Books

W. David Laird's Picks

Art Of Maynard Dixon, The
This is a magnificent companion volume to Hagerty’s excellent biography of Dixon, published earlier this year by Gibbs Smith. The text here is fulsome, providing thorough background for an understanding of where Dixon was as his art evolved from illustration to painting, and why this evolution occurred. More than 200 vivid illustrations, many of them in the large format of this volume, remind us on page after page that Dixon was a master of both composition and color.
Art Of Maynard Dixon, The
This is a magnificent companion volume to Hagerty’s excellent biography of Dixon, published earlier this year by Gibbs Smith. The text here is fulsome, providing thorough background for an understanding of where Dixon was as his art evolved from illustration to painting, and why this evolution occurred. More than 200 vivid illustrations, many of them in the large format of this volume, remind us on page after page that Dixon was a master of both composition and color.
Converging Streams: Art of the Hispanic and Native American Southwest
This is a catalog for an exhibition at the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art. The 179 color plates display objects ranging from matachine headdresses and retablos to Navajo blankets, silver jewelry and cowhide playing cards! As good as the color plates are, this book is most remarkable for its text. There are eleven essays by experts including editor Wroth, Marc Simmons, Lane Coulter and Ann Lane Hedlund. Each essay is aimed at helping us understand how the cultures of the Southwest have affected each other during centuries of living, working, eating, fighting, painting, carving and dying side by side. It is a wonderful volume, containing both beauty and wisdom.
Death of Josseline, The: Immigration Stories from the Arizona-Mexico Borderlands
She writes for the Tucson Weekly so it should come as no surprise that Regan’s stories have the quality of directness, as if she were speaking to us one on one. There are few happy endings along the modern border between Arizona and Mexico; among many kinds of disasters, children get separated from their parents, injuries force walkers to just sit and wait for La Migra, and those truly bad men called coyotes simply abandon those whom they are supposed to be leading to el norte–but you can rest assured they do not return the money. Fine book, well-written, maybe we should make it required reading for all Arizonans!
Dreamland: the Way Out of Juarez
This is a remarkable collaboration between text and images. Anyone who has read Bowden’s recent books about border issues will find more of his incisive and personal views and experiences here. Perhaps because of our familiarity with his writing, the text seems to pale a bit in comparison with Briggs’ illustrations. She uses a technique known as “scratchboard” which presents to the eye the visual sense of etchings. Her subjects are sometimes playful, as in her takes on Bowden, but more often depict human beings in distress. She presents them with such skill that they might have been drawn by Hieronymus Bosch in the Middle Ages. The cover art warns us of the book’s content, as it depicts a man either committing suicide or shooting someone in the back, or both. If I read the title and subtitle correctly, there are only two ways out of modern Juarez: stay high on drugs or die–either by your own hand or someone else’s. An awesome book!
Gift of Angels, A: The Art of Mission San Xavier del Bac
Magnificent only begins to describe this spectacular, gorgeous and incredible volume which is large and heavy enough to threaten the stability of spindly-legged coffee tables; so buy a new coffee table, for you must own this book. Fontana’s text is the result of more than 50 years of study while he has lived within sight of Tucson’s San Xavier mission church, one of Padre Kino’s chain of mission churches, known as the White Dove of the Desert. One hesitates to say that McCain’s photographs are “better than being there” but it is true that, with the help of ladders and lighting, he gives us spectacular color shots of paintings, designs and statuary some of which visitors simply cannot see from floor level. There will no doubt be future books about San Xavier Mission. There will be none better, or even as good.
History of the Ancient Southwest, A
Since the appearance of his first book in 1983, Lekson has published at least 16 additional titles, all of them dealing, in one way or another, with the archaeology of the Southwest. This latest is a magnificent summary of what we now know about our prehistory. Or, perhaps I should rather say what Lekson knows, and speculates, about our prehistory. This volume will not meet with universal approval because each two-part chapter (there are eight of them) tries to describe both the key players (i.e., archaeological interpreters, past and present) and the cultures they interpret and/or argue about. Lekson does not hesitate to name names when analyzing views he sees as sometimes intentionally wrong-headed and, as you might imagine, he has some strong opinions about what is good in the field as well as what is bad.
Life of Maynard Dixon, The
Born in Central California in 1875, Dixon’s residences and studios were usually in northern and southern California, but his heart was in the desert. He often took trips of weeks and months duration to New Mexico, Arizona, the Mojave Desert and down into old Mexico. With well-chosen quotes from Dixon’s letters and published writings, Hagerty does much more than just describe Dixon-the-artist; he gives us the whole man with his flaws and his triumphs, his loves and losses, his growth and change. More than 180 reproductions of sketches, paintings and murals are carefully keyed to the text, which is extremely readable yet provides all the documentation to make this a comprehensive scholarly biography.
Moctezuma's Table: Rolando Briseño's Mexican and Chicano Tablescapes
“Tablescapes” may not be a word familiar to all readers. It means art of a special kind as Briseno, using acrylics and other colorful media, paints on napkins, tablecloths, dish towels and, occasionally, on other surfaces. The images themselves almost always relate to food, such as a three-dimensional rendering of the Alamo in corn dough. Fourteen essays explain, or at least comment upon, Briseno’s art, and often on the social-construct of the endeavor as well: what in the world is Briseno up to anyway? A concluding chapter, edited from a lengthy interview of the artist by Cary Cordova, is titled simply “Epilogue–Rolando Briseno: An Artist’s Life.” Every book collection dealing in any manner with contemporary art must own this lavishly illustrated volume.
Murder City: Cuidad Juarez and the Global Economy's New Killing Fields
Bowden’s killing fields are those city streets, back alleys, buildings, farm-fields, and anywhere else that drugs and money are exchanged in large quantities. But he’s been concentrating on that huge Mexican city across the river/border from El Paso where the murder rate has accelerated beyond belief. Bowden’s style in this book, with its on-the-spot interviews, newspaper obituaries, and staccato paragraphs will remind some readers of the hard-hitting pieces he wrote when he was editor of Tucson’s City Magazine. The reader has no time to recover from visions of decapitated bodies and de-bodied heads before being plunged into the next ugliness! This a truly powerful presentation of what modern life is like at a major crossing point between the U. S. and Mexico.
Working the Line
In addition to Taylor’s large-format, you-are-there photographs, this wondrous, and simultaneously depressing, book has two Spanish/English essays (by Luis Alberto Urrea and Hannah Frieser) that tell us in words what the photos help us interpret. In addition an “accordion” of an additional set of color photographs depicts what 88 points along the border (going west from number one near El Paso) look like today. A remarkable accomplishment.

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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