The Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newsmagazine Serving the Community since 1989

SANDOVAL ARTS

Sensual, erotic, and entangled

Katrina Lasko

Sensual. Erotic. Entangled. We all have personal definitions of these words based upon personal experiences. Therefore we have our own way of defining art that is described by these words.

Art throughout history has dealt with the subjects of love and sexuality and entanglements. Much art is defined by the context in which we view it. If we are told it is erotic, we will see it as erotic. The erotic in art evokes a personal response from the viewer. However, erotic art is often subtle or playful in its appeal. An abstract painting or sculpture may take on a form that we identify as erotic, a reminder of something the viewer thinks of as erotic. Erotic art is most successful when it doesn't slam you in the face, when it takes the audience to a place of delight, fancy, and sexuality.

The word "sensual" brings many things to mind—a warm bubble bath, a massage, a rock that fits your hand perfectly, an orchid, the curve of a body, the smell of chocolate. In  art, I think of the perfect line, the simplicity of a drawing by Picasso. I think of the tactile smoothness of a marble sculpture, running your hand over a form that you can imagine with your eyes closed through touch. Whether the art is painting, sculpture, or photography, it evokes in the viewer his or her own definition of sensuality.

A photographer that I know plays with the idea that we all want to look at an erotic artwork, but we try to avert our eyes so that others will not sense our desire for involvement. The artist presents the photographs in and out of focus style, and also places the "action" toward the edges, where our eyes go to avoid the subject. Consequently we run right into it—an interesting trick, I think.

February is the month of love and Eros, with its day of dedication on Valentine’s Day. Love and sensuality and eroticism are a part of all of our lives, whether they are past memories or present involvements or even future desires. It is human nature and positive (for the most part) to love and be loved. Someone I know asked me several months ago whether or not I wanted to be loved. That is a question we all should have an answer to before becoming involved, entangled.

    Art is good for you

To celebrate and explore February as the month of love, two of the Bernalillo galleries are presenting group exhibits featuring a variety of artists who have considered these age-old concepts.

Katrina Lasko Gallery will exhibit "Sensual or ... Erotic." The work selected for this show delves into the subjects on several levels: serious, humorous, subtle, and in your face. Katrina Lasko Gallery is at 336 N. Camino del Pueblo.

Arte Loca Gallery's exhibit is titled "Entanglements Amorosos." Various artists consider the results of the sensual and erotic and the love or hate which evolves, familiar experiences for all of us with entanglements for good or bad, the twists and turns in every relationship. Arte Loca Gallery is at 373 N. Camino del Pueblo.

Opening receptions for both galleries are on February 7 from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m.

 

(l.–r.) Placitas Elementary School principal, Chris Werenko accepts check from Placitas Holiday Sale volunteers Sharon Krachunis and Julie Walsh

(l.–r.) Placitas Elementary School principal, Chris Werenko accepts check from Placitas Holiday Sale volunteers Sharon Krachunis and Julie Walsh

Placitas Holiday Sale raffle puts money
into arts and literature

Placitas Holiday Sale volunteer Sharon Krachunis presents a check in the amount of $1,250 made out to Placitas Elementary School to the principal, Chris Werenko. PHS volunteer Julie Walsh joins in the event. The donation came from proceeds of the Placitas Holiday Sale raffle. The money was intended for enrichment of the school’s arts and literature programs. The principal advised that the school may decide to use part of it to establish a drama club. Sharon and Julie handled the raffle by collecting the donations from the artists and selling the tickets at the Holiday Sale. Proceeds topped last year’s raffle by $250.

 

Pulitzer Prize photographs at Albuquerque Museum

Joe Rosenthal's famous 1945 photo of soldiers raising the American flag on Mount Suribachi is but one of the striking photographs featured in “Capture the Moment: The Pulitzer Prize Photographs,” opening at The Albuquerque Museum on January 25.

“Capture the Moment” is the largest and most comprehensive exhibition of Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs in the United States. It features more than 120 photos, both color and black-and-white. The images begin in 1941, the first year a picture was eligible for a Pulitzer Prize award, and end with the 2003 award winner, although no award was issued in 1946 when no photo was deemed worthy of the prize.

