Sunday, January 16, 2011

“The Secret of Taos Blue Doors” Robert Cafazzo (copyright 2011)

If you ask anyone around Taos why there are so many doors painted blue, they may say it’s to keep out evil spirits as a protection device or talisman would. That it’s simply beautiful, after all isn’t blue the most popular of all colors.

Take a trip to your local paint supplier and ask for a gallon of Taos Blue, you may wind up with a light blue, a turquoise blue or a blue with a tinge of purple to it. Digging a bit deeper and not quite satisfied with the answers above, I discovered there are many, many answers, and most Taosenos agree to disagree.

Some may think of the starry robes of Our Lady of Guadalupe or of the Virgin Mary, the outer a deep royal blue, the inner a soft pale blue. Robes to envelop, beckoning I will keep you safe from all harm. Creating a feeling of warmth and of love as you enter through a blue door.

For the practical, it’s thought the color blue repels and disorients insects keeping them out of doorways and windows. Insects it seems do not tend to fly upwards into the apex of the blue sky. Flying too high towards the sun we’ve learned from Icarus himself, would lead to disaster.

Blue indicates one of the four sacred directions of Pueblo life, the direction of the Southwest, Red the Southeast, Yellow the Northwest and White signifying the Northeast.

The color of Taos Blue can become an obsession for someone like myself, I’ve roamed around Taos with paint sample chips from the local hardware stores trying to match colors, either too green, or this one too purple, really not a turquoise color, on and on searching to get it right. This may sound too much like Goldilocks in a search to find the right porridge or bed. It’s a mystery after all, a puzzle to be solved and we move on to get to the conclusion of any good mystery.

Whether you take the color of a calm Caribbean ocean and mix it with the color of a clear blue sky, or on a clear day at noon look straight up at the sky to its blue zenith. It’s said that we who live here in Taos live between Heaven and Earth and this is the color of the true Taos Blue, and that’s my little secret I share with you.

Story and all photographs, copyright 2011 Robert Cafazzo
With thanks to the store and gallery owners of Taos, New Mexico. A heartfelt thank you to both Jerry Padilla and Sue Westbrook of Taos Blue for their generosity and insightfulness.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

I Bought Dennis Hopper, Works of Art

January 11, 2011 an auspicious day unlike any other began early with the Christie’s Interiors auction of the Estate of Dennis Hopper.
A two day sale of 964 items were to be sold at auction by Christie’s of New York City. These were the third and fourth auctions in a series of artwork and other materials, which were owned by Mr. Hopper.
During the big contemporary art auctions of November Christie’s sold, in two separate groupings, some of the larger and more valuable paintings from the Hopper estate, Warhol, Schnabel, Duchamp, Haring, Lichtenstein… These auctions realized quite a bit of money as you could imagine and made national headlines. This was not where a person of my own means could bid on something at a bargain price, this was the world of high end art dealing.
What I was hoping for was to be able to pick up something at auction during the Winter Interiors Sale perhaps some wine glasses, maybe a curio of some sort.
This past Autumn on separate occasions and over the course of a few months, 3 moving vans pulled up to the Hopper house just across the street from the Ranchos Church Plaza. Items were selected packed up and shipped off to NYC, where they would be photographed to be included in a catalogue and listed for 2 auctions to be held January 11 & 12, 2011. Dennis, squirreled away a lot of stuff, and those lots were to be listed by Christie’s.
When Christie’s posted on their website what the items selected were and the price estimates I was a bit disappointed that there were no wine goblets or special little item that perhaps I could bid on and purchase. Instead there was a lot of the art from the “Hopper at the Harwood” Museum exhibit of his local Taos artist friends, and a great deal of the smaller artworks from his vast art collection. Two of the featured artworks were Andy Warhol silk-screens, a red Marilyn and a blue Mao. Hopper had shot the Mao canvas twice then brought it to Warhol who decided to add some notations to it and announce it to now be a “Hopper/Warhol” collaboration! Also included a selection of posters from films he starred in, even the very recently awarded Hollywood Walk of Fame plaque and a rather small group of items, which were not art related yet more in keeping with the ‘Interiors’ theme of the sale.

