We tend to look at the past in static terms – year, date, event. Almost like looking at disconnected photographs, we usually don’t see the full image outside of the frame. What were all the little incidences and decisions that led up to this event? What was its impact – the expected and unforeseen ramifications? The past has always moved forward in a fluid manner with people adapting and making daily adjustments to new landscapes, materials and technologies – just like we do today. The future is created by a web of beliefs, conflicts, incidences, and decisions among various peoples and across a range of places whose interconnections are usually only visible in hindsight.
New Mexico counts the Fiber Arts as a rich part of their heritage, and have developed a set of trails for cultural explorers like me to be able to understand the the history and people involved. Our world and its many societies have developed out of migration, invasion, and conquest. Because particulars are erased as people move, adapt and histories are rewritten by the conquerors, we are often left with more questions than answers. I grew up thinking that all Native Americans only wore animal skins until the Spanish arrived in the 16th century.
All fibers originate with the land, whether from plants whose roots go deep into it or from animals that graze up on its grasses. The people living in New Mexico used plant fibers, animal hair and fur to create a range of woven items, including sandals and belts, as far back as 2,200 years ago. About 1,200 years ago, cotton cultivation was brought north from Mesoamerica, and the ancestors of the Pueblo developed looms and began weaving cotton clothing. When the Spanish brought Churro sheep and the means to build more sophisticated looms, Native Americans took the new resources and created utilitarian and ceremonial textiles with stunning designs unimagined by Europeans.
Weaving, like other art forms, comes from within. It is the culmination of one’s life experiences, the world in which we live and the images of our beliefs. Navajo Rugs can be viewed as woven cultural expression of their history. Pueblo fiber arts, made primarily for community use, maintain a connection to the agricultural cycle that is at the heart of ceremonial practices. Contemporary designs are remarkably similar to patterns on kilts and sashes worn by dancers, depicted in kiva murals, hundreds of years ago.
Today, New Mexico has a rich multicultural fiber arts industry that includes over 70 organizations, from growers and mills to artisans, guilds galleries, trading posts and more. About half are located in a triangle between Albuquerque, Taos and Chama, so I was excited to attend the Taos Fiber Arts Market in April. More sparsely represented than expected, many in rural art markets have suffered in the recession. Nonetheless, the artists’ works ranged from woven fabric art, rugs to garments.
I’ve come to Taos many times, usually upon the eve or twilight of summer. As I drove north on Highway 68 from Santa Fe, I realized I’d forgotten how drop-dead-gorgeous the drive through the gorge can be. One of my favorite wineries has been located in Dixon - just south of Taos – for years, but recently many more have sprouted. About 12 miles south of Taos, I stopped at the Rio Grande Gorge Visitor Center to pick up detailed hiking maps of the dozen or so trails near the Rio Grande and the Rio Pueblo de Taos, which feeds into the Rio Grande. This area, the Orilla Verde Recreation Area, run by the Bureau of Land Management is a favorite with river runners and provides camping year round.
I wanted to see the gorge, from a different view than the famous bridge. Driving about 6 miles on Road 570, the last one on gravel, I arrived at the La Vista Verde Trail. Quite easy, it teasingly winds close to the canyon’s rim, but not fully reaching it until the end of the trail 1.3 miles later. Never having seen the landscape in early spring, I found myself counting the varieties of green in all the different plants. (Ok Christina, it’s called La Vista Verde) Even the algae on the rocks ranged from florescent citron to aqua. The early morning sun caught the spikes of the cholla cactus giving an aura against the deep shadows of the eastern wall, the pueblo side, of the gorge. The rocks are a blend of black, volcanic debris topped with lighter sandstone – much of which makes up the sandy soil.
It’s dangerous to compare places. As a society we do it all the time, ranking this place over that. I’ve hiked along many rivers and along the rims of many gorges. For the most part they simply don’t compare; the geology and geography are too different. I love discovery. The awesome images from my hike are not plastered on screensavers, but the Rio Grande Gorge is truly a unique place, and my joy in the experience of was as equally great as any I’ve visited.
 Immensely informative, the New Mexico Fiber Arts Trails booklet is a hefty 64 pages, but provides not only a map and listing of the growers, artists and galleries, but historical information on the fibers and processes involved in creating this artform. To access the guide: http://www.nmfiberarts.org/plan-your-visit/fiber-arts-of-nm-details.html
 NM Fiber Trails. PDF
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