Community Project: Origins in Mud

“Elsewhere the sky is the roof of the world; but here the earth was the floor of the sky.”
― Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop

Artist-in-Residence Sally Blakemore and Community Projects Liaison Barb Macks are spearheading an amazing project, and you, as a BAG member, can be part of its creation. “Santa Fe: Origins in Mud” is sponsored by Santa Fe Book Arts Group (BAG) in cooperation with the Palace Press at the Palace of the Governors/Santa Fe History Museum and El Zaguan (located on Canyon Road and part of the Historic Santa Fe Foundation).

“Origins in Mud” is an interactive, paper-engineered book celebrating Santa Fe’s multi-cultural diversity and reflecting the origins of a society that literally grew out of the Southwest mud. The book consists of five spreads, each page being 15” wide by 20.5” high with 1” spines. When it is extended flat it will be 12.5’ long, dense with interactive flaps that engage the viewer to explore the hidden treasures. The mechanical paper forms will lift, pop up, rise, and unfold, reveal and conceal, or unfold and extend when the viewer opens a page. Architectural details will be cut into the papers with further details added.

Prototype of “Santa Fe: Origins in Mud.” Click image to open larger in another window.

For the exhibit at El Zaguan in Spring 2022, we envision a dark, empty gallery with a 20-foot-long table in the middle of the room. Under the table a wooden trough will contain all of the incredible colors of earth in the region, from yellow ochre clays to green sand to red earth. The actual earth will ground the brown colors in the handmade Lokta/Abaca papers created for the project by Tom Leech of the Palace Press.

The book is designed to be viewed in 360 degrees. Visitors will use flashlights to see inside and through the structures. From the back, painted rooms and silhouetted human life will create shadows that live in the paper as the light moves.

As you can imagine, it takes a lot of artists with skill in many disciplines to make this book a reality. Sally and Barb will hold in-person workshops for 2 or 3 people beginning in September.

Below is a description of each spread; the * and bold text indicates that artists are needed to create this piece.  If you would like to create a piece, contact Sally at right away.

1. The “Oldest” House

  • Corn stalks and river, inside flap painted with workers planting and showing corn
  • Foods made with corn, beans, squash, meat, and peppers *
  • Medicine bag of curandera herbs and sage *
  • Inside of the “Oldest” House (seen from the back): people and belongings and working with other people *
  • Vegetation to be added to the spreads, trees, bushes, flowers *
  • Fauna and flora of New Mexico *
  • Beaded and embroidered cloth map of El Camino Royale *
  • Ravens (The Raven’s Tale is a small book based on an Indigenous story but a modern book based on what the ravens observed for 10,000 years) *

The origins of this house reside in the relationship between the Catholic church and the curanderas of Mexico. The architects were the Aztec (Tlaxcalan) from Mexico City who set the standard for early building in New Mexico. The Urrutia map of 1766-68 shows a structure near the San Miguel Chapel in the approximate position of this house. It is believed that it was built by hand from mud and trees found in the area and constructed on top of an ancient footing from an Indigenous village underneath it. Tree-ring specimens taken from some of the vigas in the lower rooms’ ceilings show cutting dates of 1740-67. The house remains a unique remnant of the type of building once prevalent in the city—part Indigenous, part Spanish, low-ceilinged and rugged, with dirt floors and thick adobe walls.

2. San Miguel Chapel

  • Tlaxcalan (Aztec) builders *
  • Moorish Matachine Dancers on the plaza in front of the chapel *
  • Interior painting showing the altar and seating *
  • Pop-up of unique bell made in Spain and rung against the Moors *
  • Adobe and rammed-earth building components and hornos *
  • Ravens

The chapel was built around 1610 and is recognized as the oldest church in the United States. It is believed that it was constructed by Tlaxcalan people (Apaches) who came to New Mexico from old Mexico in 1598. In its early years, the church served a small group of Tlaxcalans, laborers, and Spanish soldiers who lived in this area. The church was partially destroyed in 1640, then reconstructed but severely damaged again during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. In 1955, a major restoration uncovered the original dirt floor and sanctuary steps that can be seen today.

