Potato Cellar Outside Del Norte

This was a difficult painting. I don’t know why, but it was. It’s finished probably really though there might be something I see it won’t be a major change. It’s funny in a painting what you leave out. All around this potato cellar are old tools that would mean nothing to anyone looking at this painting even though in real life they’re interesting. To the left facing is an old wagon that, in this painting would look like two green stripes, again, meaningless.

In this painting I was very conscious of painting something that would say something. I realize that’s because this is a manmade thing and most of what I paint is just (just?) nature. Buildings say something different — I wasn’t aware of that when I started out to paint this potato cellar. I added the strips of turquoise paint. They are not actually there and I don’t know if potato cellars were ever painted with the turquoise paint that is emblematic of Hispanic buildings in America’s southwest. It was my way of placing this in Southern Colorado and identifying its cultural origin. I guess that’s artistic license. Other than that blue and the underpainting on the sky which is cerulean, all the colors are natural pigments. I used various whites.

Although the adobe potato cellars look “ancient,” they are structures from the 1950s and 1960s. Some roofs are sod. They are ideal for storing potatoes because adobe walls are dirt. The perfect potato cellar simulates potato’s home environment which is under ground. I’ve seen potato cellars in Idaho that are dug into a hillside.

These buildings are very beautiful and I hope to paint more. Fortunately, they made it to the list of Colorado’s Most Endangered Places so there will be some effort made to preserve them.

Potato Cellar 20 x 16 Oil on Panel


You can learn about these beautiful structures from Zoe Rierson who is an incredibly cool girl, a cultural anthropologist. In this video you can also hear the beautiful English spoken by Hispanic people who live here. It’s music to my ears.

Reading at the Rio Grande County Museum in Del Norte

Part of my mindset is still in the complicated crowded California world where it takes a long time to get anywhere and a long time to do anything. It’s OK with me if I NEVER fully get that I’m not there because it gives me the chance to be beautifully surprised, as I was yesterday.

Njal

The plan yesterday was to drive to South Fork where I was going to meet up with a woman who was buying three tiny paintings. There was a large art and craft show in the Rio Grande Club — a fancy country club along the Rio Grande in the semi-resort town of South Fork. “Semi” because people live in South Fork, but “resort” because there is an enormous subdivision of large and beautiful houses that are occupied mostly in summer.

I saw people I know, and they said things like, “I heard you on the radio!” I was flustered by that, hit again by the fact that we just don’t know that much about where we are a lot of the time. We live in a little tunnel of our immediate concerns, our habits and what’s right in front of our faces. It’s necessary that we live that way, and surprising when we learn that somehow WE were in someone else’s immediate concerns and right before someone else’s eyes. I knew the interviews would be broadcast, but I was chiefly concerned with showing up and doing a decent job. I didn’t think of people listening ON PURPOSE.

The craft show was lovely, and very large, filling all the banquet rooms upstairs in the country club. Lois shopped successfully for Christmas and I found my customer.

Mr. Haefeli

I had a conversation with a young guy who is the scion of one of the San Luis Valley families that has been in the bee-keeping honey making business for generations. I learned that they had come originally from the German speaking part of Switzerland and in Switzerland they also kept bees. I asked where in Switzerland they had come from, but he didn’t know. I revealed my “Schneebeli” ancestry and told him my name means “Little Snow Ball.”

Over the course of the day I met three people who’s ancestors came from the German speaking part of Switzerland and all of them had stories like that of the Schneebelis.

From there we headed back down the mountain to Del Norte for lunch and then to the museum. I wanted to get there early to help set up.

Well…

I got there and Louise great-grandson had gotten a haircut. He’d also burned his tongue testing the coffee. He told me he’d tested the coffee to be sure it wasn’t poisoned before giving it to Louise. I was charmed.

We set out a few chairs, maybe seven or eight. I didn’t expect people — just my friends and Louise and Rita who work at the museum. BUT…

People kept coming. Pretty soon there were (I think) fifteen people there. The youngest was Louise’ great-grandson who’s maybe 10; the oldest were well into their eighties. Most were retired people like me. We kept putting out chairs. Then I introduced the reading but I did a poor job. I forgot to give the title of the book OH WELL.

