Painted Kiva, Coronado State Monument
Velino Shije Herrera: The Singing Painter
Second in a Series on Coronado State Monument
In 1935, archaeologists working at Coronado State Monument in Bernalillo made an extraordinary discovery. A workman removing windblown fill from one of the rooms in a sixteenth century Pueblo ruin known as Kuaua turned up fragments of plaster covered with pigment. The project leaders were archaeologists named Gordon Vivian and Margery Tichy. They immediately realized that the team had uncovered a painted kiva. Kivas are subterranean ceremonial chambers associated with traditional Pueblo Indian religious practices. Vivian and Tichy personally supervised removal of the remaining fill, which revealed extensive murals painted on the walls of this kiva. The murals date to about 1500 A.D. and depict various figures from Pueblo Indian cosmology. These murals also represented a lost tradition of painting that existed in ancestral Pueblo communities, examples of which are seldom encountered and rarely preserved. In this case, the archaeologists resolved to do everything in their power to salvage as much of the original art as possible. Using highly innovative techniques, they were able to remove the original murals from the kiva’s adobe walls and preserve them.
The salvage process necessarily destroyed the original kiva structure, but Vivian and Tichy realized that a restored painted kiva would make a wonderful educational tool. So, using Works Progress Administration (WPA) funds, they arranged for construction of a new kiva over the footprint of the original. The new kiva—complete with roof hatch and spruce ladder—was finished in early 1938. Finally, they commissioned Velino Shije Herrera to create facsimiles of the original murals on the new walls.
Some artists—like Picasso—are extremely prolific, producing hundreds or even thousands of individual paintings in the course of a lifetime. Others are known from just a small body of work. Velino Shije Herrera, also known as Ma-Pe-Wi, falls into the latter category. Anyone lucky enough to have a work by this native son of Sandoval County should cherish it.
Herrera was born at Zia Pueblo in 1902 and began painting in 1917 while he was attending Santa Fe Indian School. Although students at the Indian school were encouraged to paint and provided with art supplies, there was no formal instruction at the time. Thus, most of the skills that Herrera developed in his youth were self-taught. He excelled from the start and soon became a talented professional painter.
By 1932, he was a nationally recognized artist with his own studio in Santa Fe. Another Pueblo artist dubbed him the “Singing Painter” because as he worked, Herrera would sing traditional Native American (Keres) songs appropriate to the subject matter that he was depicting with his brush. The Great Depression made earning a living difficult for artists, but Herrera found ways to supplement his income. No stranger to the outdoors or hard work, he occasionally hired out as a cowboy on local ranches. He also taught painting at Albuquerque Indian School for several years. And toward the end of the decade, he began to accept commissions for various WPA-sponsored art projects. His most important work may be the series of nine murals that he painted in the main Department of Interior building (Washington, D.C.) in 1939. He also painted important murals for the Pritzlaff Ranch in northern New Mexico and for the Koshare Indian Museum in La Junta, Colorado in the 1940s. Few examples of his work are available to the public here in Sandoval County, and sadly, those few are in danger of being lost forever.
Herrera’s task at Coronado State Monument was not a simple one. The original murals were painted with natural pigments on a dry mud plaster and adobe substrate by an artist who probably had a lifetime of practice in this lost technique. Herrera needed to reproduce the original appearance, but he had to use a modern technique. He decided to work in true fresco (buon fresco), which meant applying pure pigments to a wet lime plaster. The resulting images are master works in their own right. They are also unique, being the only WPA-era frescoes painted over an adobe substrate in a subterranean structure.
Seventy years have passed, and over the years, more than a million visitors have climbed down into the Painted Kiva to view Herrera’s murals. For many of them, it was an unforgettable experience. But, as indicated above, the future of these murals is uncertain. Even in our dry climate, an underground adobe structure is hardly the ideal environment for great works of art. His frescoes have been damaged, and steps must be taken immediately if they are to be repaired.
