Katie Thomas, recommended I go over to the Stables Gallery and show the organizers of Taos Folk what I had. This meeting went very well and I am now part of it. I’m selling mostly encaustic tree ornaments and cards. So all the more reason to visit this lively holiday market.

Now I’ve never had a buckwheat neck pillow but these beauties in silk made it look like a very attractive idea.

The woman who seems to be taking the role of leader among the organizers is Georgia Page. She can be reached at 613-3697. I found all the women working there to be very upbeat and dedicated to their inspired project. They offer to gift wrap and also had gift baskets and/or stockings available for stuffing. And what better way to both enjoy local products and know you were supporting local crafts people? On a couple of occasions I was there for over an hour, attaching price stickers and adding my own product tags. Both times I heard praise from shoppers for the aesthetics of the space and the high quality of the crafts. Very positive energy. It’s really a celebration of the creativity inspired by the season.

And so, you might ask, what’s the big deal here? Yes, I’m devoting an entire blog to one art event. For me it has been very emotionally nurturing to both see this high quality show and to be accepted into the unofficial association of Taos craft-makers.

Taos Folk is not designed for tourists! According to Georgia they will likely never find this venue as they seem to have problems locating Stables Gallery. Thus this is more of a locals event. And I hope that helps as a description without insulting anyone reading this blog. Tourists would certainly be welcome and appreciated!

One of my offerings, a Corn Mother tree ornament. There are also ornaments designed as hearts, a “true heart” angel and a spiral hand.

Train Stop for Taos

A week ago I had just stepped onto the scene pictured here as the engine of the train zoomed by me. I managed to get this shot while the train was still moving. This is the Lamy (near Santa Fe) stop on the Amtrak train that starts in Los Angeles and ends up in Chicago. It passes through Flagstaff, AZ, and Albuquerque on its way (and other places in between).

The friend I was meeting had started out in Oceanside, CA, traveled north to Los Angeles where he changed onto this train. His ticket cost $90 (one way). If you’re thinking “green” and have the time, trains could be a good thing. And I won’t mention the stories we hear about the strangeness of today’s airline travel.

This photo was taken as we were leaving Lamy. It suggests that the town has seen better days and a much larger population. I believe Wikipedia said there are 100 or so people living there now. I got the impression it was a bustling little place at the turn of the 20th Century.

I drove there from Taos in just under 2 hours. You pass through Santa Fe on St. Francis Drive until you reach the connector to Highway 25 heading to Las Vegas. After a while there is a turn off to the south that leads down to Lamy. But keep your eyes peeled for the small sign. It feels like you are in the middle of nowhere, but once you pass this church you can see the train station ahead. The next time I drive there it won’t be so suspenseful.

After participating in the Taos Christmas crafts fair for the three days after Thanksgiving I drove over for a soak at Ojo Caliente Hot Springs. You pass this road just before going over the bridge that marks the entrance. I had taken photos of this same scene a month ago when the trees were full of yellow leaves, so stopped to see how it had changed. I think I may like this photo even more, as it reveals the strong curving patterns in the branches.  It would also be beautiful with snow.

That Monday was one of those Taos-style “weathery” days with lots of clouds moving around creating pockets of light snow one minute and sunshine the next. It was cold for sure. On the drive back from the hot springs I stopped for this shot of the sugar frosted Taos mountains as I was approaching the West Rim Road. What can I say? It’s a spectacular gift to live in this inspiring landscape.

A cropped version of a recent painting (Two Ravens–Rio Grande).

First Snow of the Season

The third week in November and presto, SNOW. I hadn’t been watching the weather or anything so it came as a delightful surprise. Yes, it was a cold and cloudy day. I was staying home as usual, working on painting the Goddess altars I’m going to sell at the upcoming Yuletide arts and crafts fair. I was drawn out of the house by the opportunity to photograph the unexpected change in the scenery around my house.

I particularly liked this photo as these big trees had leaves only a couple of days ago. Without the snow caps on the fence this wouldn’t be much of a story. Cameras love snow!

These are Siberian Elms and I have very mixed feelings about them. On one hand they remind me of the great elm trees that dominated the city lot of my childhood home. Dutch Elm Disease eventually killed all of them. It’s hard for me to picture that house now without the trees.

Still, these are not the elms of my childhood. They are an invasive and aggressive type of elm that is thriving in this region. If you live near them, like I do, you end up weeding out thousands of little seedlings that sprout up wherever there’s water, soil and sun, like in my garden. Arrgg.