The reading went very very well. I could see interest and sympathy spread across the faces of the people in my audience. It was a wonderful, magical, thing to see. The reading had been publicized as being a Pearl Harbor Day remembrance, focused on the Chinese I met who spoke American English and who had worked with the American military at the end of WW II. The stories are really incredible and so unknown that they are interesting.

Afterward, I sold three books, gave out many business cards and talked to the people who’d come to listen, two of which revealed Swiss ancestry. Mennonites back in the day, just like my grandma’s family. This makes me think maybe I should give a reading about the Swiss Protestant Reformation since it’s the reason so many of us are here.

Again I realized how much fun it is to share my words with living, breathing people who are in front of me. I read a small piece from Martin of Gfenn and it so touched one of the women who came listen — a beautiful Hispanic grandma there with her sister — that she came up to tell me in passionate, elegant prose the story of Lazarus and Dives. “Can I get your books at the library?” she asked.

“In Alamosa. Monte Vista won’t stock them. I don’t know about your library here in Del Norte.”

“Why not?”

“They’re self-published.”

“What difference does that make? Your books are good, and I want to read them,” she said.

“Alamosa is serious about local authors,” I said, and shrugged. I would have handed her a copy of Martin of Gfenn right then and there if people hadn’t been around and I wasn’t generally there to give books away, but I actually LIKE giving books away so… She introduced herself to me and her name means “Star of the Mountains.”

BUT…. As wonderful as all of this was, the high point was Louise’ great-grandson looking at me and saying, “I really liked your story.”

~~~

Featured photo: Rabbit brush flats between Del Norte and Monte Vista, CO, 3:30 pm December 7, 2019, winter light. Taken by Lois Maxwell

Handwriting on the Wall

“Where’s my good needle?”

Saturday, my friends and I went to a nearby town, South Fork, for lunch. On the way back we stopped in Del Norte so E. could get buttons and a special round needle. I failed to ask what kind of needle — but maybe knitting?

The fabric store is kind of a general store for any crafts people might do living 45 miles from the nearest Walmart which is in Alamosa. Along with sewing, knitting, quilting, crocheting and jewelry making, they — I should say she, it’s owned by a dynamic woman named Kathy — have a small section of art supplies. Everything was on sale, but I still didn’t have $30 for a large pad of watercolor paper.

We parked at the side of the two story brick building that houses Kathy’s Fabric Trunk. We were captivated by the writing on the brick wall.

Here’s the building in the 1920s… I don’t know what the store was back then, but Kathy’s is the first storefront, with the awning rolled in (no awning today).

Street life back then was a lot more colorful than it is now. The little building to the left facing was a mineral spring. The spring is gone and all that remains now is the little building, Del Norte’s landmark.

I think of it as a store for all the things people in my immense, cold neighborhood do in winter.

Inside the store are two dogs. A black lab and a little fluffy Maltese/poodle greeting dog. The tiny thing came right to me when I walked in. I don’t just LIKE dogs. I’m interested in them and they know it.

In the very back of the store was a young woman in a wheelchair, clearly living with multiple physical and mental disabilities. The Labrador was in charge of taking care of her and was very good at his job. At one point, while I was helping E choose buttons, I looked over my shoulder and the Lab and the Maltese were sitting together looking out the front door. It was a lovely moment.

I thought of that scene and the whole store afterward. Kathy’s Fabric Trunk seemed like a metaphor for each of us. In front, there are a couple of smiling, competent men standing behind expensive, beautiful sewing machines, prizes for customers who had garnered the most “points.” There are beautiful fabrics, elegant quilts and kits with a careful price point to lure in customers. Wandering back into the deep inside of the store, there is the crippled retarded girl in a wheelchair with her guardian dogs, sitting in front of a computer that’s playing a movie. Further back, are the bottles filled with mixed buttons. A little woman is looking through those buttons trying to find 16 that match, all the right size, with which to decorate the beautiful owl hats she knits for a Christmas bazaar.