Excessive moisture infiltrating through the adobe led to deformation of the wall surfaces, which caused cracks and other distortions. Large areas of plaster became detached from the adobe substrate. Other areas are heavily stained by moisture. Years ago, as evidence of these problems first began to appear, staff tried to hide the damage by carefully painting over sections. These misguided efforts left much of Herrera’s frescos obscured. Recently, the extent of the problem was finally recognized and innovative steps were taken to stabilize the kiva itself and prevent further water damage. The Painted Kiva is now sound and stabilized, but the damage to Herrera’s murals remains.
Constance Silver, an internationally known fresco art conservator, has visited the site several times and done some emergency work on the murals to prevent further loss. Complete restoration will involve the careful removal of acrylic over-paint and replication of lost portions of the original fresco images from historic photographs and drawings. However, Ms. Silver is confident that the murals can be fully restored.
Anyone interested in supporting this work is encouraged to contact the Friends of Coronado State Monument. The friends have committed to finding sufficient resources to complete the restoration. They are pursuing grants and bequests, and all funds donated to a special account will go toward restoring Velino Herrera’s frescoes.
Closed for two years, the Painted Kiva is now open for tours again. Due to the fragility of the unrestored murals, visitors can only enter the kiva if accompanied by a ranger or docent. If you are interested in helping preserve this local example of the “Singing Painter’s” work, please call (505) 867-5351.
The trauma of betrayal
—Judith Acosta, LISW
When people talk about infidelity—whether in marriage or in committed relationships—they talk about trauma.
I recently met a man whose wife cheated on him repeatedly. As he told me the long and circuitous story of suspicion, denial, and revelation, he moved through a snake pit of emotional confusion—anger, hurt, longing, disbelief, shock.
As I watched him weep, rant, deflate in despair only to bound back in self-reproach (“How could I have been so stupid?!”), I saw that he was still in shock, in the trance of his own disappointment. He was only physically in the office with me, but he was mostly lost in the torment of his recent past and his fear about the future.
Those shocked states can continue for moments, months, years, or a lifetime. And while they have good reason for being there to start with, after the moment is past, they can become huge impediments in a person’s life.
The question I am faced with when I meet people with any kind of trauma is two-fold: One, how to bring them out of the trance they are in, and two, how to work through the suffering and move to healing.
First Things First: Verbal First Aid for the Crisis
Verbal first aid plays a big part in the initial phase of recovery, not only in the more technically clinical sense, but also in the immediate one. What do we say to ourselves in order to move ourselves out of shock, and what do we say to someone else who’s been so terribly hurt?
I started working with rape victims when I was in my twenties as a volunteer. The first thing we learned became a model for most of my work since then. The trainers asked us: Did she survive? If she did—and she did, because you’re talking to her (or him)—then whatever she did worked. Make sure she knows she did the right thing because she’s alive!
In those years with the Rape Crisis Center in White Plains, New York, I learned the power of hope and the power of presence. We weren’t trained to do therapy. We were trained for crisis intervention, and the only real healing tools we had were the fact that the rape victims survived and that we were there to care about them. It was astonishing how well that combination could work.
Caring in this sense is not mothering. It’s not fussing over or controlling or fixing. It is standing before horror together. It is re-empowering a battered spirit. It is offering a hand and a heart full of hope because the facts give us reason to hope—you survived!
Those simple words, “You survived,” turned so many lives around and began to take them out of the trance they were in.
Verbal first aid in any crisis uses the same tools: building rapport, utilizing rapport, and delivering healing suggestions.
In a betrayal, which is so personal to the betrayed, it is important that we stay very present, very grounded, and take great care to be patient. They are hurt, they may be very angry, they may be confused.
Sometimes, the simplest words are the best: “I know you’re hurting. I see it. I’m right here for you, no matter what.”
In most cases, if a person is confiding in you about a betrayal, it is more than likely that you’ve known each other for at least a while, and there is already a sense of rapport and trust between you. Building on that already established rapport, what is needed most is your ability to witness and pace.
Witnessing is simply that—not to judge, not to sentence, not to join in on the rage, resentment, self-pity, or pain. Just to simply stand before it and bear witness. Pacing is a way of witnessing with words and behavior. It lets the other person know you are fully present.
Your friend: “I can’t believe he did that. I just can’t believe it! How could he do that?!”
