If by chance you have become familiar with my practices and beliefs as an artist and human being then you have a sense of my dedication and commitment to what I refer to as "Artist as Keeper of Ancestry & Lineage". It is one of the main reasons that for the past year I have done a daily post entitled "Artists Remembered". I believe in remembering and honoring the legacies of my fellow artists - those individuals whose shoulders I stand upon so to speak. Over the last couple of days I have watched as an article entitled...
"How Georgia O'Keeffe left her cheating husband for a mountain: 'God told me if I painted it enough, I could have it'
has been circulating on social media feeds. Before I go any further I would like to say that I am a lover of Ms. O'Keeffe and her work. I am an individual who loves to learn about the grittiness of people's stories and lives. I prefer to learn about the quirks, oddities, hardships, triumphs, misgivings, mistakes, and flaws of my fellow human beings at the same time that I am learning about their strengths, fortitude, courage, vitality, originality, talent, and vision. It is in the intersection or borderlands between what is so often is described as "good or bad", "right or wrong", "truth or fiction" that I find the reality that for me is the most solid of grounds. I love Ms. O'Keeffe's story, her art, her legacy and her contribution.
Now, with that said, I will continue...
Approximately 2 years ago I stood on the land that is now called "Ghost Ranch" (a land and place that has a story and history far more expansive than Ms. O'Keeffe and its usage as a dude ranch - but that is another story.) I listened and heard for the first time as the tour guide pointed us in the direction of Cerro Pedernal and told us the story of Ms. O'Keeffe and her mountain - "God told me if I painted it enough, I could have it." Honestly, I literally guffawed and laughed out loud. I stood there as the other members of the tour turned and looked at me, shocked and dismayed. Yes, this is part of Georgia's story. Yes, it is important to tell in relation to her, her paintings and her life.
and yet...when I say one of my basic tenants as an artist and human being is "Artist of Keeper of Ancestry and Lineage" perhaps it is important to say that I also believe that this phrase, idea, theory, practice extends way beyond what I believe may be understood as the current definition of the word "artist". I offer the following excerpt from my Artist Statement as further explanation...
"As an artist living at the intersections between cultural traditions, I follow a living tradition of experiencing and engaging in the process and creation of art as “medicine”. My artistic creations are interdisciplinary in nature and explore and rise out of the relationship between worlds: a place I refer to as The Borderlands. These in between places hold valuable information regarding the origins of medicine and disease, spirit and matter, and the relationships that exist between all that is. My art is informed and inseparable from my own personal ancestry and lineage. It is connected to and preceded by those who have gone before me and those who have honored and have knowledge of the relationship between art and medicine.
In approaching my artistic endeavors as medicine, I view their creation simultaneously as art, philosophy, prayer, science, ceremony and craft. The subjects of my artistic explorations are treated as entities of body, mind and spirit in a biological, cultural and spiritual circumstance from which they cannot be extricated. They are messages or moments of contact that have passed through me in an attempt to bring awareness, recognition and healing to the nature of the relationships that exist between all beings."
Sometimes when I am very passionate about something, my virgo/scorpio brain can kick into a hyper-drive so to speak. So I hope that to a certain extent I am making myself somewhat clear. What is missing in this article about Georgia and her mountain? In my heart, head, body and soul who that "mountain" is in Ms. O'keeffe's story is just as important, if not more so than Ms. O'Keeffe herself. In my belief's that mountain or Cerro Pedernal cannot be given to anyone by any god. It is the people who are given to Her. I offer the following excerpt from the Book, Valley of the Shining Stone, The Story of Abiquiu by Leslie Polling-Kempes as to who this Being, this Mountain, Cerro Pedernal is...
"...The Chama provides the valley with the water that is its lifeblood, Tsee p'in to the Tewa (both names meaning "flint or flaking stone mountain"), that is the region's heart, and perhaps the keeper of the its spirit too.
Pedernal has been a landmark on the physical and spiritual maps of a dozen cultures spanning a thousand years. The cerro's flat, distinctively truncated head holds a familiar yet mythological posture on the New Mexican horizon for up to fifty miles in several directions. from the north or south, Pedernal appears to be shaped like a long, flat knife; from the eats and west, its narrow summit is a mere knob. In reality it is both of these. Pedernal's truncated neck is long and narrow, its summit an island of chert standing three thousand feet above the floor of the Valley of Shining Stone.
Over the centuries, Pedernal has become sacred ground to several Native American tribes. Like the Piedre Lumbres and all of the regioin of Abiquiu. Pedernal is part of the ancestral lands of the Rio Grande Tewa, who have ceremonial sites on the cerro's sloping sides.
Navajo myth explains the Changing Woman, one of the four principle figures in the Navajo Origin Myth, was found wrapped in many colored lights on a flat topped mesa to the east of Navajoland, somewhere in the Jemez Mountains. Diné signers do not agree upon the exact location of Changing Woman's origin, but there is speculation that the sacred ground is in the mountains west of Abiquiu, specifically, upon the peak called Pedernal.
The Navajo's historic enemy, the Jicarilla Apache, also include Pedernal in the people's Emergence Story. Jicarilla oral historians remember how Pedernal was the first mountain seen by Spider Woman: "When Spider Woman first came upon this earth, there was only one mountain, and that was to the east. Flint Mountain was its name. It is still there in Abiquiu..."
I have lived in northern New Mexico for almost six years now. I am not from this land - I come from another land who has her own stories of great beings whose bodies are the mountains, lakes and valleys. Although I am not born of this particular land, and soon I will be leaving here for the shores of another...I do know that in my experience, in my world, if you approach a place, a land quietly and with the intention of learning its story, it will reveal parts of itself to you. From the moment my eyes first fell upon Cerro Pedernal it was clear that she could never be "mine". I wept the first time I saw her, the first time I felt her. Instead of wanting her, I felt the desire to drop to my knees and bow my head in her presence. In that moment, the voice that I can sometimes hear in my head and my heart spoke the word, "Mother".
In a few moments I will finish this post. Perhaps I will feel slightly calmer in knowing that the "mountain that Georgia left her cheating husband for" has been remembered, her name spoken. She is Cerro Pedernal and if we are lucky, if we ask beautifully, if we listen to hear her whispers... we may be given to Her.
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Heather J Geoffrey