Sunday, September 22, 2013

Second Mesa

A while ago I picked up one of those glossy Arizona tourism magazines somewhere and dog-eared pages all the way through it. Lots of dog ears for all over the state. But one place was pretty close by and it involved food, so last week a friend and I made a trip north to Hopi Land, on Second Mesa. Just an hour and a half away, pretty much the same distance as going to Show Low, but worlds and cultures apart. 

What drew me there was mention in the magazine of the Hopi Cultural Center's restaurant, which served blue corn pancakes. You might think that based on the photos I took of meals at La Posada in Winslow that I make a habit of photographing food, but that's not necessarily true. I'd love to do it all the time when there's a great meal in front of me, but I usually forget as soon as the plate hits the table and all I think of is digging right in approaching my meal with ladylike gentility. This is the case even when I've taken the camera out and put it in my lap as a reminder. And, alas, it was the case when blue corn pancakes were placed in front of me.

I had an idea they would be coarse, like cornmeal-coarse, but they were not. Light and fluffy and just delicious, they didn't stay on the plate long. Our server told us of two ceremonies involving blue corn that are practiced still, with young women celebrating puberty and their marriage. They are given a quantity of blue corn and it is their duty to grind it into flour. They stay in a room with no outside light until the task is complete. They may have assistance from their mothers or aunts, and they don't have to grind it all by hand, but it must be finished before they can leave the room.

I also ordered blue corn dumplings. Pass on these if they're ever offered to you. I tried hard to like them, adding a little Splenda, but they were more like marbles than dumplings. When the server asked how I liked them it was apparent not much because there were still plenty in the bowl. Then she told me people usually smother them with sugar because they're not flavorful at all. I knew I'd been missing something - lots of sugar.

After pancakes we went to the museum, just across the plaza. Wonderful, wonderful museum. The main attraction was scores of black and white photographs of Hopi at their daily life, taken decades ago, some by Edward S. Curtis. But there were also pots and baskets and kachinas and jewelry. I seem to go into a blackout when it comes to Native American jewelry because, just like at Hubbell Trading Post, I didn't take one photo of the gorgeous silver work on exhibit. 

Here's an interesting tidbit that has no particular significance at all: Fred Kabotie was the Hopi artist who painted murals and designed patterns to be painted on sky light panels at the Painted Desert Inn, and he was also a silversmith. He was part of a group of returning WW2 veterans that was taught silver work, as a way of making a living. Photos of this group were on exhibit with the silver, the first time I'd seen a photo of Fred Kabotie. The interesting part is that in the late 1980s I took a silversmithing class from his son, Michael Kabotie. At the time I didn't know his father or his father's reputation and it wouldn't have mattered anyway, because Michael was an accomplished artist in his own right in many media, and a poet. I have one of his books packed away somewhere. What a coincidence. Even more so when one day a few years ago I happened across Michael's obituary in a section of the newspaper that I rarely read. He'd died of pneumonia and was just in his 60s.

Back to the museum. It's small and focuses just on Hopi naturally, but it's so worth the drive from the park.

There are several cases with many different kinds of Kachinas, which serve different functions. This article is interesting and explains their importance to the Hopi and how they fit into daily life. Here's an excerpt:
Depending on what the Kachina represents determines the type of clothing it wears, the color and the designs that decorate the face and body, what it carries in its hands, the time of year it appears and the ceremonies it participates in.


Pottery was also well represented. It's amazing to me that the designs are drawn freehand and yet are so perfect. At the same place I took the silver class with Michael Kabotie, I watched a Navajo artist decorate a pot with a complex design, entirely without any tool but the brush in his hand, and it met perfectly when he'd gone all the way around the pot.

The yellow paint on this bowl is from clay and will fire red. The black is a mineral paint and it will remain black. Different clays will fire different colors. Gray clay will fire orange-yellow, while yellow clay will fire red.

Having seen this exhibit, it gives me an appreciation for a project one of the archeology interns started while she was here this summer. She collected clay samples from areas around the park and was analyzing them to determine whether any of them could have been used to make pots that have been found here. If not, of course the pots would have been brought in from elsewhere so the next question would be, where? She packed up all these samples and they went back to school with her.

This bowl is a Kayenta (a place north of here) polychrome and dates to 1250. Imagine! It's not in pieces.

More examples of the pots on exhibit. We really liked the display of pot sherds on the platform around the intact pieces and using broken pieces as an exhibit stand in the second photo below. I've never seen that before.

Here's another exhibit, much older. The second one from the left was probably used as a chimney top. The one on the right is remarkable for its uniformity. These pots were made with the coil technique - remember clay snakes? - and I don't know if that would make it easier or harder to maintain a consistent 1/16 inch thickness. In relation to its size, the thickness is eggshell-like. No pottery wheels, no tools other than their hands and stones, and they were able to turn out utilitarian objects of such beauty.

My favorite item was a photograph that I would have sworn was a charcoal drawing. I couldn't get a decent shot because of reflection and I've cropped it to remove a lot of the glare but it's still noticeable and distracting. Isn't she beautiful anyway?


Thought of the day:
The purpose of our ceremonies is not entertainment but attainment. Namely, the attainment of a good life. (from a placard at the Hopi museum)