Sometimes you visit a place that becomes difficult to describe in words. I remember visiting Santa Fé for the first time a few years ago, and the words I shared then and the ones that stay with me every time I talk about it is how the colors make it impossible to take a bad photograph there. How I understood why Santa Fé had this ability to draw artists and writers into its fold and inspire so many to take on a life of creativity.
Then I went to Taos and realized that in many ways the same is true here. When the Whiskey Sisters and I visited Taos the day was bright and the sky blue. It wasn’t as hot as I expected it to be, a bit warm, but comfortable.
As the day progressed I realized that what makes Taos are its people. Because of this, I decided that I would share my Taos experience by highlighting those who helped to shape it.
The very first to greet us upon our arrival to Taos, and our gracious guide and host, was Robert Cafazzo, a celebrated artist and owner of Two Graces Plaza Gallery who at the time of our visit also worked for Taos Tourism. He spent the day with us, taking us around one of Taos’ most sacred natural springs and introducing us to his fellow community members and favorite attractions and eateries.
But it was the compassion with which he spoke about Taos, how his ambition for a different, more enriched life led him and his wife here and has never looked back since, that made me pause and really take a slow look at what it is about this town that brings people in and convinces them to stay. In Boston, Robert was a beloved art professor, adored by his students and peers. Here in Taos he continues to share his art with many and give back in other ways to those in his community and we were fortunate to have him share his hometown with us.
Pat Romero, from Taos Pueblo, is known for his music, his ability to share the stories of his people, and his Moccasin Wire local radio show.
He was the first of the Pueblo people with whom we would connect with us on this day. While overlooking the Llano Quemado Ponce de Leon hot springs, he shared with us how important these springs are for his people and culture, and about his work to bring younger generations to help clean up and restore indigenous land in need of attention and restoration. Of course, he is one of many to dedicate himself so passionately to the cultural survival and celebration of his people and their traditions.
The kindness in his voice and the pride with which he spoke to us about these things made me realize how special an opportunity it was to meet him.
We met artist Deborah Rael-Buckley at her adobe studio, Studio Quemazón, to admire her large sculptures and hear the inspirations behind them. So beautiful were her stories that at one point there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. She came into sculpting later in her life, and I asked her if she ever felt insecure about her abilities as an artist, or intimidated in presenting her work in public. “No. I always knew I was talented. I always knew it would work out.” Her confidence in her craft is a passionate as the emotions to puts into all of her pieces. I felt like i could spend hours just listening to her and admire her work.
Taos Pueblo is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a National Historic Landmark, the only Native American community designated as such. On the day of our visit, the clouds loomed overhead at first, leaving me unsure of the weather. Shortly after, the sun’s bright light helped to highlight the colors of the adobe houses, many of which have been inhabited by the same Tribal families for over 1,000 years. Visitors are welcomed to come and visit and tour the area (there is a small entry fee) and enjoy the many shops in the area.
One place we delighted in for lunch was at Adobe Cafe, with Mary Winters at the counter greeting us, and Esther Winters in the kitchen where all the magic happens. I was lucky to get her to let me check her out in action, though as a cook myself, I knew she would prefer her space and privacy while she was in the process of making us her delicious lunch which consisted of quesadillas, tacos, and wraps that had all the flavors I love from the region.
I also got to meet Esther’s sister, Patricia Michaels, a designer who is a local celebrity for her participation in Season 11 Project Runway. Patricia’s lively spirit and energetic personality is very contagious, even to those who are around her as often as her sister is.
Angelo McHorse came back home after studying in Colorado to manage the Taos Pueblo Red Willow Farmer’s Market . It is here that he spends most of his time trying to encourage younger members of his Pueblo community to embrace farming again and to learn the agricultural skills so important to his people and the community. He walked away from a meeting to explain and show us what he and Red Willow are doing, their progress, and even their hopes that the interest in this area will once again become one of interest, though he admitted that there were challenges.
He expressed his love for the Colorado lifestyle, specifically for rock climbing, but the love he has for his community was strong enough to bring him back home and give back to his community in a way that he understood was gravely needed. I don’t know of too many young men his age that would be so selfless in their ambitions to help others in the way he does every day.
Nita Murphy, co-author of “Millicent Rogers: A Life In Full” fascinated me. Even with her book in hand, as she recounted the tales of her times interviewing and research the life of Millicent Rogers, she said she wasn’t a writer, that she didn’t know how to write, but had a story to tell. I looked at her in amazement at how that works, and in how her humility convinced her of such a thing. But then again, I often say the same thing and it made complete sense to me.
She spoke of her rebellious path to find her freedom and self, all of which led her here. To listen to her speak, one would never guess she was from here from the start, she so to convey that sense peace and fulfillment, albeit restless creative energy common in every single person I met.
Portrait of Millicent Rogers, from the Millicent Rogers Museum
I guess that’s really what Taos is. A place which at first glance seems tranquil and quiet but delve deeper and connect with its people and suddenly you feel the energy, a passion within those who live there. It shows itself in different ways, whether it is in speaking out for and in support of heritage, traditions, and cultural beliefs, or in expression through various artistic forms and mediums, or in the commitment to give back to others, or in telling their story, against all odds. And that’s what makes it such an exciting place to visit.
(Along the way, we even made a four-legged friend. Happy Feet greeted us as we toured Pueblo and even – with a little bit of convincing – smiled for the camera. Such is the Taos way.)
Thank to Robert and all the people we met at Toas for sharing their stories, their time, and their friendship.
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