3. St. Francis Cathedral and Original Chapel

  • Conquistadora portrait and story of rescue to El Paso during the revolt *
  • Altar and candles
  • Relic case with acetate window*
  • Pet Parade
  • Rose Window and Dove Window
  • Finger Labyrinth cut from handmade paper on the flap of the Pet Parade
  • Sculptures on the plaza: St. Francis, Corn Maiden, Dancing Maiden
  • Ravens
  • Cross of the Martyrs

The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi was built by Archbishop Jean Baptiste Lamy between 1869 and 1886 on the site of an older adobe church. Influenced by the French-born Archbishop Lamy and in dramatic contrast to the surrounding adobe structures, the Cathedral was designed in the Romanesque Revival style. The concurrence of the soil and color at the Cathedral is echoed in this passage from Frank Waters’ People of the Valley:

“Before her, fresh plastered, new-adobe Santa Gertrudes shimmered in the hot afternoon. The walls of Bishop Lamy’s new church rose clean ash-grey with adobe brought from Guadalupita. Behind it, chattering like a flock of blackbirds, the Sisters of Loretto watched their convent school being given its first coat of yellow tierra amarilla. In the row of stores, trading posts, and cantinas, Maria recognized the relumbroso from the red clay banks around Turquillo. And north and south, the scattered adobes reflected white and clay-blue from Cañoncito and Chacón. It was a single village street sprawled along the winding, rutted road between the pine hills and the cottonwoods lining the river. But with its colors the girls saw in it all the clay banks and canyons, the hills and chalk cliffs of the one long valley she wandered from end to end.”

4. La Fonda Hotel

  • The Ghost Fountain and story of the casino days (pop-up flap) *
  • Inside La Plazuela restaurant, with its painted windows *
  • La Titilla Peak in various light and seasons
  • Trees in the vicinity *
  • Ravens
  • Roof bar showing Titilla Peak and Caldera
  • Flamenco scene and Mariachis

City of Santa Fe records indicate that La Fonda sits on the site of the town’s first inn, established when the city was founded by Spaniards in 1607, making it the oldest hotel corner in America. In 1821, Captain William Becknell and his party found their way to La Fonda during the maiden commercial route across the plains from Missouri, establishing the Santa Fe Trail. The structure today was built in 1922 and features the influence of architects Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter and John Gaw Meem. In this book La Fonda represents an end-of-the-trail place of welcome (bienvenidos) and hospitality. It existed as a casino and brothel for many years at the edge of the St. Francis Cathedral, highlighting the contrast between sanctity and sanctified partying.

5. The Palace of the Governors

  • Plaza flap with another flap of the obelisk as it was and toppled *
  • Note about the Time Capsule *
  • Low Rider Parade with low riders in the accordion fold
  • Festivals around a suggested bandstand *
  • Baumann House *
  • Pop up of Tom Leech and the Palace Press letterpress *

As Spain’s seat of government for what is today the American Southwest, the Palace of the Governors’ adobe structure is the oldest continuously occupied public building in the United States. In the following years, the Palace changed hands as the territory of New Mexico did, seeing the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, the Spanish reconquest from 1693 to 1694, Mexican independence in 1821, and finally American possession in 1848. This piece of architecture holds our ancient mud history along with more modern histories. The seduction of the pristine Southwestern land preserved by Indigenous people is a planetary experience grounded in culture and mud. Indigenous hunter-gatherers came from Mexico City in search of water. Santa Fe was considered a cornucopia because of the Rio Grande and the Santa Fe River at San Isidro Crossing. The City was born from the dust of the Santa Fe Trail. Trains created larger markets for travelers, establishing the tourist economy.