W. David Laird's Picks

Cardona’s large-format black and white photographs, nearly 200 of them, tell stories about people, mostly Hispanic, on both sides of the border and elsewhere: a spade jammed into the ground on a desert roadway [is someone buried here?], a man and his dog asleep in a doorway, a clean-up crew on a rooftop after Katrina. But if Cardona speaks with photo images that attack the mind, Bowden’s text attacks our conscience. His words are simple words arrayed in simple sentences that pile up meaning upon meaning until, eventually, the reader is crushed by the content. In some sense the text is reflected in the astonishing color photo on the jacket: a desert landscape littered with abandoned detritus of humanity. Hundreds (thousands?) of water jugs, backpacks, jackets, shirts, even briefcases; so many, in fact, that large areas of ground in between chollas and other desert plants are completely covered with human refuse. Mind boggling.
Hohokam Millennium, The
This is a terrific book! The 17 essays presented here detailed and accurate but not bone-dry and academic. Anyone with an interest in Arizona- and southwestern-prehistory should be able to comprehend what these experts have to say. Authors such as George Gumerman, David Doyel and Donald Bahr, well-known in archaeological circles, cover the approximately 1000 years of the rise and decline of what we call Hohokam culture giving us insights into religious practices, social structures, agriculture, and much more. Good writing and good editing by people who know their subject.
In Contemporary Rhythm: The Art of Ernest L. Blumenschein
Much more than just a retrospective, the beautiful color (mostly) reproductions here become a complement to five chapters providing us with a clear view of how Blumenschein's art developed during a productive career that exceeded six decades. He came early to the Southwest and by accident to Taos and is noted as one of the founders of what has been dubbed the Taos school [officially the Taos Society of Artists]. He was recognized by his middle years for his innovative use of color and his ability to convey a true “sense of place” without sublimating his art to photographic detail. This book is art and biography beautifully blended.
Kenneth Chapman's Santa Fe: Artists and Archaeologists, 1907-1931: the Memoirs of Kenneth Chapman
Searching for better health Chapman left the damp Eastern seaboard for New Mexico at age 25 in 1899. In then-thriving Las Vegas he had the luck to become employed by Edgar Lee Hewett at the university. He soon moved to Santa FE where he spent most of his long life Fe at the Museum of New Mexico and the Laboratory of Anthropology. In his 60s began to write an autobiography, a mammoth manuscript, never published. Munson’s editing provides an excellent sense of Chapman’s entire life while focusing on those active years, age 32 to 57, during which Chapman’s antipathy for his former mentor and friend, the more famous Hewett, turns his text into a hostile diatribe about Hewett’s life and professional standards, which he deemed quite low. Enjoyable reading about the era in which Santa Fe decided to become “the city different.”
Kenneth Milton Chapman: a Life Dedicated to Indian Arts and Artists
This thorough and very well-written biography is a fascinating look at a little-known but important figure in the early developement of Santa Fe as a focus of Native American and Western art. One of the authors is a relative of the subject and this no doubt colored her writing, but the resulting text has the feeling of truth, sometimes "unvarnished". The authors provide a lively portrait of a man whose nearly 70 years in New Mexico and tireless interest in Native American arts made him an important figure in the revival of those arts. This excellent piece of scholarship--accurate, thoroughly researched and readable--is a fitting complement to Marit Munson's editing of Chapman's autobiography listed elsewhere in this year's best books list.
Legacies of Camelot: Stewart and Lee Udall, American Culture, and the Arts
A touching, personal, and thoroughly enjoyable reading pleasure, this biography-cum-history covers, for the most part, events that occurred in Washington D.C. when Stewart Udall was Secretary of the Interior in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, but the long-term tenure of the Udalls in New Mexico makes it a southwestern book and Finch’s careful research and writing makes it excellent reading. Anyone who was an adult at the time of Kennedy’s inauguration will probably remember Robert Frost’s part, and Finch gives us an insider’s perspective on that event as well as other cultural “happenings” of the time. The significant role of Stewart and his wife Lee in the flowering of government support of the arts in what came to be known as the American Camelot makes the title word legacies especially appealing.
Lucky Billy: A Novel About Billy the Kid
Vernon’s The Last Canyon, which retold Powell’s historic 1869 voyage through Grand Canyon in fictional form was on our “Best Books” list a few years back. Now he gives us a fictional rendering of the saga of Billy the Kid, and a wonderful accounting it is. Skipping back and forth in time, and among characters, Vernon provides dialog that gives us insight into events (such as Billy’s escape from jail) while never giving in to the temptation to simply tell the story. And he uses some historic documents, for example Pat Garrett’s autobiography, to give counterpoint to the events. Near the end we meet both Billy’s reputed father (a man of the theatre, of course, whose name is spelled Bonne with an accent over the “e”) and a small red-headed boy who might be Billy’s persona, still alive.
Radiant Curve, A: Poems and Stories
Five short narratives, the title of one of which provides the title of the book, are distributed among Tapahonso’s poems, and in fact her words flow poetically no matter which designation we choose to give to them. Reading carefully crafted words such as these always makes me want to say “Why don’t we all read more poetry?” I always answer myself “Because we are too lazy! We mostly want our writers to tell us everything; poetry makes us think.” And Tapahonso makes us think, and feel, and care, and wonder, and...
Silver and Stone: Profiles of American Indian Jewelers
From interviews and often re-interviews over the years Bahti, a second generation Tucson dealer in Native American art, has selected nearly 50 individual artists and their family members to highlight with personal texts and fine color photos. Many of the artists work in other media but the focus of this book is silver jewelry and accompanying minerals such as coral and, of course, turquoise. Good color photos highlight each artist’s work and the texts explain how each one came to be an artist working in silver and stone. This book arrived early in the year but it is easy for me to predict that there will not be a better book among my choices by year’s end.
Willard Clark: Printer & Printmaker
On his way to California Clark hit Santa Fe in 1928 (remember what happened in 1929!) and decided to stay. He weathered the Depression years as a commercial printer, but one with the artistic skills which allowed him to create handsome, multi-color illustrations for menus, sales brochures, and the like. WWII changed that when he went to work for the Los Alamos National Laboratory where he stayed until retirement 40 years later, then he picked up his wood-block cutting tools, bought other printing presses and began a second career as printer and printmaker. Farmer gives us a biography of both of those “printerly” years supplying dozens of color and b/w illustrations of Clark’s style which was perfectly suited to the Santa Fe that was becoming “the city different.” Handsome book, well-designed and beautifully printed.

About W. David Laird

W. David Laird is the former head of libraries at the University of Arizona. He owns Books West Southwest, an online and mail order book service. He was on the first Southwest Books of the Year panel in 1977; after a few years off for good behavior, he came back on in 2001.

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