japonisme: japonisme in the land of the pueblo

04 March 2008

japonisme in the land of the pueblo

"That thin green line of cotton- woods down there is the Little Colorado River," Flo was saying. "Reckon it's sixty miles, all down hill. The Painted Desert begins there and also the Navajo Reservation. You see the white strips, the red veins, the yellow bars, the black lines. They are all desert steps leading up and up for miles. That sharp black peak is called Wildcat. It's about a hundred miles. You see the desert stretching away to the right, growing dim -- lost in distance? We don't know that country. But that north country we know as landmarks, anyway.

"Look at that saw- tooth range. The Indi- ans call it Echo Cliffs. At the far end it drops off into the Colorado River. Lee's Ferry is there -- about one hundred and sixty miles.

"That ragged black rent is the Grand Canyon. Looks like a thread, doesn't it? But Carley, it's some hole, believe me. Away to the left you see the tremendous wall rising and turning to come this way. That's the north wall of the Canyon. It ends at the great bluff -- Greenland Point.

See the black fringe above the bar of gold. That's a belt of pine trees. It's about eighty miles across this ragged old stone washboard of a desert. . . .

Now turn and look straight and strain your sight over Wildcat. See the rim purple dome. You must look hard. I'm glad it's clear and the sun is shining. We don't often get this view. . . . That purple dome is Navajo Mountain, two hundred miles and more away!"

Carley yielded to some strange drawing power and slowly walked forward until she stood at the extreme edge of the summit.

What was it that confounded her sight? Desert slope -- down and down -- color -- distance -- space! The wind that blew in her face seemed to have the openness of the whole world back of it. Cold, sweet, dry, exhilarating, it breathed of untainted vastness.

Carley's memory pictures of the Adirondacks faded into pastorals; her vaunted images of European scenery changed to operetta settings. She had nothing with which to compare this illimitable space.

"Oh! -- America!" was her unconscious tribute. --zane grey

Until the late 19th century, much of the Southwest was a mystery to Americans. Rarely did people venture into the remote corners of New Mexico and Arizona territories, which became part of the U.S. in 1848.

However, writings by such people as Charles Lummis, Mary Austin, George Wharton James, and others, and representations by artists such as Ernest L. Blumenschein, Bert Geer Phillips, and Oscar E. Berninghaus, began to appear in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Ethnographic interest in the native peoples had existed since the earlier surveys and military movements which encountered these populations. No longer considered a "vanishing race," Native Americans became mythologized through the popularity of their artwork and culture.

The Southwest was compared to the cultures of the Middle East. The spectacularly varied arid landscape, the ruins of ancient cultures, and the ongoing exoticness provided by the indigenous cultures and the Spanish colonial peoples and settlements, made the Southwest an attractive destination. 1

when arizona and new mexico became part of the united states in 1912 they were ripe for the railway tourism which had begun when the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1885. as happened in europe, the need for railway posters at that moment gave the new printmakers an opportunity.

folks who saw the posters and read the books had to go and they told their friends who came for short visits and stayed. they came from norway and sweden and england and germany and japan; the world was beckoned and the world responded. here, the plains/planes of flat color and the simple lines that had been pored over in the japanese prints came intensely to life. the shapes and shadows and tones called to the imagist poets.

“In a cold like this, the stars snap like distant coyotes, beyond the moon,” I read. “And you’ll see the shadows of actual coyotes, going across the alfalfa field. And the pine-trees make little noises, sudden and stealthy, as if they were walking about.

And the place heaves with ghosts. But when one has got used to one’s own home-ghosts, be they never so many, they are like one’s own family, but nearer than the blood. It is the ghosts one misses most, the ghosts there, of the Rocky Mountains. ...because it is cold, I should have moonshine ...” --d.h. lawrence

"I think that New Mexico was the greatest experience from the outside world that I have ever had. It certainly changed me forever...the moment I saw the brilliant, proud morning shine high up over the deserts of Santa Fe, something stood still in my soul, and I started to attend."

"Art...is a kind of tyrant; it pushes you around. It came to me dressed in wanderlust" --gustave baumann

As the wagons went forward and the sun sank lower, a sweep of red carnelian-coloured hills lying at the foot of the mountains came into view; they curved like two arms about a depression in the plain; and in that depression was Santa Fé, at last!

A thin, wavering adobe town . . . a green plaza . . . at one end a church with two earthen towers that rose high above the flatness. The long main street began at the church, the town seemed to flow from it like a stream from a spring. The church towers, and all the low adobe houses, were rose colour in that light, -- a little darker in tone than the amphitheatre of red hills behind; and periodically the plumes of poplars flashed like gracious accent marks, -- inclining and recovering themselves in the wind. --willa cather


No one takes the absence
into account the way I do --
this rind of backbone, the bridge
and scale of its blank articulation,
sustains some perfectly whole
notes of light against the raw
muscle of the land unbound,
the undercurrents surfacing
in concert with the white riffs
of cholla spotting the swales.

Put right, one part of loss
counterpoints the next, leaves us
much to see despite the frank
abrasion of the air, Finally,
this thighbone is every bit
the bright, hard stuff of stars
and against the hills'
rust and clay sets free
a full, long silence here
that as much as anything
sings all my life to me.

Christopher Buckley

From Blossoms and Bones by Christopher Buckley,
Vanderbilt University Press. © 1988 Christopher Buckley

for a wonderful essay on how christopher buckley came to write a long series of poems based on the painting of georgia o'keeffe, click here.

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Blogger David Apatoff said...

I love the art of these old travel posters, and you have some splendid examples here. Thanks for posting.

When you visit the Grand Canyon, you will often find a warning on the maps and travel literature cautioning tourists from Europe that they should not apply European notions of scale. They are told that everything is far bigger and more spread out than anything they are accustomed to, and they should plan accordingly.

07 March, 2008 11:03  
Blogger Dominic Bugatto said...

Ahh, more tasty visual treats. Yum.

07 March, 2008 18:51  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

that's really interesting, david.

i think of you often when i am looking at illustrations and remember this or that that you have said about them...


07 March, 2008 18:52  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

so glad you like them, dominic!

07 March, 2008 18:55  

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hi, and thanks so much for stopping by. i spend all too much time thinking my own thoughts about this stuff, so please tell me yours. i thrive on the exchange!

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