After we left Texas with a bang (ha), we drove all night to Santa Fe. We slept in the car for a few hours in the middle of the night a few miles down the interstate from Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, TX, and woke up to the blinding sun and the sight of the row of cars stuck upright in the ground in the middle of a field. We were deliriously exhausted. It was weird.
Cadillac Ranch at 8 AM
Alisa with a cadillac
We finally got to my friend Max Beck-Keller’s family’s house in Santa Fe in the early afternoon. Max’s family was nice enough to let us stay with them for three days. I lived in Santa Fe for a year when I was a freshman in high school, and it was pretty great to be back again in the land of green chile, adobe, and old ladies wearing tons of large turquoise jewelry. Besides doing a screen-printing demonstration at Warehouse 21, we managed to see a lot while we were in the area–including a visit to Site Santa Fe (currently showing the Eighth International Biennial–the highlights being a piece by Mary Reid Kelley that blew my mind and a piece by Martha Colburn, of whom I am a longtime fan), a tour of the Santa Fe Art Institute’s artist-in-residence program, a visit to Landfall Press, and our only thematically-relevant stop: the Tinkertown Museum.
Elena screen-printing at W21
I’ve taken pages of notes at every stop we’ve been to, but these are the only two sentences in my journal from our visit to Tinkertown: “Bad font. Grated my nerves, made me sad.” I did not enjoy the place at all, which is interesting, especially given how much I loved John Preble’s Mystery House, which John created after visiting Tinkertown. Tinkertown had a lot of “Old West” paraphernalia, and a good half of the stuff on display was pertaining to carnivals, circus freaks, “oddities,” etc., all of which made me feel sort of depressed. There were signs everywhere (”bad font”) explaining what we were seeing, which made it feel like a tourist trap. There wasn’t anything that I found particularly clever or funny in there, and there was no climactic moment, no denoument…which there has to be if the experience is going to be so orchestrated. There was a specific entrance gate and a path that left no room for straying. The museum was also overcrowded, and I spent more than ten minutes standing in a tiny hallway with our friend Houston waiting for the line to move forward so we could escape. I think it’s worth trying to describe what I didn’t like about this place, because otherwise I’ve been pretty enamored with everything we’ve seen.
Luckily, Tinkertown is on the way to a beautiful summit called Sandia Peak…
View from the top
Alisa, Max, Elvia and Houston at Sandia
On August 1, we drove west to Tuba City, Arizona, to stay with my family. My aunt, Frances, moved to Arizona when she was young, married my uncle Glenmore, and raised her kids in Tuba, which is part of the Navajo Nation. My cousin B, the youngest of Francie’s three daughters, is my age, and we have always been close. B gave the three of us an amazing tour of Tuba and Coal Mine Canyon, where her family keeps livestock on the land.
My aunt and uncle took all of us to the Grand Canyon on our first night. We brought a picnic and watched the sun set. My aunt bought me a book I had been coveting: OVER THE EDGE: Death in Grand Canyon. We were absolutely not disappointed by the canyon, as one expects to be disappointed by national landmarks–it was incredible.
Uncle Glenmore and Elvia at the Grand Canyon
Sunset at the Grand Canyon
On our second day, we herded some sheep…which was absurd. We are apparently incompetent when it comes to herding animals. Our only instruction was “don’t run towards them,” which is of course exactly what we did. In the afternoon, B took us on an amazing hike around Coal Mine Canyon. We slept in the family’s hogan on a buffalo rug for the three nights we stayed there, roasting s’mores in the stove on our last evening.
Elena herding sheep
Beautiful cousin B overlooking Coal Mine Canyon
The kitten, Napoleon, hiked with us the whole way
Though I think my cousin B should be the one to write it, I could write an entire book about visiting Arizona, and the project I’m working on about our trip has a big section about it. It’s just bizarre how little any of the three of us knew about the life in the Navajo Nation, and how much we learned in just three days from B.
We drove back west on the 4th, to see the feast day festival at Santo Domingo Pueblo, where my middle cousin, Jesse, lives with her family. The dance we saw was beautiful, especially the outfits. As always, Jesse had prepared an insane amount of food…we left with two entire loaves of bread and enough salads and beans to last us for days (Thank you!) No picture-taking allowed in Santo Domingo, so no evidence–sorry!