First seen in newspapers, these images represent portraits of life's highs and lows, often depicting defining moments in history. There is the image of Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald, the young Cuban boy Elian Gonzalez being taken at gunpoint from a Miami home, and Babe Ruth acknowledging the fans as he retires. The photograph of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center won the Pulitzer Prize in 2001; it is featured along with the 1999 winning picture of Kosovo refugees. Each photograph is accompanied by the words of the photographer telling the moving story of how he or she made the picture that won journalism's most prestigious prize.

The Pulitzer Prizes are bestowed each year after a rigorous selection process. Two prizes are named in photography; they are among the twenty-one Pulitzer awards in newspaper journalism, as well as books, music and drama.

The Pulitzer Prize is the inspiration of media mogul Joseph Pulitzer (1847-1911), whose endowment of $2 million established the School of Journalism at Columbia University, with the remaining funds going to "prizes or scholarships for the encouragement of public service, public morals, American literatures and the advancement of education."

The show runs through April 18. The Albuquerque Museum, 2000 Mountain Road NW, is open Tuesdays through Sundays from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.For further information, call (505) 243-7255 voice/relay or visit www.cabq.gov/museum.

 

Placitas Artists Web site expands

The Placitas Artists Web site, www.PlacitasArtists.com, has grown to thirty-four artists. Started in the fall of 2002 by Placitas resident and Web-site designer Gary W. Priester, it provides free Web galleries for all Placitas artists.

"I did not want this to be a ‘juried’ site," Priester said, "but at the same time, I hoped the quality of the art would be as good as anything in Albuquerque or Santa Fe. I have not been disappointed! The quality is reflected in the site's tag line “The Best Art in New Mexico is in Placitas!””

The site is made possible by contributions from local businesses and individuals whose names appear on the site in a rotating ad banner. "We could always use a few more sponsors," Priester said, "But I am able to pay my hard costs and buy a nice dinner or two. What more can you ask?"

Individuals or companies who would like gallery space or would like to be sponsors can visit the Web site www.PlacitasArtists.com for more information.

 

Edward Gonzales at work in his studio

Edward Gonzales at work in his studio

[Signpost featured artist of the month.]

The art of Edward Gonzales

Bill Diven

Themes and symbols of new and old New Mexico flow through the art of Edward Gonzales, although one image appears often: a child with a book.

Friends and family may recognize the children as the artist’s nieces, nephews, and grandkids appearing in settings from modern schools to rural New Mexico in the days before electricity and indoor plumbing. Or the child could be Gonzales himself, a barrio kid of the 1950s engaging his passion for art at North Valley public schools, finding books with covers by N. C. Wyeth at the Griegos Library, and studying national magazines like the Saturday Evening Post that his father brought home.

“A lot of time I just checked out books to look at the cover for two weeks,” Gonzales said. “I loved to get the Saturday Evening Post because I knew it had an illustrated cover, and often it would be by Norman Rockwell.”

Rockwell, at his peak the dean of American illustrators, is remembered for his lifelike slices of Americana, many with patriotic and reverential overtones. Some Rockwell paintings did touch national issues like the civil-rights movement, but generally he drew on his New England surroundings to illustrate broader feelings.

“I looked at his art and wanted to spot the little Chicano in there,” the Signpost artist of the month said. “I never found him, but I still loved his [Rockwell’s] art.”

While Gonzales concedes the New Englander influenced his own work, Rockwell did not come of age as a fine-arts student at the University of New Mexico during the ferment of the 1960s.

“Everybody had like a social agenda, you know?” he said. “Nobody was majoring in business. When I came back from Vietnam, I took up the banner.”

For Gonzales, that meant socially relevant art rooted in the Chicano experience, from almost dreamy pastoral scenes of earliest New Mexico to impressions of modern Mexican-Americana in a diverse society. Along the way he illustrated the cover of Rudolfo Anaya’s Farolitos for Abuelo, coauthored a biography and catalog of Taos woodcarver Patrocino Barela, cofounded the annual Contemporary Hispanic Market on the Santa Fe plaza, and has seen his work recognized in the recently published Contemporary Chicano and Chicana Art.

More people may know his art, however, through bilingual posters produced in the many tens of thousands by Gonzales and his wife, Susanna, the gallery’s director and publisher. Teachers are favored customers as the posters often portray reading, schools, and one of Gonzales favorite themes: education begins at home.

