"Sheltering the Creative Spirit"
Taos, New Mexico USA
Photo by Laura Gilpin
During the last decade of his life, through his eighties and into his nineties, Frank Waters produced a prodigious amount of work: a novel, Flight from Fiesta; a major revision of The Woman at Otowi Crossing; an extended essay, The Eternal Desert; and a volume of minibiographies, Brave Are My People: Indian Heroes Not Forgotten. When he died on June 3, 1995, at his home in Arroyo Seco, New Mexico, a few weeks shy of his ninety-third birthday, Waters left behind a completed volume of unpublished essays. MacMurray & Beck has now published that volume. I think all Waters fans will want to add this final work to their Waters collections.
In this book, Waters recalls and reflects upon many experiences of his early life, both around his home in Taos and many thousands of miles from it. I suspect that because of his long residency above Taos, we are inclined to think of Frank Waters as living in isolation in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains above the Taos Indian reservation, meditating and gazing out at the Sacred Mountain. The picture is accurate, but is incomplete unless it includes other experiences such as the many adventures he had as a young man traveling with Mabel and Tony Lujan. With them, Waters traveled to New York City and other major eastern cities, to various areas of the South, and to Mexico. Through Mabel, Waters met
But Of Time and Change does not reflect an old man gazing nostalgically back over his youth. Rather, it reveals an exuberant Frank Waters who still has the ability to present vigorous anecdotes of his younger days and fresh stories of his adventures with his many friends. Here are tales to surprise even his most knowledgeable readers."Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O'Keeffe; Roy Howard of the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain; Eve and John Young-Hunter, the portrait painter, the anthropologist Elsie Clews Parsons; and the Freudian psychologist Dr. [A. A.] Brill. Others came to visit: Thornton Wilder, Wyndham Lewis, John Collier, a host of famous persons. It was a great privilege for me to meet all of them."
Can you imagine, for example, a Frank Waters being deliberately rude to Leopold Stokowski? Or having dinner in the home of the noted psychologist Dr. A. A. Brill? Or knowing intimately Owen Wister's daughter? How about Frank with an unnamed "countess" jumping horseback at Bryn Mawr, the Wister estate near Philadelphia? We see Waters and Tony Lujan barhopping in Greenwish Village and getting thrown out because they want to buy drinks by the bottle, not by the glass.
Prepublication publicity seemed to promote the idea that Of Time and Change is primarily a memoir about Taos. In part, it certainly is, as it deals with Frank's many friends living there in the early days of that fascinating and mysterious town. Indeed, a chapter titled "The Taos Charisma" is one of my favorites. But Of Time and Change is more than Waters's memoirs of famous Taos residents and a history of Taos's early years. Frank was a talented raconteur, a marvelous conversationalist, and a great storyteller. And in typical Frank Waters manner, he always held some things back -- for the next book. The result is a lively ever widening set of tales about his adventures with his many friends and associates. We hear not only about the Lujans but about Leon Gaspard, the famous Russian painter, who secretly treasured the Jewish heritage he hid and who wanted Frank to write his biography but fed him fiction as fact to make it more interesting. It is a perfect illustration of Frank Waters's humanity and tolerance that he continued to value this man's friendship. There is a chapter on Dorothy Brett, an artist of great vision and a dear friend of D. H. Lawrence. Waters writes of other great painters -- of Nicolai Fechin and his many domestic and professional problems, and of Andrew Dasburg, who exhibited three paintings and one sculpture in the famous Armory show and who once won third prize in an exhibition in which Matisse won first prize. This is more than just the inevitable, ever present Taos gossip. Waters extends his scope even wider in his concluding two essays, leaving no doubt in my mind that the subject of this book is not Taos memories alone but, rather, his ongoing thoughts on time and change.
Just as Waters's earlier Mountain Dialogues (1981) moves from an incident with a neighbor child in Arroyo Seco in its first essay to a transcendent overview of Western civilization in its last chapter, so Of Time and Change moves from an opening biographical sketch, "A Mirror View," to contemporary problems on the Mexico-Guatemala border in "The Last of the Mayas" and to his final comments on the Navajo-Hopi land disputes in "The Four Corners." One is reminded of the technique used in his 1942 The Man Who Killed the Deer, in which quite early in the story, Waters introduces a very simple image, a dot enclosed in a circle, a petroglyph viewed by Palemon as he rides to find Martiniano. Initially the reader does not realize that Waters has adopted this image as a kind of blueprint for the entire story. Soon the image reappears as a pebble cast into a pond with its ever expanding ripples. This image is repeated several more times and is related to the ripple effects of Martiniano's legal problems, to a star in the sky, and to "the vibrating drum" of the circular kiva. It appears finally in the novel's last few lines as ripples reaching the "unguessed shores" of "the timeless skies of night." This technique of leading the reader steadily to increasing awareness is a favorite one of Waters and is employed well in Of Time and Change.
Thus, as a demonstration of Waters's ever expanding scope and vision, we see in this book a lively companion piece to the earlier Mountain Dialogues. It is a book filled with charming, delightful, entertaining stories and with Waters's wise and thought-provoking commentary. Of Time and Change is a very welcome final volume. It is good to hear his voice again.
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