After visiting Santo Domingo, we were officially on our return east. Our last three stops have been Lucas, KS, Carthage, MO, and Chicago, IL. Lucas (despite its population of under 430 people), is a strange mecca of outsider/visionary art, home of the Grassroots Arts Center, the Garden of Eden, and The World’s Largest Collection of the World’s Smallest Versions of the World’s Largest Things.
Entrance to Dinsmoor's Garden of Eden
The traveling roadside attraction
The Garden of Eden’s creator, Samuel P. Dinsmoor, is in fact entombed in the backyard in a glass coffin, which was quite the sight (again, no pictures allowed). He’s grown a little moldy over the past few years. Another highlight of Lucas was the local family meat market, where we bought handmade bologna to eat for dinner. (A side agenda of the trip has been to sample as many different kinds of meats as possible on the road. Arizona probably wins as far as meat variations: in one meal we ate blood sausage, grilled mutton, and a delicacy called a’chee consisting of two kinds of intestines wrapped around each other to form a long worm-like chain.)
While stopping for a bologna picnic in Lawrence, KS, our car got a flat tire.
The grand finale site of the trip is kind of hard to explain. Alisa and I have been hoping to visit the Precious Moments Museum & Chapel in Carthage, MO, for four years now. The place has become practically mythical to us. Sam Butcher, the man who created the Precious Moments figurines (or at least, drew the pictures from which a Japanese sculptor makes the prototypes, and which Filipino factory workers copy and paint), invested the capital raised from sales in the production of a free religious…well, theme park. The main attraction, the chapel, was inspired by a trip Mr. Butcher took to the Sistine Chapel.
Welcome to Precious Moments!
A Precious Moment
I guess I should try to say how our pilgrimage to Carthage fits in with the trip’s goals, since this may not be apparent. Basically, as with everything we’ve seen, it broadened our consciousnesses about what’s out there and what counts as art to whom. Our tour guide at Precious Moments certainly talked about Mr. Butcher as if he were our century’s Michelangelo. The popularity of the figurines (and the greeting cards, and the t-shirts, and the prints..) should tell us something about what much of America values as art, and about American Christianity’s particular aesthetic. So many people we’ve met this month have made our country’s religious fervor apparent to us in a way that I, for one, refused to acknowledge previously. Whether or not you enjoy the “Precious Moments style,” as our tour guide referred to the chapel’s aesthetic (though she said Mr. Butcher also knew how to paint in “Modern Style” and “Classic Style”), it’s probably time I at least looked at the stuff. Personally, I find the “style” unbelievably offensive, in all the big ways: sexist, racist, classist, and even weirdly perverted. It certainly has a creepy Neverland quality. I knew these things before visiting the chapel–but I had not actually taken the time to think further about why it appeals to so many Americans. I think that the Precious Moments chapel, despite looking egregiously ugly to me (divorced from my political revulsion, I don’t think that the tear-drop figures are beautiful…then again, it’s obviously impossible to divorce my politics from my aesthetics…), functions similarly to the way churches have always functioned–to provide a palatial house for God’s splendor on earth, to show us a glimpse of His glory. By aligning God with wealth, religion makes itself powerful. But in this case, the particular aesthetic that God’s glory is conveyed in is confusing to me; where did it come from?
The figurines display at the Precious Moments Museum
"The first factory that produced the Precious Moments dolls consisted mainly of Bible School students and Christian workers from three schools in IloIlo, Philippines."
We left Missouri feeling as if we had literally been hit over the heads with bibles and made the long drive to Chicago. In Chicago we stayed with our amazing friend Jack Kerns and his lovely family. Alisa’s mother is also here on a business trip, which means that we have now seen a member of each of our families this month. She took us out for dinner at Le Colonial and then drinks at the Ritz…
Dinner in Chicago--last night on the road
And then, of course, we ended the month with one final night of karaoke. On the 13-15, we’ll be at the Wassaic Festival in Wassaic, NY, doing a screen-printing demo and showing some of our work from the trip. We’ll let you know how that goes. Otherwise, get in touch if you would like a copy of one (or all) of our projects: book, cd, or printed shirt. email@example.com
We signed Jack up to sing Third Eye Blind...continuing in the Austin tradition.