Archive for March, 2010


“Protect Our Wildlife Corridors” Community Mosaic

Mitch Johnson addresses LPA hike at spring in Tejon Canyon

The Sandia Mountain Wilderness (yes, federally designated) is roughly 60 square miles, with surrounding National Forest lands increasing this amount. This mountain range is not officially part of the Rocky Mountains, those end 50 miles north in the Sangre de Cristo range.  In between the two ranges is little habitat designated as “high quality” for the big mammals – both predators and ungulates – that keep the natural balance intact.

Wildlands Network is aware of the weakness of this area that has Sangres to the north, Jemez mountains to the west and Sandias to the south.

So have been some individuals who have lived here for a long time, including Peter Callen, Mitch Johnson, Elise Vanarsdale, Gordon Darbro, Sandy Johnson, Laura Robbins and Michael Delongchamp. As the story is told, Mitch and Elise one day perched on the Sandias back northeast side observed how there was just one chunk of land left undeveloped by us humans. They saw that day the necessity to keep that area from development.

from Tecolote ridge in Sandias looking north

At the time of the hike sponsored by Las Placitas Association in October of ’07, Peter and Mitch and Gordon and Elise were attending public hearings to give testimony on why that area should not be opened to OHV usage. I don’t do justice to all the work they did. Laura Robbins at that time came up with her idea of starting a community art project to raise awareness on the issue. She had been devoting years to the craft of mosaic and creating many large mosaics with handmade clay, glass, and prefab tile for private clients. But a community-built mural would be an exciting way to educate others, too. Folks could learn about our area’s wildlife needs, reasons to hold off on big road projects and dense construction. Folks could also learn about mosaic.

We were both at Ann Pollard’s home for the monthly artist meeting February of ’08 when the sparkle came into her eyes as she told me of her idea. “Yeah, I’d be into helping, for sure,” I said, “Remember, I have done all those whole-school tile murals, right?” Yeah, she knew. And we started to meet and pool ideas about how to organize it. A timeline was drawn up and plans for volunteer feedback and celebration were sketched in. The May 31st meeting at Laura’s studio gathered around 20 folks who brought their drawings of life-size animals and took home bags of the high fire clay.

Also the talk focused on involving youth.  Arrangements were set for me to go in to the local elementary that September to get student input. I pushed for panels that would reflect actual habitats.

Laura made many key contacts – with the Placitas Recycling Center that had the walls, with Roger Evans, cohort artist with architectural savvy for big installations, with many of her mosaic and wildlife artist enthusiast friends. And she wrote the first article and wrote the first grant. I added paragraphs. I took pictures. I bought sawhorses and a roll of fiberglass mesh and started having my own artist friends over to my backyard studio to make the many native animals out of clay over the summer. The first panel came together at Laura’s studio, and the big sign, and they were both installed in August that first summer. Artists who made animals on this panel: Barb Belknap, Cate Clark, Karl Hofmann, Laura Robbins, Judith Roderick … artists who laid it down: Daisy Kates, Eve Jones, Ann Arkin, Susan Lashbrook, Carole Vosburgh, Peter Callen, Laura … folks who installed it: Peter Callen, Daisy Kates, Bruce Schor, Gordon Darbro, Mitch Johnson, Geneva Boliek, CB Bryan, Steve and Linda Spaulding, Keiko Ohnuma, Cate Clark, Rick Kossow …

Bear panel - installed 8/10/08

In August I experimented with hot glue to bind the pieces of 2 inch thick construction foam, then went to the web to research glues and ended up using Gorilla to bind the extra feet on the side and top to form the 9 foot by 6 and a half foot arched panel, the motif created by Roger. It was his idea to construct the mosaic off-site, then haul and bolt to the cinder block walls. I also went to the web to download photos of our Sandias, the view from the east and south of South Peak and the Sandia Mountain Natural History Center where I was a volunteer with the 5th grade hikes. I wanted the High Country Panel to look like that place – with Gambel Oak, Ponderosa Pine, limestone and red sandstone. Artists who created animal and plant tiles for this panel: Sarah Rose, Cirrelda Snider-Bryan, Erica Hoverter, Patricia Halloran, CB Bryan, JB Bryan, Geneva Boliek-Poling, Daniellen Anderson, Sandy Liakus, Doreen Goodlin, Keiko Ohnuma. Artists who plunked: Patricia, Erica, Cirrelda, Keiko, Sandy, Laura. Installed and grouted – a big group that’s credited elsewhere.

High Country Panel installed 10/19/08

The web was the source for photos of grasslands plants that the elementary students would be creating for the 3rd habitat panel, a neat design made by Laura to show the native antelope elk, prairie dogs AND wild horses that all had either ancestral or modern day homes there. About 60 students and adults from Placitas Elementary made plant tiles, Patricia Halloran, Mitch Johnson, Laura Robbins, Sarah Rose, Riha Rothberg, Ricardo Guillermo, Joan Hellquist, Anne Greene and Cirrelda made the clay animals. The layout occurred with the help of Patricia Halloran, Laura, Joan, Riha, Rod and Fonda Kirchmeyer (who also constructed the panel), Lynae Maxim, Grayce Schor, Deb Pascuzzi, Julie McGaharan, Susie Sirl, Penny Vincent, Cirrelda and Keiko …

Grasslands panel installed 5/31/09

Last fall two of us, Keiko Ohnuma a wonderful writer and clay artist and I, spent over 100 hours writing a grant we thought we had a good chance of getting.  You know the story of high hopes for grants – they crash into the ground. Anyway, the panel happening this season is being done by youth at three schools. It will depict a Riparian zone. The student whose schema drawing was my favorite is Isaiah Martinez:

Bosque Habitat by Isaiah Martinez

The original plans for this panel have seen a lot of changes, two of them due to grant funding falling through!

