Sandoval Signpost


An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988

Signpost featured artist: Norma Libman

Author Norma Libman at home in Placitas

Gary Priester designed the Lonely River Village book cover shown above—the winner of the 2014 New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards Best Cover Design.

A chart of translation—Mandarin to Nu Shu

Veiled voices: Norma Libman’s Lonely River Village

—Oli Robbins

An anonymous woman once wrote, “I find some relief in writing, for one cannot always cry.” These honest words were penned in Nu Shu, a secret language unique to, and devised by, female villagers in China’s Hunan Province. Nu Shu, or “women’s script,” exemplifies just how fundamental expression is to the human experience—for even the muzzled will find a way to speak. Developed some time between two hundred and two thousand years ago, Nu Shu was the inspiration for Placitas writer Norma Libman’s 2014 novel, Lonely River Village: a Novel of Secret Stories.

Libman has been researching the code for twenty years, and her book provides a compelling and comprehensive grouping of Nu Shu writings. The musings, advice, and events that were recorded in Nu Shu are the basis of Libman’s characters, though the identities of the original authors have been lost. These strong and intelligent women used Nu Shu clandestinely, to preserve their female relationships and give import to their own experiences and emotions during a time when they were denied the education needed to read or write. Libman explains, “They sewed their stories into fans, scarves, handkerchiefs, or napkins and sent them to each other to inform their friends of what was happening in their families, or purely to provide entertainment for their otherwise harsh or boring lives.” Nu Shu was largely overlooked by men, both because it was typically inscribed on decorative items, and women were generally viewed as unimportant.

Most Nu Shu was destroyed in the 1960s during the Cultural Revolution, along with other items from the pre-communist era. Or, it was burned during cremation so it could “accompany the deceased to their next existence.” But what was preserved is eloquent, often sad, and aesthetically impressive. Nu Shu reveals pockets of what it was like to be female when subservience was expected and inequality was the law. One Nu Shu excerpt reads, “It’s one thing to suffer all my life, but I don’t want my sorrow to be lost. I want people to know how I felt.” Libman hopes to grant this wish, writing, “Their voices, systematically silenced for so many years, will at last be heard.” Some women were optimistic that the future would be brighter for following generations of women: “You push aside a dark cloud and then you will see the blue sky; women wait for the hard luck to be over so they can have a better life.” And thankfully, with the rise of Communism, girls entered school and learned how to write in Mandarin. Women could now legally learn how to read and write, and as a result, they no longer relied upon the covert Nu Shu.

Although Libman didn’t study journalism or creative writing in school, she has been working as a journalist and writer since her twenties. She spent many years teaching literature as an adjunct professor in the suburbs of Chicago (her home city), and also assumed a role as a columnist and feature writer for the Chicago Tribune—for which she wrote over four hundred articles.

One of her interviewees, a Chinese-born writer who had recently published a book, indirectly led her to Nu Shu by inviting Libman to an Asian writer’s conference in Taiwan. Once there, on the advice of her editor, Libman investigated a nebulous story regarding a secret women’s code. Libman approached the head of translators at Taipei’s Awakening Foundation. The Foundation had earlier translated all extant Nu Shu writings after coming into contact with a male Chinese professor who was determined to raise interest in and translate the undecipherable script. The professor, Gong Zhe-bing, had tracked down three living women who were proficient in Nu Shu. The three Nu Shu writers taught the script to thirty volunteers, who were assembled by the Foundation and translated all remaining texts into Mandarin. Libman’s meeting with the Foundation provided material for an article on Nu Shu that was published in the early 90s in the Chicago Tribune. The article sparked the interest of many who began contacting Libman with other stories about the tacit preservation of histories and cultures, like those of the crypto-Jews—which Libman now studies and writes about.

In Lonely River Village, Libman weaves the real stories that were first expressed in Nu Shu into a tapestry of community, heartbreak, perseverance, and friendship. Nu Shu is what connects her characters, and it is essential to the survival of each of them. An anonymous Nu Shu writer assumed that the world will never “remember a woman’s passion that has never had a chance to bloom.” But if Libman’s novel achieves the acclaim it deserves, it may well prove this woman wrong.

