"The event featured lectures on sustainability, two films on the same theme and various musical performances throughout the day"
This festival had an impressive turnout, judging from the number of lunches sold. Festival organizer and Interim Director of the campus Melissa Velásquez estimates there were 120 people in attendance, including a few individuals from the Northern New Mexico Normal School Alumni who were on campus for a planning retreat. The event featured lectures on sustainability, two films on the same theme and various musical performances throughout the day.
Visitors could also take part in and observe demonstrations of the various heritage programs that are housed at Northern’s El Rito campus including: Spanish Colonial Furniture making with instructors Rick Gonzales, Daniel Tafoya, and assistant David Vargas; Adobe and Solar Construction led by Quentin Wilson; Tinsmithing with JD Martinez; Retablo Making with Juanito Jimenez; and Weaving and Fiber Arts with Karen Martinez and crew.
Early in the day, after a welcome from President Rusty Barceló and Provost Anthony Sena, Velasquez defined sustainability and explained the meaning behind the festival’s name, “Capacity to Endure.” “By examining the ecological, economic, and social systems, we can look to sustainability to really illuminate the mutual effects between environmental degradation and the perils to human systems where global environmental problems are concerned," she said. "This is especially crucial in northern New Mexico because if we want to continue what many northern New Mexicans define as our way of life through land-based practices such as, for example, livestock grazing, it is important to educate ourselves on the ways to mitigate and support these human activities and desired goals without exhausting the resources upon which both people and livestock depend. Both knowledge and application of sustainable practices will work toward situating us in a true capacity to endure and sustain ourselves through the years to come.”
Later that morning Dr. James Biggs gave a presentation called “From Natural Security to National Security,” which focused on the connection between natural resource conservation and national security. In terms of agriculture, local, sustainable (non-chemical-based) food production and distribution can contribute in large part to increased economic, energy, and food security. Biggs also highlighted the relationship between violent conflicts and decreasing natural resource availability and access. Areas dependent on oil and natural gas are particularly vulnerable to conflict, which, in turn, can lead to supply disruption and resource contamination. He discussed the effects of a continuously changing climate that may have significant impacts on the quantity and quality of freshwater supplies, which could lead to further conflicts and a reduced capacity to secure our food supplies.
Outside of Cutting Hall, and across campus, fantastic odors were emanating from the Fiber Arts shop, where a class was busy cooking stockpots full of dyes for yarn from a wide variety of natural sources.
For yellow, there was the cota plant. Alkanet created a purple dye, and walnut hulls gave a rich brown hue to the boiling water. More unexpected sources of color included madder root, Brazil wood, and crushed cochineal. Cochineal are small reddish-purple beetles that live on cacti. When crushed they are used to create carmine red. (Beware: when you apply that red lipstick, there is a chance that the color is manufactured from crushed bugs!) At the end of the day, large, loose bundles of yarn in all of these colors hung on a wooden rack to dry in the sun.
A visit to the retablo studio is like a journey into the past. Instructor Juanito Jiminez explained the various colors and pigments used for his creative work. Some materials and pigments used in creating natural dyes for yarn are also used for painting the wooden retablos. The students in this studio also use standard watercolors on the white-washed wood to create images of Catholic saints. Other images are allowed, though they are rare. “Much of this art is devotional, but then all art is spiritual,” said Jimenez. He pointed to a book standing on the top shelf of a book case, the cover of which depicted a large retablo-style rendition of a Buddha.
“We do a lot of community outreach,” Jimenez said, holding up three painted tablets to be donated to the baptismal font at the St. Thomas Church in Abiquiu. He then pointed to an image of a saint painted onto a large section of tree. The chunk of wood was in its natural state, complete with a knothole in the saint’s chest. Another student held up a carved and stained wooden heart next to the retablo, explaining that it was meant to be placed in the knothole.
Student Viola Jimenez showed off a beautiful wooden tablet with the image of a water-bearing angel. In fact, images of water are popular in this region where the conservation of water has been an everyday part of life for generations.
Across the acequia, Quentin Wilson and two of his Adobe students prepared to apply mud plaster to an horno in front of the Administration building. While the students mixed water and dirt in a wheelbarrow, Wilson showed off his latest invention: Adobe Bells. These consisted of a series of mud bricks hung from the frame of an old blackboard with twine. One of the bricks—or bells—had a drawer handle affixed to it. “That is my adobe briefcase,” Wilson explained. “I had to show that you actually could make a briefcase out of mud and that you could sink screws into an adobe and they would hold.”
A few of the “bells” were composed of compressed earth, and, as Wilson explained, the especially sonorous bricks came from a building site near Chimayo. “It might be because of the sand content,” mused Wilson.