I will continue to update the progress here, but also please visit for more info.


yellow apron & purple clipboard

dream this a.m.–

amidst the stones in my old school’s courtyard where the rain falls off the eaves I find my crumpled yellow apron and sun-bleached purple clipboard half buried in the effluent stones and sandy dirt


Burning on el día de San José

Alameda Raku

Burning up the old, the not-necessary, the broken, the excess.

My grandma did it! (to the big Jemez basket her cat Mike had peed in …)

My niece tells me my sis does it.

I need to do it – I hang on to too much.

On the 19th of March, Día de San José, 34 years ago, living in Valencia, Espana, I experienced the last night of  “Las Fallas.” So many people packed into the streets, the crowd buoyed you – it was solid people between the buildings, from plaza to plaza, the dark night sky above the roaring fires of the 2-story tall sculptures we’d seen bright with paint in the daylight.

Valencia’s idea of making a sculpture out of discarded stuff to give voice to the politics you hate – then to burn! -Las Fallas – would be a great way to go these days.


...Lastly, the Fallas Festival is a festivity that takes place 15th-19th of March every year to celebrate the spirit and tradition of the Fallas-Communities.

Originally, the Fallas Festival was the celebration of spring. The early Fallas-Sculptures were nothing more than a pile of old winter junk that got burned to clear space in the houses. In a way, it signified getting rid of the old for a new beginning.

The Fallas are incredible in how many dimensions they have. They are an artistic pursuit: the Fallas-Sculptures are a unique Valencian form of art (and can be very impressive). They are an intellectual rhetoric: every Falla-Sculpture is deeply thought through and sharp in its satire. They are an opportunity for strengthening social bonds in the neighbourhood. Las Fallas are a hedonistic excuse for a week-long party. And yes, you could easily find a philosophical streak there too: the ease with which millions of euros burn on the streets of Valencia never stops to impress foreigners.

I would like to clear space in my house AND make a sharp satirical statement, too. But these days can’t make the space in my very busy days to do it.

On the 23rd of March  7 years ago, our family walked to the streetside gathering at 4th and Osuna with other families holding candles to protest the US bombing of Baghdad. It started raining while we stood in a group of 40, our candles still burning under umbrellas, some passersby smiling with thumbs up from car windows, others so mad at us they slammed on their horns frowning. It has been a long war. (Remember when Bush didn’t call it a war for a while?)


Mi Méjico Lindo me trae angustia – what awful reality in Juárez

In my 6 weeks at Bernalillo Mid School running their art program, I met a group of young women who recently moved here from Chihuahua. They were ‘fast friends,’ always sitting the five of them at the table for four, breaking into Spanish in their chatting, not interacting much with the other 20-some students. Their work habits were outstanding. Meticulous, on top of the assignments, they put fine attention into their drawings and creations. Selina whose seat was at the head of the table, seemed older than her 13 years, wiser. Her hand-eye coordination for transferring what she saw was well-developed, though all of them had a personal style that was neat and dextrous and you could tell they were enjoying the acts of making.

Selina said one day, “Aw you are just praising me to be nice.” I just shook me head and looked her in the eye, ” No, your work merits it.” When asked to write messages to the people of Port Au Prince Haiti, they were the ones who wanted to write their phrases in French.  I told them once, “Mantengan su uso de las dos lenguas. La mente de una persona que sabe dos es mas lista.” Keep your knowledge of two languages. Your mind is smarter knowing two.”

The last day of January I asked if they had heard about the shootings at the party in Juárez. They said yes! Not on our local news, I had seen the NY Times article linked from a friend’s Facebook post that morning before work. (I will link it here below. There still has not been coverage here locally …). We all shook our heads together on that awful situation.

On the day when the hired teacher arrived and the students found out I was leaving, Selina, Indra, Ilse and Daisy all came over to my corner where I sat posting grades and formed a big circle around me smiling and telling me they didn’t want me to go. I told them they should be very proud of themselves, their ability, their smartness, their work habits. And to help the wonderful new teacher as they had helped me.

I will think of them. They remind me of the protagonists in Luis Urrea’s Into the Beautiful North, the young revolutionary and capable women of Méjico he created who cross the border in order to bring back their countrymen to help them stand up to the drug dealers taking over their town.

The attack in the violent border city of Ciudad Juárez bore the signs of the drug-related violence that has killed thousands.

Cranes still flying north on March 2nd, 2010

Flap up, flap down, glide

two cranes too low for

getting outta town.

clay & log posts

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