Visit Libman’s website to contact her and read a selection of her articles: Her book can be purchased on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle. Libman will also be discussing the novel and signing copies at the Placitas Community Library on January 24, at 2:00 p.m.

At the end of September, 2014, the Placitas Community Library presented Still Here, Then and Now: Women Artists of Placitas, 1940s to 1970s—an art and history exhibit by fifteen local artists who moved to Placitas between 1940 and 1970 who embraced the culture and beauty of the community in their works. Pictured above are some of the show’s participating artists (l. to r.): Wilda MacLauchlan, Carol Kennedy, Ruth Ives, Bunny Bowen, Lenore Goodell, Nancy Couch, Sally Hall, Mary Hofmann, Daisy Kates, and Dana Patterson Roth. Participating artists in the show who are not pictured above are Evey Jones, Susan Junge, Laura Robbins, Miki Sewards, and Elaine Slusher.
Photo credit: Wayne Jones

Heads up Placitas Studio Tour artists—applications available February 1

The Placitas Studio Tour is a special Placitas event that offers a unique behind the scenes peek at the creative life of Placitas artists. We will open our studios on Mother’s Day weekend, May 9 and 10 for self-guided tours. The Studio Tour has been a great success for 18 years because it offers a peek into the many fascinating and varied studios and artisan workshops spread throughout the diverse areas of Placitas.

Artists join a creative community and share their energies to make the event such a success.  Beyond paying the modest entry fee, artists are required to provide a high-quality digital image of their work and attend a mandatory orientation meeting. They also must help with the many road signs that make it easy for guests to locate the studios, and help with various other duties required for several committees.

The Studio Tour is open only to artists and artisans who are Placitas residents or who maintain their working studios in Placitas. This year’s application, with detailed guidelines, becomes available on February 1. Visit our website ( to get more information and print your application. Deadline to submit your application is Valentine’s Day, February 14 with no exceptions.

Get your work photographed now and start thinking of new art to create for this year’s Studio Tour. Images stay on the Placitas Studio Tour website for a year, with links to each studio site. Local sponsors have a link on the website for the whole year, also. Use the “Contact Us” button online to inquire about sponsorship and for any other questions.

Willy Sucre, violist

Placitas Artists Series presents music, art

—Jay A. Rodman

The twenty-eighth season of the Placitas Artists Series continues on January 18, with a 3:00 p.m. concert featuring Willy Sucre and Friends, including guitarist Javier Calderón, Joanna de Keyser (cello), Willy Sucre (viola), Krzysztof Zimowski (violin), and performing quartets for guitar and string trio.

The program includes Franz Schubert’s Quartet for Violin, Guitar, Viola and Cello; and Nicolo Paganini’s Quartet for Violin, Viola, Cello and Guitar. Calderón will also perform solo works by J. S. Bach. The concert is generously sponsored by Jack and Sally Curro.

Prior to the concert, a 2:00 p.m. artist reception will feature the art of Cate Clark, ceramic and fused glass mosaic; Mary Lee Dereske, photography; Amy Hautman, oil painting; and Katherine Christie Wilson, oil painting. Their works, which are for sale, will be on display from January 3 to January 30.

Artist Cate Clark came to mosaic work through a community Wildlife Corridors mural project at the Placitas Recycling Center. Mary Lee Dereske, a Placitas photographer, balances color and light to unveil beauty and emotion in her images. Amy Hautman continues to find daily inspiration in her Placitas studio, where she paints whimsical birds, sensuous rock formations, and dramatic abstracts. Katherine Christie Wilson is fascinated by light and shadow, strong design, and unexpected color in the natural world.

The concert and artist reception both take place at Las Placitas Presbyterian Church in the village of Placitas, located six miles east of I-25 on NM 165 (Exit 242). The facility is completely accessible.

Tickets for the PAS concert will be available at the door one hour before the concert or may be purchased in advance at The Merc Grocery Store in Homestead Village Shopping Center, Placitas; Under Charlie’s Covers Fine Used Book Store at 120 E. Highway 550, Bernalillo; or on-line at Tickets are twenty dollars for general admission and $15 dollars for students with ID. Music students through high school are admitted free with a paying adult.

