Monday, June 7, 2010

Dennis Hopper, Mary Witkop, Alessandro Cafazzo, Rest in Peace

Sorry I haven't written anything lately on this Blog. Too much sadness and self reflection. A whole lot of people have called or stopped into Two Graces saying, 'wow, there's been a lot of excitement in Ranchos lately'. Personally, I don't think Funerals and people dying is all that exciting. The proliferation of people asking, demanding even to be told where is Dennis Hopper buried has me feeling sad for the state of human beings. There's far too much gossip and papparrazzi-ness going on with far too many people. Since when have people begun taking photographs at funerals? Certainly funerals are one of the rare times that people come together as so many of us are far too busy to see each other, write, or call each other while we are still alive, but shouldn't we stay in touch with our loved ones. Sure I'm guilty too, but I do call my Mom once a week or more just to hear her voice and talk a bit. This entry is about 3 people, which I choose to write about as a group because, well, you'll see, please read on...

Here's an image of my four sided painting of Dennis Hopper for last year's exhibition tribute to the Summer of Love, this painting is currently owned by Ray Trotter, he has hung it in the foyer of his home. When I first began making paintings for this exhibit Dennis came by and saw a few unfinished. One of the images I've used for these assemblage paintings is one of a mugshot of Mr. Hopper from 1975. He asked me where in the world I'd gotten that from, and I replied haven't you ever googled yourself, it's all over the web as are many other iconic images.

I mention Icon, because to me that's what Dennis Hopper is, an icon.
During my exhibit of imagery of Dennis, and the Taos Summer of Love, of 2009, I heard a lot of stories about him. My own story is this, when Mr. Hopper came by to Two Graces he would bring to the counter a few postcards of himself and Peter Fonda on motorcycles at Taos Pueblo from the easy Rider shoot. He wanted to purchase these to correspond with friends while he was here in Taos, I couldn't charge him for these postcards, they were after all of him, and one of my best selling cards because of him. One day I noticed Mr. Hopper standing across the street with his camera taking photographs of the back of San Francisco de Asis Church, I was in the shot.

Last summer we were going into the restaurant Sushi a la Hattori, when I saw Henry, Dennis & David Hopper with Mary Witkop having dinner at one of the outdoor tables. I stopped to say hello and to thank Dennis for saving Taos' businesses necks last summer. I believe that the Summer of Love and Hopper at The Harwood exhibit brought an enormous amount of people to Taos last summer during a very bad economy for this country. He could have said no to the whole thing, instead he loaned himself out to the entire town, helping to promote Taos.

Dennis Hopper was our neighbor, he lived directly across the street here in Ranchos de Taos. He would often allow his friends to stay at his place, which was once the local movie theatre. I hope that his son Henry and his daughters continue to come back to Taos, and stay there often.

Next door to the old movie theatre is the old Post Office which for many years has been the pottery studio of Mary Witkop. Above are a few examples of her pottery which were given to Holly & I or purchased directly from her. She used the local micaceous clay, sanding and polishing, rubbing with natural pigments, oiling and firing, sometimes adding hair from her horses, or feathers, or even leaves to burn marks onto the pot as it came out of the fire.
When I first opened Two Graces I would watch her across the street enter and leave her studio, I didn't know her at all, but her activity made me curious. When I did get to meet her I asked if she'd be interested in being in an exhibit I was doing for Valentine's Day, she laughed and said we'll see. Later she brought me the first pot I'd ever sold of hers, a white pot with 2 holes in it. She explained this was a mistake that happened in the firing, (or was it?) an imperfection in the clay blew a hole out one side. I sold that pot to Robert Dean Stockwell.