One popular poster, “Juro Fidelidad-I Pledge Allegiance,” produced soon after the 2001 terrorist attacks, shows a teacher and children with hands over hearts. Another image dating to a recent land-grant dispute places Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata in the fields of Rio Arriba County.

After six years working from a studio in El Zócalo in Bernalillo, Gonzales relocated to Corrales last year and opened the Edward Gonzales Heritage Gallery in September. Four rooms in the venerable adobe display large paintings, posters, and prints on canvas, while a newly enclosed porch expands Gonzales studio.

A new show of small paintings tentatively is set to open with a reception on Friday, March 19. The gallery at 4229 Corrales Road is open Fridays through Sundays from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and by appointment by calling 897-3203.

 

Artists sought for Taos Plaza sculpture

New Mexico Arts and the Padre Martinez Memorial Sculpture Committee seek to commission a three-dimensional, freestanding, life-size, representational exterior bronze sculpture of Padre Antonio Jose Martinez (1793-1867) to be installed along with a stone base in the Taos Plaza.

Up to three finalists will be chosen from submissions. Open to all artists that are residents of New Mexico and Colorado, south of Pueblo. The project amount is $73,200.  Deadline for receipt of prospectus submissions at New Mexico Arts is 5:00 pm on Monday, February 16.

For more information or to receive a copy of Prospectus #166, visit our Web site, www.nmarts.org, write to New Mexico Arts, P. O. Box 1450, Santa Fe, NM 87504-1450, e-mail aipp@oca.state.nm.us, or call 505/827-6490 (Santa Fe), 800/879-4278 (within New Mexico).

 

PAS presents two February concerts

Gary Libman
PAS Board of Directors

The Placitas Artists Series is delighted to present a special concert, not part of the regular PAS concert series, by Alexey Koltakov and his wife, Katerina Makarova. They will be playing a program of piano duos at the Las Placitas Presbyterian Church on Sunday, February 1, at 3:00 p.m.

Born in Lugansk, Ukraine, Alexey Koltakov has been a student of Victor Makarova since the age of thirteen and is now a full-scholarship student and teaching assistant at the Australian Institute of Music in Sydney. A first-prize-winner of the 1996 International Vladimir Krainev Competition in Ukraine, he was named a finalist at the eleventh Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in June 2001. In December 2001, Mr. Koltakov was awarded second prize (with his wife, Katerina Makarova) at the Eighth Murray Dranoff International Two Piano Competition in Miami, where the duo also received a special award for their performance of Lowell Liebermann’s contest piece “Three Lullabies.”

Katerina Makarova was born in Kharkov, Ukraine, in 1980 and began piano studies at the age of four with Svetlana Zakharova. In 1994 at the age of fourteen, she became a major prize-winner in the Krainev International Piano Competition for young pianists in Kharkov. She had been a student of Victor Makarova since 1998 when she arrived in Sydney as a full-scholarship student at the Australian Institute of Music. She graduated from the institute in 2002.

Makarova has given radio and television performances and recitals in Russia and the Ukraine, and has made recordings for Australian companies and appeared in many concerts including a “Prom” Concert for the Sydney Festival in 1999 and Beethoven Festival in Sydney in 2000. In 2001 Makarova played a concert for the opening of the Steinway & Sons Crown Jewels exhibition at the Billich Gallery in Sydney and also performed for the Nobel Peace Prize in a fund-raising event for Red Cross International in Sydney.

Tickets for the concert will be available at the door one hour before the performance, or can be purchased ahead of time at La Bonne Vie Salon & Day Spa located in the Homestead Village Shopping Center in Placitas (867-3333). Tickets can also be purchased on line. Tickets for this special concert are $25. For additional information and ticket brochures, call 867-8080 or visit www.PlacitasArts.org.

In addition to the special concert on February 1 in Placitas, the Placitas Artists Series will be presenting their regular-season scheduled concert on February 15 at 3:00 p.m. at Las Placitas Presbyterian Church. This concert will be an encore performance by classical guitarist David Burgess, who will play works of Bach as well as some of the finest works by Isaac Albeniz, Joao Pernambuco, and others.

Praised by musicians and critics worldwide, David Burgess is recognized as one of today's outstanding guitarists. His international appearances as soloist and chamber musician have taken him to concert halls throughout North and South America, Europe, and the Far East. Highlights of recent seasons include a seven-city concert tour of Europe, recitals in New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Boston, Seattle, Houston, and Nashville, along with numerous appearances as an orchestral soloist, including performances with the Philharmonic Virtuosi of New York and the American Chamber Orchestra at the Kennedy Center.