You: “It’s hard to believe.”
That’s the simplest example of pacing with words.
You can also do it with your body. Leaning forward with them, holding their hands, letting them cry, and, if it is genuine, crying with them.
I remember a long time ago when I had a terribly broken heart, a girlfriend sat with me on my bed as I told her what had happened. For the first time through the whole ordeal, I cried. And, as her tears flowed with mine, she said, “I’m so sorry it hurts so much.”
At that moment, I felt the most subtle, but massive shift in me, and I knew the recovery had begun. She was the first person who didn’t try to make it go away or make me forget him or convince me what a jerk he was or what I jerk I was to stay. She wasn’t angry or jaded or judgmental. She was just with me. And that was all I needed, as it turned out.
When you’re in a position with a friend or loved one who has been hurt that badly, it’s important to understand and accept the awful fact that you can’t fix it. The pain is real, and often, it’s more than reasonable. Trying to make the pain go away prematurely or make the person get over it, move on, and feel better before they’ve even processed the unimaginable will only meet you with resistance or worse.
Let the Healing Begin
According to many therapists and many of the people I’ve worked with personally, being betrayed is no different than any other emotional or physical trauma. It leaves them feeling run over, emptied, stunned, and aimless.
What differentiates whether, when, and how people heal are how they process the injury after it occurs. I have noticed that there are a few things that characterize and can facilitate (or hinder the process):
After people get hurt, they make decisions about their future behavior. They make vows. They promise they will never make that mistake again. They promise they will never trust anyone like that again. They promise they will just get over it. They swear they’ll show him or her. It is very common. If the vow is a good one, a reasonable one, it can facilitate healing. If it’s one that is born solely of the hurt and anger and moves us into resentment, it only prolongs the grief and destabilization.
Whether a man reconciles with his wife or a woman decides it’s time to let go of her boyfriend is not the issue. Either one may be a healthy decision. But for it to actually be healthy and allow us to be loved and loving again, it must be one that keeps us open and available to the truth.
A healthy vow might be something like: “I’m getting better every day. I can live in the moment and make decisions as I need to take care of myself.”; “I’ll know what I need to do when I need to do it.”; “His behavior hurt me, but I can love again when the time is right.”; or “I vow to be open to the truth.”
In his book, The Gift of Fear, Gavin de Becker talks about how much prejudgment can put us in harm’s way. He stresses over and over—as do I with trauma survivors—that hypervigilance is actually an impediment to accurate discernment of a real threat. When we are afraid of everything, we are not focusing on what is really happening and make ourselves more vulnerable. Discernment is the key to trusting again. And that comes with time and trustworthiness.
Penance and True Repentance
A relationship that is struggling to heal a wound like infidelity inevitably has to reestablish itself as worthy of trust. For that reason, the one who committed the infidelity must show some true remorse and the willingness to put action behind words. There may have been many reasons for the betrayal, and the other person will have to show equal good faith in the same way.
In fact, this is an issue of character and without it—whether we stay together with the person or not—finding a new, healthy relationship will be very difficult. Nothing, especially infidelity, occurs in a vacuum, and everyone has something to learn from such a dramatic experience.
But the upshot for me: You can’t have a good life and be a cheater. It’s that simple.
Love will come again, but not if you’re filled with hatred, resentment, and self-righteous indignation that puts you on the offensive or defensive with every potential partner you meet. Without forgiveness, you can neither reconcile nor let go. Nothing is a stickier or nastier glue than resentment and hatred.
It is inevitable when I bring up the very word “forgiveness” that people balk. After talking it through, what we find is that the reason they find it so distasteful, even impossible, is because they have equated it with excusing the behavior.
Forgiveness is not an excuse. It sees the behavior for what it is and moves on. For forgiveness to be given, there must be something to forgive—a wrongdoing. It is not the same as saying, “No bother.” It is a release for both parties, but especially for the one who has been wronged. It accepts what is true. From that point, we become free again.
