An illustration for Dr. Patricia Crown of the University of New Mexico, showing the technique presumably used a thousand years ago by the inhabitants of Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, to froth a drink made from cacao traded up from Mexico. Arguing the details with three archaeologists and four Pueblo consultants took six weeks and about fifty emails. Love this kind of dialogue!
And yes, the woman has six toes. A mutation that shows up archaeologically and may be associated with high status.
The story of chocolate in Chaco is fascinating. Here’s Dr. Crown’s brief introduction to it:
More of my favorite kind of illustration, historical recreation:
The mud is dry, the dust has settled, the links have been checked twice (remember, though: imperfection is vitality). The updated digital Betsy is here, as multilayered, quirky, and internally referential as its author.
Check out the Gallery, with examples of my current painting series. It’s not a sales gallery–for that you’ll find a link to Matteucci Galleries in Santa Fe–it’s a group of my favorites. You may find paintings you own; you tend to buy the ones I like best!
Enjoy the “Boots” photo series—you’ve seen a few in my posts. And since I have a more or less equal appreciation of boots and books, look for “Stories,” which features complete short stories published in Fantasy and Science Fiction and Realms of Fantasy. I had fun digging through years of daybooks and art files for illustrations.
Note that if you haven’t explored the portals to art-and-writing process you may enjoy that rich wilderness. You’ll find updates there as well.
Thank you for your patience, and enjoy! I’ll return to hike entries soon, I promise. Now where’s my paintbrush?
There are still a few Dark-eyed juncos in their little executioners’ hoods. When I make the birders’ “pishing” noise they get curious and come to about fifteen feet away, making a sound like agate pebbles tapped together.
In the trackless mudstone of Piedra Lumbre, five or six hogan rings: stone foundations with east-facing doors, still holding what was left of the cribbed juniper rafters of traditional Navajo houses. Judging by the decay of the juniper, well over a hundred years old. Beyond them, two circles of ash filled with fragments of trash, probably fires that burned the deceased’s possessions. The squashed casing of a cheap nickel pocket watch.
Writer-illustrator Betsy James, in conversation with older readers.
I watched a charcoal garter snake with two brown stripes navigate the puddles of a rain-soaked road. Sometimes it crawled, sometimes it swam, fluid either way. I understood why Puebloan water deities—Kolowisi, Avanyu—are serpents.
It lay still while I stroked it with a grass stem, then slipped away.
At Zuni Pueblo, a storymaking workshop for 3rd, 4th, 5th graders. Writers can’t be restrained from doodling while they think, so we covered the new library tabletops with yellow butcher paper. When we cleaned up on Friday—the kids long gone—among the smudgy misspellings and graffiti was this drawing, unsigned.
In the chaotic changes of our lives, it’s too easy to come adrift from the slow, unpretentious urges that are the reason for art in the first place. To remember those urges, and to serve them, I’ve never found a better tool than a sketchbook and a very black pen.
My family was anxious about labels. (“What’s your major?”)
To my ancestors—who according to the Zunis are dancing for eternity, though it’s hard to envision those inveterate Presbyterians dancing at all—I say: What I am is me. I am the one who writes, paints, works, sings…and dances.
How to do it all—time allocation—is another question. Honest, guys, I don’t know how. I dither and fiddle and get cranky. I put in a good work day, but sometimes that means lying in the grass staring at clouds, or walking around an Asian store trying to guess what the hell some dried object is.
I try to distinguish my family’s slightly hysterical work-ethic voice from the deep, driving voice of what actually wants to get done. Sometimes one is louder, sometimes the other. But as I accept my own mortality I have less patience for the hysterical voice. More and more I cleave to the voice of time, nature, peace: the voice of earth, where we are one of the gang: very unimportant, very much a part of the world.
Who am I? A writer or an illustrator? Which? Both?
For years I drove myself insane with that question. Sometimes quite theatrically. “Is there a name for somebody who isn’t just an artist and isn’t just a writer but is something that doesn’t really have a name? How do I tell people what I ‘do’? What am I?”
Many a 2 a.m. distress session there. Until a friend clarified things.
He said, “Your nouns are fighting each other: artist vs. writer. If you used verbs instead—I’m painting or I’m writing—then it’s just a question of time allocation.”