Neigh­bors verses neigh­bors

Pasatiempo - - Mixed Media - Jill Batt­son I For The New Mex­i­can

The po­si­tion of poet lau­re­ate has very dif­fer­ent job spec­i­fi­ca­tions de­pend­ing on the coun­try and city or even the time pe­riod in which it ex­ists. His­tor­i­cally, poets lau­re­ate have en­joyed a role in the royal house­hold writ­ing com­mem­o­ra­tive verse. Th­ese days a poet lau­re­ate’s tasks are likely to in­clude cre­at­ing projects that ei­ther re­mind the gen­eral pub­lic how im­por­tant po­etry is or con­vert a new au­di­ence to po­etry. The project that Santa Fe’s sec­ond poet lau­re­ate, Va­lerie Martínez, chose to ini­ti­ate is Lines and Cir­cles: A Cel­e­bra­tion of Santa Fe Fam­i­lies, pre­sented to the city on Fri­day, Jan. 15, at the Santa Fe Arts Com­mis­sion’s Com­mu­nity Gallery in the Santa Fe Com­mu­nity Con­ven­tion Cen­ter.

Lines and Cir­cles is a col­lec­tion of mixed­me­dia art­works and po­ems by 11 Santa Fe fam­i­lies who worked in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Martínez over the course of two years to cre­ate the project. The art­works and po­ems are col­lected in a soft­cover book just pub­lished by Sunstone Press of Santa Fe.

The idea for the project came to Martínez long be­fore she was ap­pointed poet lau­re­ate (in March 2008). “When I was grow­ing up in Santa Fe in the ’ 60s and ’ 70s, ev­ery­body lived in all the neigh­bor­hoods, but they were all mixed— east side, south side— and that’s changed now,” she said. “That’s what struck me most about com­ing back.… There are th­ese in­vis­i­ble lines that sep­a­rate us. I was try­ing to think how to bring peo­ple to­gether with those real chal­lenges.” One of her goals was to en­cour­age pos­i­tive re­la­tion­ships be­tween three gen­er­a­tions of the cho­sen fam­i­lies by hav­ing them work to­gether. She also wanted the art­work and po­ems that came out of the project to en­cour­age a di­a­logue about Santa Fe life. Martínez is one of the core mem­bers of Lit­tle­globe — an arts or­ga­ni­za­tion that uses an in­ter­dis­ci­pli­nary ap­proach to cre­ate com­mu­nity art projects.

Martínez said that al­though many peo­ple tout the Santa Fe land­scape as the city’s rich­est as­set, she sees the peo­ple of Santa Fe— those who are here to stay— as much more pre­cious. “Th­ese peo­ple know its past and present, and they cut, carve, and bur­nish its fu­ture. Their fam­ily lines ex­tend into the past, and the cir­cles they trace, day to day in this city, fash­ion the shim­mer­ing de­sign that is the lifeblood of our com­mu­nity.”

Martínez be­gan the project by pos­ter­ing the city with fly­ers, looking for fam­i­lies with at least three gen­er­a­tions liv­ing in Santa Fe. She even quizzed trades­men and strangers she met about their fam­i­lies and asked whether they would like to be part of the project. Even­tu­ally she set­tled on 16 fam­i­lies, 11 of which made it through the two-year process.

First, Martínez gave the fam­i­lies ques­tion­naires that asked about their tra­di­tions, sto­ries, recipes, and his­to­ries and asked them to cre­ate fam­ily trees. She brain­stormed ideas with each fam­ily about the form their art­work would take. Then she reg­u­larly brought all the fam­i­lies to­gether for dis­cus­sions, fos­ter­ing con­nec­tions and friend­ships be­tween them and iden­ti­fy­ing their com­mon­al­i­ties.