This was taken the day after the snow fell. Also a cold day and thus this remnant clinging to the north side of the sunflower all morning. I love the graceful arch of the plant adjusting to the weight of the flower as it matured and then seeded, gaining weight along the way.

I just realized that the Winter Solstice (December 21st) is only a month and a few days away from now. We are really experiencing the darkest time now and through the month of January. Because we had a long autumn season here with plenty of warm days and a late ending for the gardens, winter seems suddenly decisive. There is an excitement to it, a fresh sharpness to the focus, a call for alertness about staying warm and safe. The living is not so easy now.

I also shot this the day after the snow, just before dusk. I looked out the window and there was the moon seemingly captured in the web of the elm’s branches. I’ve been thinking about the phrase, “web of life,” lately as a theme for a painting. This photo captures the gesture of the concept. Without the leaves on the trees now the sky can come through. I find I like looking at the branches, the beauty of their form, held up against the ever-changing sky that is so compelling here.

Sunday will be the Full Moon in Taurus, just catching the last degree of Scorpio opposing it. And the next day, Monday, the 22nd, the Sun moves onward to Sagittarius.

Kali–the subject of two of my new Goddess altars.

The Taos Pueblo Revisited

The occasion was the visit of an old friend who asked for my advice on things to see in Taos. I’ve been wanting to visit the Taos Pueblo ever since I arrived last May, but the time just never felt right. My last visit there was 6 or 7 years ago and I arranged my trip from Idaho to coincide with a Corn Maiden ceremony in the month of May. I had been very touched by the experience and grateful the people of the Pueblo allowed visitors to attend their obviously sacred ceremonies. This first photo shows the active Catholic church which stands near the entrance.

Just past the church we started to loop around the main “square” with a turn to our left. Immediately I spotted a man in the distance obviously building an adobe oven (horno). At first he seemed merely tolerant of a couple of “tourists” slowing down his concentration with their interest. But after some exchanges he seemed more willing to engage in an honest way about himself and his techniques for working with the clay. He introduced himself as Martin Romero, a potter. Apparently you have to go slow with the process to give the thick “bricks” of clay time to solidify before adding layers as you work upward. This horno had been under construction already for a week. For a small exchange he let me take this, and several other photos.

One feature of the Taos Pueblo that particularly interests me is their water which flows directly from the Sangre de Christo mountains rising to the east over it. The water is uncontaminated, thus usable for drinking. In today’s world this is basically unheard of–to know (see) where your water comes from and be able to use it just as it comes from nature. The river flows through the middle of the Pueblo bisecting it into two halves separated also by a large open space which allows for large gatherings of people during festival times. The next such time is around Christmas. Red Willows grow along the sides of the stream and there is an association between the plant name and the word, Taos.

This may be my favorite photo of all. Perhaps it qualifies for the Wabi-Sabi award, although if I think about it in those terms, the entire Taos Pueblo expresses that aesthetic (see a former blog about Wabi-Sabi). In brief Wabi-Sabi speaks to our longing for the rustic, for that textured aspect of beauty that clearly shows the effects of time, its movement  toward the eventual death or dissolution of all forms. It is a reminder of our personal mortality and there is both a sadness in it and an acceptance of it as truth, thus an authentic quality to its beauty.

I grew up in Oklahoma and as a child learned first-hand that the native people of our country had been, for the most part, abused and demoralized. It was obvious to my child’s mind that they were in the way of our country’s so-called-progress and it would have been convenient if they had all perished one way or another. Sadly, my dad, who must have been insecure, enjoyed reading aloud clips in the newspaper about deaths and other mishaps that occurred on the nearby reservations ostensibly due to drink. Meanwhile our well-endowed library (built on oil money) had beautiful displays of native crafts and artifacts. So there was a split for me. Indians were great and wise artists at some time in their past, but the ones still alive in Oklahoma were mostly poor and dispensable.

I am here in Taos to experience the other side of the story, not a perfect story, but a better one. Already I see the ancestors of oppressed natives here producing great art and honoring their traditions knowing they might have the best relationship to Mother Earth of all of us.