When I moved across the way to my current location there was another shop here that carried Mary's pottery, so she would only let me have one pot at a time. BUT, I was always over to her studio whenever she fired pots and got first pick, my first question to her was always, what's your favorite one, and that's the one I'd get. The pots sold well, and she would tell me I was her best selling gallery. The pots are not highly fired, which means they can scratch easily, and of course with all pottery they can break. Eventually I got a small display case to put her pot in, which showed it off quite nicely, but also protected it from people's handling. When I sold a pot the cash was quickly brought over to her, sometimes she'd say, 'Oh great I need to buy a new pair of jeans, or groceries' She got excited about going up to the mountains and finding cow pies to use for her firing, or digging big chunky clay that only looked like rocks to me. All potters have a preferred source of clay and dig it themselves Mary was no exception to this. One day she brought me a fistfull of clay, 'here you go try making something and I'll fire it for you'. I had to laugh and explain to her that the only thing I could make out of clay would be a cat the way my grandmother taught me. She told me that would be okay with her. The Mary Witkop I knew and hold dear came by Two Graces on a fairly regular basis and would say to me 'I think you're wonderful, or I think you're GREAT, or I think you're Terrific'. What a great pick me up in the middle of a Taos Winter, when know one comes by, or just when you think about giving up. The article about her in the Taos News recently wrote some rather negative things about Mary and this should not have happened, yes she drank and teeter/tottered but she had an enormous heart. Worrying about her I'd walk her across the street back to her studio and back to her work. In summer she'd bring me big bunches of Basil for my homemade pizza, from my grandmother's recipe. Last summer she brought me Pepper plants and Hens & Chickens plants for my garden because I told her how much they reminded me of my Grandparents. Mary's funeral brought together the 3 cultures of Taos the Anglos, Hispanic and Pueblo people that make this town so unique. She knew she was dying and came by to say goodbye, I only thought she was taking a camping adventure with her partner David. There will be an exhibition of Mary Witkop pottery at R.B. Ravens Gallery in September. Ray Trotter & I believe she was truly one of the best potters in this country, her pottery is beautiful and I am blessed to have gotten to know her.

The phrase 'they were always there for me' isn't quite fitting for this last tribute, My Dad, knew when to be there for me and when not to be. A tough lesson when it was happening but now as I look back it was a good strong lesson. When he chose not to be there it was to teach me to stand on my own 2 feet, which hopefully today I am very capable of because of him. One day my car had broken down and I called him, 'what do you want me to do about it' was his reply. From then on my birthday gift from him was a AAA membership for roadside help, to this day I'm still a member, a great gift from my Dad. As a child, my Dad would take me with him when he was working as a children's wear buyer for Filene's department store. I'd be brought to these big wharehouse sweatshops in Boston full of people sewing and cutting fabrics. The colors and textures of cloth still to this day have been an enormous influence on me, which works it's way into my artwork through the color & texture of my paintings. I believe my Dad brought me along not for the free samples the salesmen would give him for myself, sister & brother but just to spend some time with me, (and to get me out of my Mom's way, who was taking care of my sis & baby brother). On one occasion we took the subway to the factory, my Mom says that the car had broken down, of this adventure I remember the colors of posters moving past the train windows, the flashing lights and movement of the subway cars. Again an enormous influence on my artwork, more color and this time Movement.

When it was time for me to be sent off to kindergarten, that first week I was terrified, not quite understanding what was happening, no more trips with my Dad to the sewing shops, where was I being taken, and abandoned. That first week of kindergarten my Dad sat on the front lawn of the elementary school the entire time, every day, where I could pop my head up from the window and see him, and that I was not being left somewhere foreign and strange to me, and that I was loved. This kindergarten class was also an enormous influence on me, because the only way the teacher could get my attention away from looking out that window to see my Dad was to get me involved with arts & crafts lessons, hmmm...
After moving to Taos and starting my own store Two Graces, my Dad said to me 'you know how hard retail is, why in the world would you want to start your own business', but there he was every summer coming out to Taos, working in my store, just as I had worked for him starting at 11 years old when he took me to get a social security card and put me on the payroll. He always looked out for the people who worked for him at Filene's, Marshalls, Tub & Towel, The Finishing Touch or Homemakers, and considered them all a part of the family, having barbecues in the summer, where everyone was welcomed. Treating people like they were part of the family, a great life lesson, indeed. The picture above I took of him at the grand opening of one of his Finishing Touch stores, a bed & bath type shop. Yup, I argued and fought with my Dad on occasion, and sure like anyone he wasn't always perfect, neither am I.
Thanks, Dad,
Postscript Feb. 28, 2012: I'd like the readers to know that we will be exhibiting the Pottery of Mary Witkop beginning May 25, 2012 thru to August, 2012.
People continue to die every day, the things they have left behind may help to remind us of them, but our memories of the time we spent with them or the words we spoke to one another also help to keep them in our thoughts.