Placitas Artists Series projects are made possible in part by New Mexico Arts, a division of the Department of Cultural Affairs, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

For more information call 867-8080 or visit

Sculpture, by Cate Clark

Photograph, by Mary Lee Dereske

Painting, by Amy Hautman

Painting, by Katherine Christie Wilson

Alonzo B. McMillen, Corrales friend or adversary?

CHS Speaker Stan Betzer to tell the tale

Corrales Historical Society “Speaker Series” 2015

—Nan Kinball

On January 25, at 3:00 p.m., at the Historic Old San Ysidro Church in Corrales, CHS member Stan Betzer will present, “A.B. McMillen and the Alameda Land Grant.”

From the founding of Corrales in the 1700s until the early years of the twentieth century, the settler residents of Corrales farmed the rich bottomlands near the Rio Grande and used the mesa lands above the hills to the west as common range for their livestock. The land grant to which they had access stretched almost twenty miles to the west, to the ridge that divided the Rio Grande watershed from that of the Rio Puerco. Their claim to ownership of their lands had only recently been upheld. Yet, through what appeared to be legal trickery and a lawsuit filed in 1906, they lost their ability to continue to use the common lands to the west.

In this talk, we will tell the story of that lawsuit and try to explain how it was possible for that catastrophic loss to occur. Stan Betzer and his wife, Gay, have lived in Corrales since June 1989. For more than thirty years, he practiced law. Since retiring in 2004, Stan has been active in the Corrales Historical Society Archives Committee. He can be found giving tours of the Old Church campo santo on Heritage Day. This program is free and open to the public.

Photograph, by Harriet Neal

Photographer Harriet Neal at PCL

—Susanne Dominguez

Harriet Neal has pursued photography passionately, primarily in the West, with subjects ranging from steaming fumaroles in her native Wyoming to wildflowers in her own backyard to the ruins of ancient Americans. She sees a spiritual dimension in her work and believes that we begin to understand our own place in the universe through connection with our environment. Her award-winning photography is continually evolving and is constrained neither by camera nor darkroom. While living in Arizona, she showed her work in numerous shows, including a Phippen Museum exhibition of up-and-coming artists in Prescott, Arizona. She lives and works out of her own studio in Placitas, and shares her life with geologist husband Jim, and a Border Collie.

Harriet is not quite a New Mexico native, but has lived here since 1959, except for 15 years in Arizona, and considers herself a native at heart. She says there is a whole lot of the state she has yet to see, and hopes to continue traveling and photographing this land that she loves. A current interest involves red rock art and culture, and she has plans for a book with husband Jim. An earlier work about the nature center in Prescott featured her photography.

Harriet Neal’s work will be on display at the Placitas library from January 3 through January 29. A public reception will be held on January 9 at the library from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m.

Organ concert in Keller Hall

On January 25, at 3:00 p.m., the American Guild of Organists, Albuquerque Chapter, presents Jennifer Pascual, organist, in concert. Held at the UNM Center for the Arts, Keller Hall. General admission is $15 dollars, ten dollars for students and seniors, and children 12 and under are free. Jennifer Pascual is the Director of Music and organist at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. As a concert artist, Dr. Pascual has performed extensively throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe. Having earned a doctorate degree in organ performance at the Eastman School of Music, Jennifer has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the Paderewski Medal and Theodore Presser Award. Dr. Pascual is a recording artist on the JAV label. For further details, contact Lawrence Goddard, 280-6431.

Albuquerque Baroque Players perform

—Mary Bruesch

The Albuquerque Baroque Players continue their 2014-2015 season with two programs of music by Biagio Marini, Giuseppe Antonio Brescianello, Francesco Mancini, Giuseppe Tartini, Giovanni Batista Vitali, and Antonio Vivaldi, featuring Baroque violinist Stephen Redfield. The concerts will be held on January 10, at 7:30 p.m., at the Fellowship Christian Reformed Church (4800 Indian School Road NE) and January 11, at 3:00 p.m., at the Historic Old San Ysidro Church in Corrales.

Tickets are $18 dollars, $15 for seniors (62+), and seven dollars for full-time students; twenty percent discount for groups of ten or more. For information, or to reserve tickets, call 400-9385, or visit

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