The concert will be held at Las Placitas Presbyterian Church, six miles east of I-25 on NM 165 (Exit 242). There will be an artists’ reception at the church before the concert. This month’s featured artists are Midge Aragon, Vangie Dunmire, Jim Fish, and Roberta Wellems.

The spirituality and symbolism of sacred art drew Midge Aragon to the study of icons. She has painted icons for churches and private collectors in the United States and Europe. Vangie Dunmire is a member of the Placitas Artists Series and does an outstanding job for community outreach in the Placitas community. She focuses on watercolors, and in the last year has found excitement in working with brighter colors and bolder shapes—new elements in the endless variations in working with water and color. Jim Fish has always been fascinated by the natural beauty of wood. He has taken ever increasing pleasure in woodcarving. Roberta Wellems says she likes to get her first impressions on paper as quickly as possible. She considers herself a traditional watercolorist with focus on colors, but likes to experiment with other media.View samples of all of these artists’ work on the Placitas Artists Series Web page at www.PlacitasArts.org.

Tickets for the concert will be available at the door one hour before the performance, or can be purchased ahead of time at La Bonne Vie Salon & Day Spa in the Homestead Village Shopping Center in Placitas (867-3333). Tickets can also be purchased on-line. The prices for this concert are $15 for general admission and $12 for seniors and students. For additional information and ticket brochures, call 867-8080 or visit the Web site.

These concerts and the visual art exhibit are made possible in part by New Mexico Arts, a division of the Office of Cultural Affairs, and the National Endowment for the Arts. There is handicapped access and free child care for children under six.

 

Locally published authors to read poetry

On February 25 at 7:00 p.m., La Alameda Press Showcase will hold a poetry reading by Lisa Gill, Shin Yu Pai, and Andrew Schelling. The event is presented by Southwest Literary Center of Recursos de Santa Fe as part of their spring Writers Reading Series. Co-sponsored and held at Center for Contemporary Arts, 1050 Old Pecos Trail, Santa Fe, the event is free and open to the public.

Poet Lisa Gill has been lauded again and again for the one hundred poems in her recent book Red As a Lotus, as well as for her years of community poetry organizing. Bill Nevins writes, "These poems are filled with self-revelation, humility and brilliance ... Lisa Gill is a survivor, and avowed admirer of hoboes who has yet to jump a freight train, she is a true wanderer who has been compared to that strange and beautiful American poet, Emily Dickinson. It is a worthy comparison. New Mexico is honored to have such a visionary writer."

Shin Yu Pai will read from her first book of poetry, Equivalence. Rosellen Brown says, “Shin Yu Pai’s imagination is like a fine pottery bowl, delicately shaped but capable of holding many things: playfulness, candor, descriptive elegance. She is working out her own welcome blend of cultures, Eastern and Western, and Equivalence is the lovely and often challenging result.”

Of poet and Naropa professor Andrew Schelling's book of essays and poems Wild form, Savage Grammar: Poetry, Ecology, Asia, Tim Hogan wrote in last summer's Bloomsbury Review, "Schelling's work tracks poetry's roots back into the upper Paleolithic through the lens of Buddha dharma, wild nature, Sanskrit erotica, and Thoreauvian anarchism.”

For more information, call Southwest Literary Center at (505) 577-1125 or La Alameda Press at ( 505) 897-0285. Also check out these Web sites: www.recursos.org and www.laalamedapress.com.

 

Angel from Mexicali

 

Teeth so white

he could eat lemons every day

never a thought wasted

on the brightness of his smile.

 

 —Shin Yu Pai

 (from Equivalence)

 

Biava Quartet

Biava Quartet

Biava Quartet, eighth blackbird coming to Albuquerque

As string quartets go, the Biava Quartet is a precocious youngster. Founded in the fall of 1998 by four now recent graduates of the Cleveland Institute of Music, the group already has won numerous awards and established an active touring schedule.

Performance opportunities for the Biava Quartet skyrocketed after the four won the 2001 Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition. Other awards quickly followed, including top prizes at the 2002 and 2003 Young Concert Artist International Auditions and the fifty-fifth Coleman National Chamber Music Competition. The Biava was named winner of the prestigious 2003 Naumburg Competition for Best Young American Chamber Ensemble and most recently won third prize at the ninth London International String Quartet Competition.