Santa Fe Day Trip

En route to pick up my friend at the downtown shuttle stop I ran into a halt of traffic for this commuter train. It’s called the Rail Runner Express and there were lots of cars on it. Not connected to Amtrack, this train can bring you right into the heart of Santa Fe from the airport in Albuquerque (and back) if you time it right. Sure sounds like more fun than a ride in a shuttle van. Fortunately mine was the first car at the intersection so I could get this photo.

Walking from the shuttle stop to the Plaza we passed this corner cafe/gallery. Loved the name, first of all. The photo is catching lots of window reflections so has the effect of a collage.  We walked by it again on the way back to the car and decided to go inside Friday when we return to Santa Fe. More shall be revealed…

Here I’m shooting into the same window but isolating the painted clouds, the row of windows and myself. Like a dream image. I was feeling pretty happy to be with my friend, to have found a place to park. I was on “Cloud Nine.” It had been a couple of months since my last trip out of Taos, other than over to Ojo Caliente, so that added to the excitement.

This amazing small painting was in the window of the Mother Earth & Father Sky gallery/cafe. The mosiac of material (abalone shell?) seems to have been overprinted with the Guadalupe image, but the effect was pure magic. As you change your angle of reference so do the colors. It felt alive and the essence of beauty! My friend and I were equally appreciative and entranced.

Heading back to Taos we stopped at the bridge over to Embudo Station. The cottonwoods are glowing with their yellow leaves all along the Rio Grande. We were getting back to Taos a little later than planned and losing the light. Still I was determined to show her the road along the gorge from Pilar, always so inspiring to me. A visit to the Mother?

There was still light for the river to reflect and so the day’s pattern of capturing reflections with the camera continued. Which begs the question: are reflections real? What is real, really? All I can offer is that I seem to be finding reflections more these days with my camera-eye than ever before. Perhaps they offer a better mirror for what I am experiencing as real (more a view from the inner world?). Moving to Taos can have strange effects on people I’ve heard. Could be worse.

Waxing Moon rising over the east rim at sunset

Seeds–the Taos Art Show

Last Friday I attended a popular art exhibition titled “SEED 2” at The Stables Gallery.  The photo shows the entrance to the courtyard leading to the gallery. The last time I was in this attractive courtyard it was full of  artists and spectators during the afternoon Quick Draw event (see my blog). As you can guess both events were sponsored by the Taos Center for the Arts. The SEED show, now in its second year, even has its own website,

My favorite piece was this mixed media painting by Katie Woodall. She had several pieces that I thought were a glorious celebrations of this time of year (see my blog, Seeding the Fruitful Darkness). I heard about this show-to-be several months ago and asked if I could submit work but was told it was too late, but I could try for next year. Guess I’ll plan to visit their website and learn the details (linked above).

Claire Long Cote had this concept of tin-can-turtles carrying seeds or seed pods on their backs. There were LOTS of these in one corner. The variety of seeds was impressive and the turtles also were different sizes and shapes. An army of turtles really. I have always loved the symbolism of the turtle representing our earth planet. In this case it seemed like Turtle Mother became an infinitely divided force taking matters into her own “hands” to spread the seeds of new life all over the face of the earth. She was making sure the job was done well, far and wide.

My favorite seed of the season is the ancient and mighty corn. This was taken at the Saturday Farm Market the day after the SEED show opening. By the way you can see the show through October 30.

I have been working on a Corn Mother art piece (below) so currently have a poetic and mythological view of the subject. My choice was to use the Zuni style of depicting her with the front of her body represented as kernels of corn. One story is that a grandmother was able to provide corn each day to her grandsons but it was a mystery to them where she was getting it. Somehow their curious investigations caused the end of the magic, that the corn was coming from her own body. It sounded like something out of “Women Who Run With the Wolves” by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, but I checked and it’s not in there. I found my version online while searching “Corn Mother.”

This is the first of a new series of wood altars I am building. This is the Corn Mother I devised, a composite of corn symbols from a few different cultures. My next one, almost done, is Kuan Yin, and after that I plan a Virgin de Guadalupe and a Black Madonna. These will soon be available through my website (links at the top of this page).

Seeding the Fertile Darkness

This is one of my paintings, The Seed, the first one of a series I painted on a sabbatical in Todos Santos, MX, about 4 years ago. I had no idea how my paintings might look there, but this form sprang up, kind of a cross between a mandala and a yantra, both I had used in the past. It took me awhile to name it The Seed. I wasn’t sure for a while what it was, other than it seemed like the energy I felt where I was, Mexico. I had driven myself there, down the Baja peninsula, a older woman, alone. I was definitely on one of my once-ever-so-often solo adventures.

