The Art of keeping Art alive...

And the difficulty of passing ancient artwork and crafting skills on to the new generation...

Referring to my previous blog, I wish to pick up and highlight this daunting task.

These days, in any society, it is so difficult to keep the youth motivated beyond computer or video games.  Our children are so oversaturated with all of the technology available that it is hard to motivate them for any active or creative endeavors.

Speaking for myself, I have always loved to create things from my earliest recollections.  Not having many toys didn’t bother me as long as I had something to create with.  Wrapping stones and making them into beautiful little parcels was one of my favorites; much to the demise of all the scotch tape at home!  In fact, at one point, I believe I must have been 5 or so, I was convinced I would be a professional parcel wrapper.  I am so glad I elevated on that creative level!!  I hate to think how I could have made a decent living with such a skill, but when you are 5 things do look a lot different.

I loved so much sitting on my great grandmothers lap as she taught me how to draw.  Strangely, we drew lots of soldiers all linked together with lions.  I remember adding soldiers again and again until we had an entire army.  Although drawing is not exactly my strength I ever so fondly remember those creations and that pure love she exuded toward me during those special moments on her lap. I miss her terribly...

With this memory in mind I have often watched throughout my travels many native children and their interaction or lack of enthusiasm for traditional art and craft.  A trip to Gallup New Mexico one year brought this very problem to my attention.  I was visiting Earl’s Cafe and was looking over the beautiful native American bead works.  I picked up a tiny little weave (depicted here) and one of the ladies proclaimed that her niece had made this one and it was her very first piece ever and it would mean the world to her if it were sold.  Picking up on this remark I quickly struck up a conversation with her and learned first hand how difficult it is these days to engage and teach the native American youth this art of bead work weaving and painting on hides and so forth. They have seen their parents and grand parents struggle and the all-time question arises — why should I bother with that when it doesn’t make any money anyway?

I am glad that at the Inter-tribal ceremonial pow-wow in Gallup New Mexico every year, competitions are held to encourage those that are still eager and motivated to engage in these ancient crafts. A beautiful display is available and one can immerse into artworks incredibly elaborate and beautiful.  Yet the danger lurks that fewer and fewer young people are eager to maintain this tradition, not to mention how hard it is to make a living doing this.  Most often, they end up selling it to a Trading Post to get money, where their art and craft often generate a double or triple returns on the price simply because they can.  The shops are the facilities with the capital and yet for the artists, putting food on the table at night is a difficult and imminent matter.  Over the years, I have noticed the exhibits shrinking little by little; not enough to be noticed but it is definitely happening.

Life on the reservation is such that crime and lack of ability to securely store elaborate Indian costumes, bonnets and prayer fans result in these historical and valuable relics of a past civilization being in many cases cases “pawned” throughout the year.  These pawn shops are at least able to keep them secure and offer these somewhat fragile artifacts an adequate climate controlled  storage.  There is always quick money to be made by pawning these pieces of art with the obvious hope that by next year the native American artists will have enough money to once again retrieve their items for their upcoming ceremonials.  Of course, the pawn loans are seldom paid back and so these beautiful pieces are sold off to tourists, never to be replaced.

We also must not forget how hard it is for the Amish to encourage their young persons to their way of life and making a living.  Right here at home in the US this is a very real and vivid concern.  Can we assume that it will not be long before the Amish may “vanish” entirely?

Traveling further south I also noticed that it is primarily elders that are weaving in Ecuador.  As a matter of fact, the spinning of the wool is done by the women and the weaving is destined to be done by the men; weaving is a “mans” job!  I learned from Jose (depicted here) that the biggest difficulty is to engage the young ones there too.  There is simply no money in it and they prefer to rather braid a small tourist bracelet that is easy to sell than to take the time and learn the skills of weaving an elaborate tapestry that may sit for years before being purchased. Apparently, in South America the trend seems that less and less young persons want to have anything to do with that.  I fear a future where all kinds and facets of ancient art will slowly fade away to be gone forever...

I for one love and enjoy buying a locally handmade craft, yet when we go to souvenir shops most likely our “local” souvenirs are made in China.  In a world that is so consumed by technology, I reflect on all my interactions and experiences here and abroad.  I treasure the time and creativity that goes into so many art pieces and not just fine or modern paintings and truly appreciate native crafts.  But then again I am from a different generation.  I hope with all my heart that we can encourage our youth in some way to maintain these traditions of tribal craft making but I simply don’t know how.  All I can do is to spread a little of the wealth when I travel and buy local artists work along the way so they can feed their families and do what they love, but I am just one person.

As with everything around us, times are ever changing and Endurance hopefully will prevail…

Up next in my upcoming blog :  Endurance of another kind… The story and legacy of Y-Knot-Creations...