At one meet­ing, Bobbi Gal­le­gos had brought her large and im­pres­sive fam­ily tree, trac­ing her an­ces­tors from Spain to Mex­ico and New Mex­ico. “As she spoke about her fam­ily to the group, Ju­lia Salazar heard fa­mil­iar sur­names,” Martínez said. “When we broke for re­fresh­ments, the two women sat to­gether, looking at the tree, and re­al­ized that they had sim­i­lar Span­ish an­ces­tors, many, many gen­er­a­tions ago.” Martínez, whose own fam­ily is part of the group, gave a more per­sonal ex­am­ple

of the in­ter­sect­ing lines and cir­cles that give the project its name. When Maria Car­doma was looking for work, she saw some men work­ing on the win­dows of a house. “She stopped at Agnes Tru­jillo’s house, who is my grand­mother, and asked her if she could clean up the de­bris,” Martínez re­counts. “She ended up mov­ing in with my grand­mother!”

Maria Car­doma, ma­tri­arch of the Car­doma fam­ily, has lived in Santa Fe for al­most 20 years. She left her chil­dren with her fam­ily in her home­town of Za­cate­cas and came north seek­ing a bet­ter life. She got a job mak­ing tor­tillas in Juárez and saved enough money for a “coy­ote” to take her over the bor­der. Af­ter a gru­el­ing jour­ney, she ended up at a con­ve­nience store on Cer­ril­los Road. Nine mem­bers of the Car­doma fam­ily helped make a mu­ral of Maria’s route to Santa Fe. “Mu­rals are re­ally im­por­tant in Mex­i­can art,” Martínez said. “They knew of the fa­mous mu­ral­ists, like Diego Rivera, and the idea [of a mu­ral] came to them fairly quickly.”

The art­works cre­ated are as di­verse as the fam­i­lies. One of the small­est art­works on dis­play is a chil­dren’s book made by three mem­bers of the Gottlieb Shapiro Bach­man fam­ily who have lived in Santa Fe for 10 years. The book, Lentils and Latkes, tells the story of Meyer Gottlieb, who came to the U.S. from Lithua­nia in 1924 and even­tu­ally be­came a prom­i­nent busi­ness­man in Racine, Wis­con­sin.

Since few of the fam­i­lies had art-mak­ing skills, Martínez called on the ex­per­tise of lo­cal artists to guide them with their in­stal­la­tions, sculp­tures, and paint­ings. Painter Gary My­ers helped the Car­doma fam­ily with the mu­ral, and Jenn Dann, a lo­cal il­lus­tra­tor, helped the Gottlieb Shapiro Bach­man fam­ily re­al­ize their de­sire to have wa­ter­color il­lus­tra­tions in their book. “She cre­ated th­ese child­like draw­ings that re­ally re­sem­bled the fam­ily,” Martínez said. Al­though the book is meant for the en­tire fam­ily, it’s es­pe­cially meant for Si­enna Bach­man, the third gen­er­a­tion of the Santa Fe arm of the fam­ily, as a way to keep the story of her grand­fa­ther alive.

As with all true com­mu­nity art projects, Lines and Cir­cles goes be­yond the process of just mak­ing art. Food is also in­volved. On Satur­day, Jan. 16, at the Com­mu­nity Gallery, the fam­i­lies will talk about their projects, and this will be fol­lowed by a feast of dishes from the fam­i­lies’ recipes.

One of the com­mit­ments that Martínez made to her­self when she be­came poet lau­re­ate was to be a real com­mu­nity poet. She has spent two years con­nect­ing with as many mem­bers of Santa Fe as she could through pub­lic read­ings and events, most of which were free. “I wanted peo­ple to feel the pres­ence of po­etry in the com­mu­nity,” she said. “To feel like their poet lau­re­ate be­longed to them. ... And al­though Santa Fe is my home­town, I’ve learned so much more about it and the peo­ple who live here. The fam­i­lies taught me so much. That’s a re­ally good way to spend two years of my life,” she said.

Right and fac­ing page, il­lus­tra­tions by Jenn Dann from Lentils and Latkes by mem­bers of the Gottlieb Shapiro Bach­man fam­ily

Va­lerie Martínez, up­per right, with mem­bers of the Quin­tana Gal­le­gos fam­ily; photo by Seth Roff­man

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