Toward the end of my stay in Todos Santos I did this painting, based on a real Aztec stone carving. I see it reflecting a shamanic process, the take-apart, meaning your normal order of who you think you are is undone, one way or another.

I bring up these paintings as they both refer to my topic de jour, our entrance into a time in the yearly cycle that points to maximum darkness, the longest night (Winter Solstice). Every phase of the yearly cycle has an energy, a gift for us, but this quarter might be the most challenging for us earthlings. It lacks an upbeat theme and it often seems we try to make up for it with holidays, like Halloween, Thanksgiving and the anticipation of Christmas. Each of these, in their own way, are determined by our culture to be compelling and socially significant. But are they distracting us from the real gift?

This was taken a month ago in the orchard near my house. Clearly rotting fruit (apples?) fallen from the tree above. I’m thinking SEEDS. Now seeds can form any time from early Spring through the Fall, and can come from fruits, vegetables, grasses, weeds, or trees. But Fall is the season I think of when I think “seeds.” Perhaps because I sense a tension in the garden for plants blooming late to hurry up so they can leave behind seeds for the rebirthing of themselves in spring. And so it is with us during this time. We sense the end of a cycle and the need to re-create ourselves. Here attitude is everything. Some of us relish long hours of confinement indoors focused on projects requiring long hours of concentration and focus, hard to come by among the more outwardly busy days of summer.

Being human we find ourselves wanting to expand and grow, like always, only now our attention is free to move inside ourselves. We are painting self-portraits now, not landscapes, looking for the truth about ourselves with the same interest we were just paying the annuals in the garden. We become the landscape, the map, the destination. We are engaged tourists inside our own unique world of stories, memories, aches and pains, unfulfilled longings, unrealized goals. There’s time to sort through ourselves and find some order, some peace with it all, so we can bring ourselves out again to answer the call to start from “seed” anew. And so I suggest we make our “seed of Self” during this quarter, and give it our best loving attention, as though our very lives depended on it.

Ledoux Street

Ledoux Street fulfills a promise for those coming to Taos with a longing for old adobes along a street that offers a sense of a neighborhood in some sweet and slower moving past era. The one-way street is so narrow cars must move slowly. Art is the theme on Ledoux St. for the most part. Some artists have studio/galleries there. It reminds me of Canyon Rd. in Santa Fe, just much shorter. Once a month Ledoux St. has an open house/gallery walk from 3 – 6. There was one last Saturday. I showed up to say hello to my artist friend, Sheila O’Malley, who has the studio in the photo above, located in the courtyard of the old Blumenshein home.

Sheila wasn’t there, but things were hopping at the Rane Gallery nearby. So far this is my favorite Taos art gallery. When you walk in the front door to your right sits Judith Rane at her desk. Her artist husband, Bill Rane, passed away a few years ago and she handles the sale of his remaining work, and prints, along with a couple of beautiful books about him and his work. I have had a few chats with Judith and have found her engaging and always ready to talk about Bill’s work in a way that is intelligent and joyful.

The small gallery space with Bill Rane’s paintings has a door leading to a lovely courtyard and beyond it is another, even larger, space. When I first arrived in Taos last spring, and visited the Rane Gallery, this space was also full of Bill’s paintings. Now Judith Rane has joined up with two other women to form a group called The Three Muses, and their goal is to offer this space to individuals and groups. Last Saturday a group of crafts people were having a 2-day show of work. All the work was beautifully and skillfully made. One could present a class in the space or have a galley show of ones own art. I think the Three Muses would assist you with the promotion of a gallery show. In any case this is a new use of the space and I’m sure they would welcome inquiries or discussions.

Meet the founder of Rickshaw Runners. You don’t have to be in Taos long to see him sailing by with a passenger in the historic part of Taos. Sadly, I didn’t get his name, but he did give me a brochure full of rates and hours and contact info and such. The greatest, if not the most exotic, thing about a rickshaw (also called a pedicab) is that this mode of transportation is GREEN. Imagine a world of bicycle-transportation-only-zones in historic districts of cities (that have such, like Taos and Santa Fe and Albuquerque). Well, anyway, here he was on Ledoux St. that same Saturday, so part of my tour. If you see him stopped somewhere ask for his nice brochure.