What is hard for most people to see is forgiveness as a path to strength instead of unnecessarily and witless vulnerability. Resentment is only a hair’s breadth away from hypervigilance. It makes us rigid and actually much more vulnerable to hurt and deception because it keeps us closed to what is actually in front of us. Forgiveness doesn’t mean opening your door for an ax murderer. It doesn’t imply stupidity or naivete. It doesn’t mean we have to let someone hurt us over and over. In fact, in my experience, it usually results in the opposite. When someone is able to forgive the abuser, the betrayer, or the wrongdoer, he or she is able to recognize that behavior or that tendency in others more quickly and avoid it. It’s just the opposite with someone who is stuck in trauma, where repetition and continued pain seem to be the course of events.
Trauma is a lockdown of our minds, our hearts, and our spirits. But it doesn’t have to stay that way.
Judith Acosta, LISW, CHT, is a licensed pyschotherapist, hypnotherapist, and classical homeopath in private practice in Placitas. She has appeared on both television and radio and is a regular lecturer throughout the U.S. You can learn more about her and Verbal First Aid at http://www.wordsaremedicine.com/verbal-first-aid.
Can ruins be ruined? Debating preservation in the Southwest’s Spanish missions
—Ariana Brocious, High Country News
TUCSON, ARIZONA—The temperature drops dramatically as you step through tall church doors into the cavernous interior. The ancient, five-foot-thick walls have the dignity of living ruins. Where plaster is missing, you can see graying adobe bricks, and the painted decorations on the whitewashed walls have faded. Yet, the Tumacácori mission still seems to breathe, and it still provides sanctuary from the shimmering desert heat.
The tower bells toll, and 10 gray-haired men and women enter, singing in Latin as they make their way to the altar past the dozens of people in the transept. A man in a black cassock and wide-brimmed hat addresses the audience with a heavy Spanish accent. He introduces himself as Father Eusebio Francisco Kino, the Jesuit priest who, beginning in the 1680s, founded a chain of Spanish colonial missions in the Pimería Alta—modern-day southern Arizona and northern Mexico.
From the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries, Jesuit, Dominican, and Franciscan priests established hundreds of missions as far north as San Francisco. The missions served as bases for the Spanish effort to colonize and convert Native Americans and secure the sprawling empire of New Spain. They typically included crops and livestock, as well as living quarters (conventos) and a church. Father Kino visited this spot in Arizona a few times, and Franciscans began building the current church in 1800, near the site of a previous Jesuit church.
Construction was never finished, but the church is now the centerpiece of Tumacácori National Historical Park, 60 miles south of Tucson. The man in the cassock is really Don Garate, the park’s chief of interpretation, who portrays various historical characters to highlight the mission’s cultural value.
Soon, Garate changes into a red outfit with a blue cape and a jaunty black hat: He has become a Spanish captain, Juan Bautista de Anza. He poses for photographs, his white handlebar mustache dancing above his smile. “I can bring history to life inside that building a lot easier than I can in an auditorium somewhere,” he says, pointing to the church. “That’s the beautiful thing about a place like this—you do have the ruins, the actual building they were in. So that’s why you have to do preservation.”
Yet despite their importance as tangible symbols of a thorny history, the Southwest’s missions survive today in a wide range of conditions. Some are just decaying piles of melted adobe. The National Park Service (NPS) and other preservation experts are still learning how to take care of them, using earthy materials such as mud and cactus glue. And there’s an ongoing philosophical argument: Do we honor history more by arresting its progress or by letting it run its course—even if it means the loss of historic artifacts?
Slap! Whap! Pedro Tanori throws handfuls of mud into a rectangular wooden frame and carefully presses the mixture of clay, sand, and silt into it. You have to keep it flush with the ground to make clean edges on the adobe bricks, he explains. Once he removes the frame, he’ll let the bricks dry in the sun for three or four weeks. “Two guys can make about 200-300 adobes a day if they’re working pretty quickly and the mud is being made for them,” he says.
Tanori is narrating a video about making adobe bricks. It was filmed during a 2008 workshop at Tumacácori—a fitting venue, since more than 90,000 adobes went into building the original church. Missions Initiative—a group of academics, park service staff, and craftspeople who support using traditional materials to preserve missions—ran the workshop. They’re working on a comprehensive list of all Spanish Colonial mission sites in the borderlands, as well as a manual of the best preservation practices and instructional videos like this one, all posted on a bilingual Web site. Other hands-on workshops have been held over the last 15 years or so on both sides of the border.