Currently the Biava is studying at the New England Conservatory of Music under Paul Katz in the professional string-quartet training program. Members of the group are violinists Austin Hartman and Hyunsu Ko, violist Mary Persin, and cellist Jacob Braun. The Biava is named for its mentor maestro Luis Biava, who conducts the Philadelphia Orchestra.

The quartet makes its Albuquerque debut on Sunday, February 22, at 3:00 p.m. in the Simms Center for the Performing Arts at Albuquerque Academy.

On the program are Ravel’s Quartet in F, Bolcom’s “Three Rags for String Quartet,” and Brahms’s Quartet in A Minor, op. 51, no. 2. William Bolcom is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer and the Ross Lee Finney Distinguished University Professor of Music at the University of Michigan. A lecture by Dan Haik on the composers and repertoire is scheduled for 2:00 p.m.

Tickets may be purchased on-line at www.cma-abq.org or from Chamber Music Albuquerque, 505-268-1990 on Mondays through Fridays, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Tickets are $16 to $32, with student tickets half price. Tickets are also available at the door.

 

PAS presents two February concerts

—Gary Libman, PAS Board of Directors

The Placitas Artists Series is delighted to present a special concert, not part of the regular PAS concert series, by Alexey Koltakov and his wife, Katerina Makarova. They will be playing a program of piano duos at the Las Placitas Presbyterian Church on Sunday, February 1, at 3:00 p.m.

Born in Lugansk, Ukraine, Alexey Koltakov has been a student of Victor Makarova since the age of thirteen and is now a full-scholarship student and teaching assistant at the Australian Institute of Music in Sydney. A first-prize-winner of the 1996 International Vladimir Krainev Competition in Ukraine, he was named a finalist at the eleventh Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in June 2001. In December 2001, Mr. Koltakov was awarded second prize (with his wife, Katerina Makarova) at the Eighth Murray Dranoff International Two Piano Competition in Miami, where the duo also received a special award for their performance of Lowell Liebermann’s contest piece “Three Lullabies.”

Katerina Makarova was born in Kharkov, Ukraine, in 1980 and began piano studies at the age of four with Svetlana Zakharova. In 1994 at the age of fourteen, she became a major prize-winner in the Krainev International Piano Competition for young pianists in Kharkov. She had been a student of Victor Makarova since 1998 when she arrived in Sydney as a full-scholarship student at the Australian Institute of Music. She graduated from the institute in 2002.

Makarova has given radio and television performances and recitals in Russia and the Ukraine, and has made recordings for Australian companies and appeared in many concerts including a “Prom” Concert for the Sydney Festival in 1999 and Beethoven Festival in Sydney in 2000. In 2001 Makarova played a concert for the opening of the Steinway & Sons Crown Jewels exhibition at the Billich Gallery in Sydney and also performed for the Nobel Peace Prize in a fund-raising event for Red Cross International in Sydney.

Tickets for the concert will be available at the door one hour before the performance, or can be purchased ahead of time at La Bonne Vie Salon & Day Spa located in the Homestead Village Shopping Center in Placitas (867-3333). Tickets can also be purchased on line. Tickets for this special concert are $25. For additional information and ticket brochures, call 867-8080 or visit www.PlacitasArts.org.


In addition to the special concert on February 1 in Placitas, the Placitas Artists Series will be presenting their regular-season scheduled concert on February 15 at 3:00 p.m. at Las Placitas Presbyterian Church. This concert will be an encore performance by classical guitarist David Burgess, who will play works of Bach as well as some of the finest works by Isaac Albeniz, Joao Pernambuco, and others.

Praised by musicians and critics worldwide, David Burgess is recognized as one of today's outstanding guitarists. His international appearances as soloist and chamber musician have taken him to concert halls throughout North and South America, Europe, and the Far East. Highlights of recent seasons include a seven-city concert tour of Europe, recitals in New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Boston, Seattle, Houston, and Nashville, along with numerous appearances as an orchestral soloist, including performances with the Philharmonic Virtuosi of New York and the American Chamber Orchestra at the Kennedy Center.

