Desert Traditions
…where new journeys into life, tradition & culture begin

It is not raining in Santa Fe

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It is not raining in Santa Fe … although summer thunderstorms are predicted - just as they were last month when clouds suddenly bloomed over the mesa and large drops fell solidly on the stony earth of Ghost Ranch where Georgia O'keefe's feet trod. Hallowed ground in my reckoning. I did kneel down and touch it just in case a footfall had landed for a second. A lone succulent hung out an irridescent signal to passing insects and a rusty iron gate creaked on its hinges. Sometimes lightning hit distant ridges. You could say I was in bliss - and that's where I stayed for a day in my life. I carry etched memories of the artist’s deceptively simple home (no photos allowed) set on a cliff edge and overlooking her iconic vistas, of shadowed adobe walls, deep doorways, the circle of a dark well, a bleached ladder with ten rungs, a black oval stone chosen for its pale concentric rings and placed carefully on a white rock, square pavers laid in symmetrical groups of four and hollyhocks that spiralled upwards in the mid summer garden. Inside the house itself I imagined myself sinking into her plain calico covered couch and assuming her genius for just an instant. We did not sit anywhere. Tour groups being what they are we were kept moving at a carefully calculated pace so that exactly 40 minutes later we were on the minibus back to Abiquiu and a lunch of black bean soup and corn cakes mushy in the middle and crisp on the outside. Cooked to perfection. I had forgotten my penchant for things almost Mexican.

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The Santa Fe Folk Art Market was over by one day and I was overwhelmed by the kind of disbelief that negates the build up that leads to getting there, the anticipation of the unknown, the angst of long distance travel and the wonder of the event itself. So suddenly it was finished. The emptiness like the aftermath of a great meal enjoyed, digested and already eliminated! A mere lingering flavour on the palette of the senses. On a long table in my studio I have laid out brightly coloured beadwork, felting, weaving - mementos that are threaded, knotted, woven, stitched and shaped by hand. With love. I examine each one with respect and weave dreams of being there next year.

There was a moment when I did not know whether I would even make it this time; volcanic ash threatened the flight into and out of Auckland and wild fires raging around Los Alamos threatened our landing in Las Vegas. We managed to sneak in between nature's extremes and my Texas based friend Cynthy and I made our way by car from Vegas to Santa Fe via the Grand Canyon with a disappointing diversion to a meteor crater on the way. We crossed the bottom half of dry Nevada - desert, the entire state of Arizona - fast lanes, faster cars - and desert, we finished half way down New Mexico more deserts. All in less than 2 days which is not bad going for a couple of no longer young women one of whom was living 12 hours out of sync. I did not get the magical images of the Grand Canyon. It was grey, dismal and raining. Not much of a canyon to see in a strange dull blue light although one did feel the yawning immensity. We hung around until sunset without any change in the atmosphere, ate too much wholesome food in a café overlooking the southern rim and then made our way to Flagstaff. The next morning dawned clear and brilliant – a photographer’s dream. We had to press on. Another time. Another day. Grand Canyon will wait.

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But where do I begin the story of an event I had crossed the world to experience – the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market? Do I begin with the oversized Mexican paper flowers and pinatas that flourished over and throughout eight huge marquees containing the vibrant arts of more than one hundred countries? Or do I begin with the sound of drumming, of song and dance, the gathering of voices, of many languages and laughter? Or with the finest indigo from Africa and Thailand, the intricate weavings of Oaxaca, Pakistan, Turkey, Malaysia? With the solid rugs of Bedouin women? The beads of Kenya and South Africa? The fine handwork of India? The skill of tribal silversmiths? The infinite patience of wood carvers? Embroiderers? With the audience of flamboyantly clad men and women from the iconic city of Santa Fe - the love for all things other, for lingering hippiedom, vintage fringing, embroidery and studdedness? With cowboy boots and lined, weathered faces tanned in the New Mexico sun? With the overwhelming confluence of community, creativity and colour? It was all that and more. And it was hard work. Awakened at 5.30 am; fed and on the bus by 6.30 we had our booths cleaned, arranged and ready for the onslaught at 7.30 on the first morning! We enjoyed dinners, dancing and dialogue across many cultures. We shared in each other’s successes and appreciated each and every moment, person and product. We said goodbyes sadly and promised to meet again as travelers do.

I was fortunate to be an invited participant on the booth of friend and collegue, Indian master designer and embroider, Asif Shaikh. Located in the first marquee and sandwiched between Haiti and its papier mache creations and creators and an Uzbekistani maker of fine Islamic tiles we made our beautiful space. We folded, hung and draped an array of handwoven, naturally dyed and intricately embellished items. Each morning I walked past and greeted the very tall African indigo master with his array of heavy hand woven, stitched and dyed deepest-of-blue cotton creations and teased a smile from the taciturn tile maker. On our other side I was daily greeted by flocks of cheeky papier mache Haitian hens and roosters one of which made it home with me where she rules the roost from a perch in my kitchen. Asif's booth offered the finest white on white Chikankari embroidery on gossamer weight handwoven cotton and silk; it offered handwoven vegetable dyed and printed silks embellished with Zamdani and Zardozi (metallic thread and foil ) work and a range of seductive silk georgette saris covered in Chikan work from his studio in Lucknow. These creations were appreciated by all and many lucky customers left the marquee draped in more than one shawl, stole. dupattta or scarf!

In three short days the market was over and tens of thousands of potential buyers flocked through its gates. Dozens of artisans returned home with well earned money and belief in their own work. Santa Fe Folk Art Market is an amazing event that represents the goodness of humanity even in these uncertain times. It stands for human dignity, the celebration of culture and creativity, for peace, justice and equity and it stands for tradition and the efforts of human hands. Some sixteen hundred volunteers made it all happen, smoothly and calmly - they put it up and they took it down; they served meals and looked after the diverse needs of many and showed genuine interest in each and every artisan. I will remember them fondly.

Back in Sydney it does rain. It rains solidly, ceaselessly and gloomily. The surf pounds on the beaches and the ferries do not run. The atmosphere feels a little dangerous. It is a good opportunity to stay indoors and allows me time to feel the textures of bead work from Africa, to admire again the mystical yarn paintings of the Huichol in the Sierra Madres, to review the parade of faces that pass through my mind. It is a good time to reflect on my good fortune and an even better time to reimagine the world.