“Adobe preservation is so specialized—there are really no written manuals,” says Pat O’Brien, a National Park Service cultural resource specialist in Tucson. “One of our biggest concerns is losing traditional methodology,” says David Yubeta, Tumacácori’s former exhibit specialist. “(We’re) trying to get people to remember how to do it like they did in the old days.”
Since Tumacácori became part of the park service system in 1916, it has served as an experimental site for preservation techniques. Its walls record the changing philosophy. Early on, the agency believed that structures had to be fully restored—even rebuilt if necessary—for visitors to understand and appreciate them. But over the years, a different approach has emerged. It holds that historical authenticity is better served if ruins are stabilized and preserved, but not completely rebuilt.
Preservation crews constantly search for better ways to extend the life span of ruins. From the 1930s through the 1970s, they used synthetic resins, latex paints, and Portland cement. But those are not compatible with natural materials like adobe mud and lime plaster, which expand and contract from moisture changes in what Yubeta calls a rhythm of “breathing and moving and twisting and turning and dancing and doing the hula-hoop.” In many places, cement-hardened adobe walls eroded internally to such a degree that they became little more than hollow shells. The church at Tumacácori suffered from those methods; rebar was even drilled into walls to keep the plaster in place. “Things the NPS did come back to haunt you,” says Yubeta. “At the time they were done, that was the best method, but what they didn’t realize was the incredible damage it caused.”
The National Park Service began to take an even more hands-off approach—simply stabilizing ruins with mostly natural materials—in the late 1970s. That’s apparent at Tumacácori’s sister missions—Calabasas and Guevavi—which share the 360-acre site along the Santa Cruz River and were brought under park service management in the 1990s. At Guevavi, the roof fell in long ago and has not been replaced.
“We view buildings as artifacts,” says Jeremy Moss, chief of resource management at Tumacácori. The value lies in the oldness, he adds. “With every restoration project, you’re masking the original. It’s hard to impart to people the importance of the places in the past when the material isn’t from the past.”
Even the minimalist approach requires substantial work, and it’s difficult to round up money and skilled craftspeople. Concerned about the deterioration of ruins, national park preservation workers in New Mexico and Arizona began a grassroots campaign in the mid-1990s to get more support. “The Navajo and Hispanic guys in New Mexico got to talking, saying, ‘When we’re gone, there’s no more like us,’” Yubeta recalls. The “Vanishing Treasures” campaign started receiving congressional funding in 1998 to assist preservation in 45 “earthen resource parks,” including four mission ruins, in seven Western states and Texas. These parks compete for a share of $1 million each year. That’s small change compared to other federal programs, but noticeable on the ground: “Vanishing Treasures” funded more than 60 new preservation efforts in its first 10 years and still covers the work done by Moss.
But the workshops and campaigns have not succeeded in recruiting young people to the cause. Yubeta has spoken to students at Hispanic college conferences, but even those with a cultural connection to the missions want the “computers, three-piece suits, and money” that come with more fashionable—and lucrative—professions. He worries that much of the preservation work might end up going to recent college graduates who majored in historic preservation, rather than to talented masons. “They’ll be great architects, but they’ll never touch the mud”—unless they attend workshops or get other hands-on experience. Yubeta, who recently retired, spent 25 years holding entropy in check.
He and his crew traveled around the Southwest working on ruins on park service and other federal land, using traditional materials like adobe and lime to repair and stabilize the sites. Often, the work involves triage, as crews do emergency repairs. Comic and gregarious, Yubeta is widely regarded as the region’s foremost expert on adobe preservation. “It’s just dirt,” he says modestly. “I understand dirt. It’s very simple, very forgiving.”
Yubeta picked up some of his knowledge when his Hispanic relatives taught him how to repair his grandmother’s adobe house. But Yubeta’s Apache mother was not so keen on preservation. “When I came to work at the park service... my mom really balked,” says Yubeta. She scolded him for forgetting that everything must grow old and die; in her view, preserving a decaying building goes against the natural order of things. Some feel that’s especially true of the missions because of what they symbolize.