The concert will be held at Las Placitas Presbyterian Church, six miles east of I-25 on NM 165 (Exit 242). There will be an artists’ reception at the church before the concert. This month’s featured artists are Midge Aragon, Vangie Dunmire, Jim Fish, and Roberta Wellems.

The spirituality and symbolism of sacred art drew Midge Aragon to the study of icons. She has painted icons for churches and private collectors in the United States and Europe. Vangie Dunmire is a member of the Placitas Artists Series and does an outstanding job for community outreach in the Placitas community. She focuses on watercolors, and in the last year has found excitement in working with brighter colors and bolder shapes—new elements in the endless variations in working with water and color. Jim Fish has always been fascinated by the natural beauty of wood. He has taken ever increasing pleasure in woodcarving. Roberta Wellems says she likes to get her first impressions on paper as quickly as possible. She considers herself a traditional watercolorist with focus on colors, but likes to experiment with other media.View samples of all of these artists’ work on the Placitas Artists Series Web page at www.PlacitasArts.org.

Tickets for the concert will be available at the door one hour before the performance, or can be purchased ahead of time at La Bonne Vie Salon & Day Spa in the Homestead Village Shopping Center in Placitas (867-3333). Tickets can also be purchased on-line. The prices for this concert are $15 for general admission and $12 for seniors and students. For additional information and ticket brochures, call 867-8080 or visit the Web site.

These concerts and the visual art exhibit are made possible in part by New Mexico Arts, a division of the Office of Cultural Affairs, and the National Endowment for the Arts. There is handicapped access and free child care for children under six.

 

80-piece band plays concert

The Albuquerque Concert Band continues its 2003-2004 concert season. The eighty-piece symphonic band, conducted by John Sanks, will perform a memorial concert for their friend and conductor Bruce Kroken on Sunday, February 1. Selections will include “Honey Boys on Parade,” “Amazing Grace,” selections from Les Misérables, “Big Band Cavalcade,” and “Londonderry Air.” The performance begins at 3:00 p.m. at the Manzano High School Theatre near Lomas and Juan Tabo NE and is free to the public. 

 

Nominate an exceptional woman for award

The New Mexico Commission on the Status of Women is in the planning stages of the prestigious nineteenth annual Governor's Award for Outstanding New Mexico Women. This year's awards banquet will be held on May 7.

Nominate someone today for the nineteenth annual Governor's Award for Outstanding New Mexico Women or for the third Lifetime Achievement Award, or both. The deadline for nominations is 5:00 p.m on Friday, February 27.

It is the commission's continued goal to recognize and reward significant achievements and contributions of outstanding individual performance. The celebration honors some of New Mexico's most accomplished and exceptional women, all of whom have made efforts to improve the status of women, girls, and families in our state. 

 

Gieson set the story for Land of Burning Heat in Bernalillo; all of the tombstone  inscriptions described in the book were found in the Bernalillo Cemetery

Gieson set the story for Land of Burning Heat in Bernalillo; all of the tombstone  inscriptions described in the book were found in the Bernalillo Cemetery.

Local author puts Bernalillo on the map

—Susana Vincent

Judith Van GiesonJudith Van Gieson is a highly regarded award-winning Albuquerque author who has written two successful series of mysteries. Her Neil Hamel series features an Albuquerque attorney with attitude and her Hispanic mechanic-musician lover she calls "the Kid." Neil's cases often feature endangered wildlife—the Mexican gray wolf, parrot smuggling, wildfires—and she pursues the facts with a brash disregard for her own safety. Four years ago Van Gieson introduced Claire Reynier, a reserved, recently divorced woman in middle age reinventing her life as a rare-books specialist at the Center for Southwest Research at UNM. The Claire novels develop in the more rarified atmosphere of books, writers, and increasingly historic Southwestern themes.

Van Gieson's book, Land of Burning Heat, takes place in Bernalillo. An unusual discovery under a loose floor brick in an old adobe leads to an investigation into a historical event in late sixteenth-century Mexico during the Spanish Inquisition and the phenomenon of the crypto-Jews, some of whom came to the Rio Grande Valley among the early settlers. Crypto-Jews were Spanish or Sephardic Jews who converted to Catholicism and often changed their names to save their lives and families during the Inquisition while continuing to practice their Jewish faith in secret. Also called conversos or Marranos, they spoke a Spanish dialect called Ladino. Many of their descendants maintain their customs to this day—some knowing that they are descended from Jews, others who have no idea.

