The Sandoval Signpost

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Katherine Howard Clifton

Katherine Howard Clifton

Detail from painting by Katherine Howard Clifton

Detail from painting, by Katherine Howard Clifton

Katherine Howard Clifton: she “walks in beauty”

—BARB BELKNAP, WITH THANKS TO MARTY CLIFTON, RICHARD CRAVENS, AND JOANIE O'DONNELL
Katherine Howard Clifton was painter, ceramist, horsewoman, gardener, fashion model, featured movie extra, belle-lettrist, traveler, gracious hostess, gourmet cook, and emerging mah-jongg master. She was a deeply loving wife and sidekick to her husband, Marty, a perfect and loyal friend, and a compassionate caregiver and animal lover. Katherine always kept alive that youthful capacity, so often lost in middle age, for inquiry into the deeper nature of experience.

Born in Louisiana, Katherine belonged to a matrilineal line of Avery Island gentry. Avery Island is where they make Tabasco sauce, and Avery women certainly had bite. Katherine's mother, Frances, arrived in New Mexico sometime in the twenties in a Buick touring car, driven by her own rather ferocious mother, who had left behind the family wealth and status.

In Albuquerque, Katherine's Highland High School class of 1959 included friends she would know for a lifetime, among them a young man named Marty Clifton. In 1964, with a fresh bachelor's degree in English from the University of New Mexico, Katherine set off on a classic sixties road trip: she and a group of friends piled into a Volkswagen van and headed for New York. Katherine intended only a short visit, to see the World's Fair and absorb the art and energy of the city. She stayed for three years and painted her first painting there, with brushes and paints given to her by a friend.

In 1967, Katherine migrated west, to the San Francisco Bay Area, and moved onto a houseboat in Sausalito. During most of her residence in the Bay Area, she devoted herself to pottery and developed an ever more complex and sophisticated technique.

Katherine came home to New Mexico in 1981. She purchased a small adobe house and plot of land near Rancho de Olguin, a remote village on the banks of the meandering Rio Vallecitos in Rio Arriba County, where she set up a studio and kiln.

“For three wonderful years,” Katherine told the Signpost in an earlier feature story, “I lived independently as a full-time potter. It was a truly fulfilling time for me, living alone in a mountain situation, meeting the challenges of daily life, getting the wood chopped and in place, taking care of the pumps, irrigating my small field.”

“When reality required it,” Katherine later recalled, “I returned to civilization to earn a more reliable income and, by the by, fell in love with one handsome cowboy.” That cowboy was Marty.
Katherine and Marty were married on Halloween, 1987, and five years later they moved into their home in Placitas. A few years later, they were off on one of their greatest adventures: in 1996, they moved to a villa on the shores of the Bosporus, in Istanbul, where they lived for four fascinating years. Katherine's letters home abounded with vivid tales: cruising the Ionian Sea, outrunning hornet swarms in Cappadocia, and exploring an island castle built by the Knights of St. John.

Back home again in New Mexico, Katherine rediscovered her love of painting. Horses and ranch life became her favorite subjects, the images reflecting experiences that were her greatest joy. There was also joy to be found in the rhythms of life in Placitas, and Katherine delighted in the originality and varied interests of her neighbors.

In 2005, Katherine worked as an extra in Into the West and Wildfire, films in which she was cast—much to her amusement—as a proper society matron. And there was still mah-jongg, the ancient Chinese game of tiles that intrigued her and a growing number of friends.

Katherine died on November 28, 2005, of complications following heart surgery. “She Walks in Beauty” is the remembrance of her many loving friends. The phrase belongs to a Navajo prayer of celebration of the earth, of living things, of life. The lyric also beckons to Katherine from Lord Byron's loveliest poem:

    She walks in beauty, like the night
    Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
    And all that's best of dark and bright
    Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
    Thus mellow'd to that tender light
    Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

And on that cheek and o'er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!

Katherine devoted herself to the work of the South Texas Children's Home, where unadopted children are provided with nurturing environment and educational support through college. Donations to the home may be sent to: South Texas Children's Home, P. O. Box 1210, Beeville, TX 78104-1218.

Pottery by Katherine Howard Clifton

Cauldron Series #88710, pottery by Katherine Howard Clifton

Painting by Katherine Howard Clifton

“Philoman’s colt, 2005,” painting, by Katherine Howard Clifton

Storehouse West, Democratic Women make holiday brighter for two families

The Democratic Women of Sandoval County are sponsoring two needy families through Storehouse West, a nonprofit corporation that provides assistance to families in Rio Rancho and surrounding areas.

Democratic Women of Sandoval County supplied food, toys, and Target gift cards to the two local families, with one and two children respectively. The identity of the families, both headed by single mothers, is undisclosed.

The Democratic Women of Sandoval County has been meeting since August of 2005. All registered Democrats of Sandoval County, men and women alike, are invited to join this issues-focused organization. More information on meeting times and places can be obtained by contacting Janice Saxton, at (505) 867-1139 or jnsaxton@aol.com.

Storehouse West, in operation since 1992, offers services throughout the year and served more than 145,000 meals in 2004.

Families are referred to Storehouse West by the Department of Human Services and other state and county agencies as well as churches, schools and neighbors. Senior citizens in need are also eligible. Storehouse West takes donations of food, clothing, and toiletries throughout the year. More information about Storehouse West is available by calling (505) 892-2077 or e-mailing shwdir1030@aol.com.


 

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