Neighbors verses neighbors
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