In my opinion there were a few jewels, and hopefully ‘sleepers’, which would be well worth bidding on. The best of these were two groups of four pots by our dear friend Mary Witkop, a tiny 3” x 4” photograph of a tree by Mike and Doug Starn, a shallow relief sign, a pair of paintings by the Honorable Lady Dorothy Brett, and two early artworks by R.C. Gorman.
Having saved a bit of money for this sale since last October I expected to bid on 2 items. Not being able to put enough money together for a run at the Witkop pottery, instead, I brought them to the attention of a well-loved Taos art dealer and also an admirer of this wonderful pottery. A few days before, the Witkop family announced on their website that these pots would be included in this sale, and at that point I felt I didn’t stand a chance of being the winning bidder. With the Bretts, these too were pointed out to a separate Taos art dealer, not quite my cup of tea, yet desirable pieces to bring back to Taos. Having a lot of R.C. Gorman already, and the market for Gorman rather flooded and a bit soft, I thought these to not be as desirable. There were other items I thought would be of interest to friends of Mr. Hopper, and told each one of them about the particular pieces.
My sights were set on the “Starn Twins” photograph, the estimate at $500-700. and the Ron Gardner shallow relief wooden sign with an estimate of $400-600. These two pieces seemed within reach of me becoming the winning bidder.
Christie’s has a few ways to become a bidder of their auctions, an online ‘live’ bidder, an online pre-auction bidder, a telephone bidder, a proxy ‘live’ in-house bidder or an in-house ‘live’ bidder. Since I wasn’t going to be making the trip to NYC or asking someone to go for me, I chose the next best route, to be a telephone bidder. The week before I called to set up an account, a representative assured me that I would be called 5-10 minutes before my item numbers came up and that my bids would be placed as per my instruction.
The auctions were to run from 10AM to 5PM (Eastern time), with just over 500 of the listings to be auctioned off the first day. The two pieces I chose to bid on were to come up on the morning of the first day, in Taos Mountain time this meant the Christie’s New York auction would start for me at 8AM. For the first 2 ½ hours I watched online, excitedly calling, and emailing friends, along with adding posts to my Facebook page of how things were going. The Mao painting went for $300,000. ten times the estimate, the Bruce Connor and George Herms assemblage pieces went for 4 times the high estimates and a few for much more. Everything was selling much higher than expected! Over an hour of this had me reeling and beginning to feel a bit embarrassed of my position and plan to snatch something up that I was lulled into believing wouldn’t really bring a lot of money, after all Christie’s themselves had estimated these two items to be not very valuable. They’re the experts at this, I thought don’t they go by auction records on this sort of thing, perhaps not. My head said escape, just don’t answer the phone and it will all be alright, no one’s twisting my arm to actually place a bid and I haven’t bid on anything, not even promised to, they couldn’t possibly fine me or charge me for not bidding and wasting their time. Could they? Miraculously, things changed, a lull in sales with a few items going for under the estimate. An auction can be tuned to a point, and timed to create waves of excitement, this just might be the sotto voce moment of this particular auction, and my item numbers were coming up right in time for it. Hope. My pride said, do it, pick up the phone and ask a few questions, don’t show fear, and bid if I could. The woman calling told me the auction was going quite well, and assured me that I had yet to make any commitment. She also told me there was a lot of interest in the room towards my selection of the Starn photo. Ah, the old auction house ploy of chatting up interest in the item in question. Did she actually think I’d just fallen off the proverbial turnip truck. Before I knew it she was rapidly and softly whispering the bids in my ear, 500, 700, 1000, 1500, 2000, it was gone and I never uttered a word. Yes, the fine art of seduction one might say. This auction house had definitely fine tuned it, from the low estimates to entice you, raise your hopes and pull you in, to the soft and gentle sales people helping you with your bidding. Was I now in a movie, or in a dream, it seemed a whole lot like a movie I’d seen, or did that actually just happen! Egads, what a fool, did I really think I could bid on something, anything in a Christie’s auction!
Years ago, through the kindness of someone who collected my own artwork, I attended the Warhol Estate auctions, it was fun, but I knew my place and had no intention of bidding on anything. This, was different, as they say, this was personal.
Within 20 minutes she called back, we chatted and I told her how I went to school with the Starns and how Mr. Hopper lived just across the street, that right here and now I could see his house from where I sat talking to her on the phone. I told her how bidding on something from Mr. Hopper’s estate was for sentimental reasons. ‘Yes, of course dear, you sentimental old fool’, I’m sure she thought at this point, yet she remained extremely seductive, kind and helpful. Perhaps sensing my fear she told me she’d worked for Christie’s for about 5 years and how a recent sale of Star Trek memorabilia was quite fun with bidders and colleagues dressed in Star Trek gear. OK, your item is about to start, and, you’re off once again like a horse at a racetrack trying to catch up to the pack. The bidding starts at 200, will you do 250, yes, now 300, will you do 350, yes. I’m holding on for dear life here and trying not to fall off this fast paced thing I’m latched onto. 400 will you do 450, yes, 500 will you do 550, yes. In the real world I would keep my bidding paddle held high for all to see, which tends to intimidate all other potential bidders. 600, will you do 650 yes. That’s it we’re done you’ve got it thank you very much. Wait! Don’t go now, I fumble trying to catch my breath, how do I make my payment, how do I pick it up, I ask. She tells me the phone number to call and that’s it, we’re done. With a buyer’s premium attached by Christie’s, my $650 sign will now cost me $813. At least a friend in NYC has offered to pick it up and send it out to Taos, otherwise I’d be charged another $200 or more for shipping and packing by Christie’s.