Recently, over coffee, I talked to Van Gieson about Land of Burning Heat. She said her primary reasons for setting the story in Bernalillo were her love for the Bernalillo Cemetery and her wish not to expose the identities of any of the crypto-Jews she has met (none of whom live in Bernalillo). She has spent many hours walking among the tombstones and taking photographs; all the inscriptions described in her book were found there.

Van Gieson has been fascinated by the story of the crypto-Jews for years. Writing Land of Burning Heat gave her the opportunity to delve into their history. She attended lectures on the subject and was able to connect with a crypto-Jewish family in New Mexico who shared information. Van Gieson also researched the life and writing of Luis de Carvajal, a crypto-Jew in sixteenth-century Mexico who was burned at the stake by the Inquisitors.

I asked Van Gieson if descendants of crypto-Jews continue to maintain secrecy in New Mexico. She feels most would be very cautious about discussing it and points out that for some, secrecy is a habit. As in the Santos family of her novel, younger generations often maintain certain practices without questioning their meanings.

Van Gieson's new book, The Shadow of Venus, begins with the discovery of a dead homeless woman in the basement of the Zimmerman Library at UNM. The title seems to have a double meaning united by the myth of the Pleiades: one is literal, the other metaphorical—the sexual abuse of children.

Asked why she chose this latter theme, Van Gieson replied that when she began the book her interest was the issue of homeless people in Albuquerque, "particularly how libraries deal with them, because it's a big problem for libraries," she commented. "Once I got into that, it led to why they were homeless." She found abuse was often in the background.

Van Gieson handles the subject of childhood sexual abuse with exceptional grace and understanding of its lifelong effects. She was not a victim herself but her best friend was raped when they were both twelve. In spite of their close friendship, they were unable to talk about it until they were in their forties. More recently, the twelve-year-old daughter of another good friend was raped. Van Gieson told her childhood friend, who then wrote a long and moving letter to the girl.

The abused characters in The Shadow of Venus display many "markers" of past sexual abuse common to real-life survivors: deep shame, hypervigilance, provocative adult behavior, in addition to devastating trust and betrayal issues. I asked Van Gieson how it was possible to write such an accurate portrayal without having personal experience. Her reply:

"Well ... I know what my friend went through, and I know what the young girl went through ... But most of what you're saying ... the "markers," I have to honestly say I just made that up. I did not see that in these people for various reasons, and I can't really say where it came from except for the imagination and delving into the collective unconscious."

The legal realities of child molestation in New Mexico are accurately reflected in the book. Van Gieson talked to a number of people in law enforcement and learned how difficult it is to prove past abuse and prosecute the offenders—family members, "friends," or strangers—leaving many victims betrayed by society as well.

Mystery novels are generally considered by some to be lightweight, though many gifted writers, including women and academics, have entered the genre in recent years. Van Gieson hesitates to claim that the mystery has gained more respect, but admits that "when the strong women sleuths started coming out in the early eighties they brought an increased audience." Asked why she chose the mystery genre for her own writing, she states practically: "Because I wrote a literary novel that didn't get published, and because I really liked Raymond Chandler's writing ... and because I thought it would be easier to sell a mystery novel."

Van Gieson has contributed short stories to several anthologies, most recently the story “High Stakes,” which is set in a casino, probably Sandia.

She was asked to write a story about gambling but said her inspiration came from a twelve-year-old neighbor who likes basketball and idolized Kobe Bryant. "The story is called ‘Lucky Eight,’ which is Kobe Bryant's number," she said. "I dedicated the story to my neighbor not really knowing how he'd react. But he saw it on the shelf at a supermarket and said, 'That's me!' He's delighted. (The story was written before Kobe Bryant got in trouble.)"

Leaving the Southwest behind, Van Gieson's next project is a thriller set in Vermont and Colorado ski country. She sees this as a stand-alone novel, not the beginning of another series. When might Claire Reynier return? Van Gieson does not know yet.

The Shadow of Venus will be released early this month. A book signing will be held at Page One bookstore in Albuquerque on February 25 where visitors will have the opportunity to meet Judith Van Gieson and buy her new book. She may even sign your copy of Land of Burning Heat—Bernalillo's most recent claim to literary fame.

 

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