The biggest churches, with their European architecture, can look absurdly out of place in the desert, looming over mesquite and prickly pear cactus. They are also relics of the colonization of tribes, including the Tohono O’odham’s ancestors. Dale Brenneman, assistant curator of documentary history at the Arizona State Museum, points out that the Spaniards may have forced the Native Americans to labor on these buildings. The missionaries—and the soldiers that accompanied them—had a permanent impact on the locals.
“To us (people of European descent), the missions evoke something romantic,” Brenneman says. “To the Tohono O’odham, they might represent something different: domination, extermination.”
But Austin Nuñez, chairman of the San Xavier district of the Tohono O’odham nation, says that most hard feelings about what the missions represent have faded. “Now, it’s just a given,” says Nuñez. “From a spiritual standpoint, 80 percent of this community is practicing Catholic.”
(Many still practice traditional beliefs as well.) “The church binds families together,” Nuñez says. “It’s good.”
One of the liveliest mission churches, San Xavier del Bac—nicknamed “the White Dove of the Desert”—stands on the Tohono O’odham Reservation on Tucson’s southern fringe. At a Sunday Mass, Tohono O’odham, Mexican-American, and Anglo patrons pack the wooden pews, their choruses of “Thanks be to God” echoing in the vaulted domes, as a bearded Franciscan friar leads the congregation in prayer. This is no reenactment, and San Xavier is not a national park. Since its construction in the late 1700s, San Xavier has been an active Catholic church, hosting baptisms, funerals, weddings, and quinceañeras (elaborate 15th-birthday celebrations for Hispanic girls).
On any given day, tourists wander around the church and visit the tiny museum and gift shop. An adjacent smoky, candlelit chapel is dedicated to St. Francis, and Tohono O’odham sell fry bread in ocotillo-roofed lean-tos.
Four generations of the Morales family have tended San Xavier, supervised since 1989 by historic preservation architect Bob Vint. There is very little missing plaster, and the inside walls are covered with colorful murals that gleam brightly after careful cleaning by European specialists. Statues of saints are tucked into niches, and the walls are so heavily decorated with gold and silver leaf that they resemble the Vatican.
Outside the church, Vint points out blue barrels that hold slaked lime (calcium oxide), explaining how the limestone is heated, pulverized, and mixed with water to achieve a good plaster. The preservation crew, at least half of whom are Tohono O’odham, boils prickly pear cactus pads and presses out a natural glue they add to the lime plaster. The cactus glue helps the plaster flow smoothly, adhere well, and cure without cracks.
When Vint started working here, the Morales family was still using synthetic materials. Vint’s mentor in Mexico City recommended a switch to traditional materials. So the crew stripped layers of cement and latex paint off the church, scraping the walls down to the original adobe brick. Then they applied lime plaster, bright white and smooth to the touch. The work is funded by the Patronato San Xavier foundation. And the Tohono O’odham are proud of it, or at least accept it, say Nuñez and Vint.
Caring for a functioning church is different than caring for ruins, says Vint. “We’re preserving it on into the future because it still has a life, so we’re renewing it. The guts of it are old; it just has a new skin.” The skin—the lime plaster—will last a couple hundred years with proper maintenance, he says proudly, sliding his hand across the wall.
But recently, the reconstruction has been struggling. Owing to a budget crisis, this year the state withdrew a $150,000 grant, which would have helped complete the unfinished left tower. Two workers were laid off, and the rest of the crew now works a four-day week. The slower pace means that the east tower (still under a cement casing) will deteriorate further and ultimately cost more to repair.
Near downtown Tucson, dust devils swirl on roughly 15 bulldozed acres at the base of Sentinel Peak. The vacant lot is occupied by a single square adobe wall. You’d never guess that this was the site of the city’s humble beginnings, where Franciscan friars built the Mission San Agustín in the O’odham village of Chuk-shun around 1800. The historic buildings are long gone, and the city of Tucson destroyed the remains of the old mission in the 1950s. For a while, the site was even used as a landfill.