Am I glad I did it, bid at a mysterious (to an outsider like myself) auction in New York City? Yes.
Will I do it again, perhaps. Could I really afford it, no. Was it fun, yes.
A few good reasons to have had this experience:
1.) I bought “Dennis Hopper, Works of Art”
2.) I had the experience of bidding in a Christie’s auction, which most people would never even think of doing. By the way, try it you may enjoy yourself.
3.) Bragging Rights
4.) Having an incredible story to tell and a great ‘conversation’ piece to hang in my Gallery Two Graces.
5.) That was a whole lot of fun!
When the piece arrives from NYC, I’ll hang it proudly at Two Graces Gallery in Ranchos de Taos, by the famous San Francisco de Asis Church in Ranchos de Taos, just across the street from the former home of Dennis Hopper. Perhaps someday soon someone who knew Dennis will come by and see it, and remark on a time in Taos that I can only wildly imagine. What I know about the piece is that Dennis had it made by Ron Gardner to hang outside the Return Gallery his brother David ran for about 9 years in the Taos Plaza, and too where the pottery of Mary Witkop was exhibited.
Thank you Mr. Hopper, it was a wild ride…

*An Update: Dennis Hopper's Family purchased the sign!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Turtle Dance at Taos Pueblo

I awake at 6:15AM, outside it's -15 degrees below zero, still dark outside. I'm not quite ready to leave until pulling on a second pair of pants over my jeans, this must be the coldest day ever here in Taos, New Mexico. Today is the first of the new year when Taos Pueblo has it's ceremonial Turtle Dance, which will begin at sunrise. Hoping to get there to see this ceremony begin, I'm off towards the Blue Mountain covered in a fresh blanket of snow, it's daylight yet the sun has not peaked itself over the mountain quite yet, there's still time...

Quickly I arrive and park the car in the first visitor lot, closest to the entrance, not many people here, and I don't hear anything yet. Expecting to hear the beat of a not too distant drum, it's the ceremonial rattle I hear instead. Walking up the alley to the Plaza, it's begun in front of the Taos Pueblo Church a row of forty bare-chested men, singing a low chanted hum of the Tiwa language dancing soft steps in the squeaking snow beneath their feet. Each hold a gourd rattle painted white with bows of evergreen wrapped around the handle. A single Turtle shell rattle tied to a leg and many sleigh bells wrapped around each ankle, most have crocheted white leggings, all wearing traditional kilts of Monks cloth and a variety of designs. A headdress of Parrot, Hawk, and Eagle feathers adorns the back of each dancers head, a white stripe of clay painted under each chin which is marked into a checkered row. Reddened chests look sunburned, yet the sun has still to rise over the mountain. The drummer was using an old drum slightly larger than what I have a photograph of here, it was covered in what looked like the hide of a Buffalo with much of the hair still attached.

There may be 12-15 guests witnessing this ceremony when I first arrive, in just an hour there are now 50-60 visitors. The breath of the person next to me knocks me over with fumes from the alcohol consumed last evening. Taos Pueblo ladies are in the first row of spectators wrapped in colorful Pendleton blankets, trying to keep warm and transfer their thoughts and prayers to the men dancing. It must be working for the men aren't keeling over having turned blue with cold and frostbite. In the background all around the plaza, Taos Pueblo Priests (caciques) watch over the ceremony and the spectators. Many of the elders I know are nowhere to be seen, perhaps watching from rooftops or waiting in the Kivas.
Today is also the transfer of the Lincoln Cane and Governor's Cane to this year's new Pueblo Governor and new governing body. The ceremony for which takes place in the afternoon. If you missed the Turtle Dance and are able to witness this pay close attention to the canes, they are part of the living history of the villages known as Pueblos.

Warning: No cameras are allowed and please stay out of the way.
Pasting this link into your browser will allow you to hear a similar song to Taos Pueblo of the Turtle Dance from San Juan Pueblo. It is said that the turtle dance ceremony came from the people of Laguna Pueblo through to Isleta Pueblo, to San Juan Pueblo then to Taos Pueblo in the mid 1800's. Someone once told me that the Taos Blue Lake is also called the Turtle Lake. The turtle in many cultures is an important symbol sometimes depicting a lake or body of water, sometimes of Mother Earth.

It had been 11 years since I'd last been to the Turtle Dance here. We visited Taos for the millennium 1999-2000, just a couple more spectators at the ceremony that new year. On that day it began to snow, a soft light snow, an eagle circling over head made me feel the welcome of Taos Mountain beckoning us to stay. A few years later we moved here permanently, thank you Taos Mountain for accepting us. Thank you to the people of Taos Pueblo for allowing us to be spectators at this wonderful blessing.

Photographs and images here:
"Road to Taos Pueblo 1/1/11" Robert Cafazzo
"Turtle Dance" painting by the Honorable Lady Dorothy Brett (notice the body paint markings this is usually done for the afternoon dance).
Taos Pueblo Drum with cowhide skin (extremely similar to the one used at today's ceremony).
"Turtle Dance Taos Pueblo" 1916 attributed to B.G. Randall
"Three Dancers" Adrian Padilla of San Juan Pueblo (Ohkay Owingeh)

Please Note:
As much of this has been documented in the past through photographs, sound recordings and paintings it has now become a part of history. Some people will argue that I should not be writing anything at all here. Some will take this for what it is which is a tribute in my own words and from my memories of an event that took place on a particular day that I experienced. If in the future I decide to change place names to fictitious names then so be it.
Thanks for reading...