The reconstructed adobe wall, built to surround a reconstruction of the mission gardens, is the first phase of the planned Tucson Origins Heritage Park. If completed, the complex will eventually include a brand-new Mission San Agustín, with a reconstructed chapel, convento, and walled orchard, as well as a re-creation of Native American settlements.
Archaeologists recently found evidence here of settlement and maize cultivation dating back 4,100 years. They also found North America’s earliest known irrigation canals and the Southwest’s oldest known pottery, according to Jonathan Mabry, Tucson’s historic preservation officer. The site also holds artifacts from Chinese tenant farmers, remains of mission-era Native American pithouses, and the foundations of a nineteenth-century brick factory. “With the archaeological findings from this project, Tucson can arguably claim to be the oldest continually inhabited place in the U.S.,” says Mabry. “There’s no other place that lays claim to that deep of a history.”
But the mission reconstruction might not ever be finished. The work has stagnated for a decade and not just because of the money problems of its parent entity, the ambitious Rio Nuevo downtown revitalization project approved by voters in 1999. It’s also caught up in the philosophical argument over the meaning of historical preservation.
People like R. Brooks Jeffery, coordinator of preservation studies at the University of Arizona, see this reconstruction as an assault on history, not an homage to it. Jeffery, who’s also involved in the Missions Initiative efforts around the Southwest, says the contextual relationship between the Santa Cruz River, Tucson’s old presidio (the original walled fort), and Mission San Agustín has been lost due to urban development. The historical place “has been completely desecrated,” he says.
Furthermore, he argues that it will be close to impossible to recreate a historically accurate building using modern materials and without any existing physical remains or documentary evidence of how the mission was built. To people in Jeffery’s camp, new structures would dishonor the existing missions that Missions Initiative is working so hard to help maintain.
Vint, at the San Xavier Mission, also strongly opposes the reconstruction. “We have a real, intact eighteenth-century building (at San Xavier). If people want to go back in time, they can come here and walk inside this intact architectural space.” Vint calls Tucson’s reconstruction “a waste of money and a falsification of history.”
Supporters include the Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace, a nascent group that is collecting donations just to cover the mission gardens. The garden wall and gates are finished, and the friends group is launching a fundraising effort to pay for water and electricity. They would like to start planting by March 2011; meanwhile, a joint city-state effort is planned to plant 100 “(Father) Kino Heritage trees” next year, grown from cuttings of very old trees—direct descendants of the Old World fruit trees brought here by the Spanish missionaries.
Diana Hadley, former director of Ethnohistorical Research at the Arizona State Museum, envisions the downtown park as a living history museum for newcomers, as well as longtime Tucson residents. “There’s no hands-on instruction of our history here,” Hadley says. The park would be an “unparalleled teaching tool.” She acknowledges that the reconstruction would not be totally accurate, but believes that people would “still get the wonderful feeling of what a mission was really like... (understanding) that the mission wasn’t just the church, but rather a Native American village with a Spanish settlement laid on top.”
Tumacácori’s Don Garate shares Hadley’s reasoning: “Tucson doesn’t know its history, especially its Spanish history. Like all big cities, it’s buried its history and built stuff over the top of it.”
Unfortunately, the general public is not exactly clamoring for historical missions in any condition. None of the missions attract the throngs of visitors that charismatic, natural recreation parks like Yellowstone or Yosemite do. Tumacácori attracts only 40,000 or so visitors each year—one of the lowest totals in the national park system. Mission supporters hope to draw more visitors in the future, but they also believe, as Moss says, “You can’t measure resources by the amount of people that visit. (The missions have) a larger meaning.”
That notion seems to be shared by everyone involved. Despite his skepticism about Tucson’s fumbling reconstruction of the downtown mission, Jeffery says the importance of preservation work in general lies in cultural identity—in the feeling of connection to a specific place. “The next generation is one of placelessness—we’re already a very transient society. This is about what makes this place unique.”
Ariana Brocious, a former High Country News intern, is a native of Tucson. Don Garate passed away on September 21, 2010.