a Day Trip to Superior and Apache Leap

Apache Leap, Superior. AZ
Apache Leap, Superior. AZ

Today Liz and I took a day trip to Superior. Liz’s niece in Michigan owns property in Superior and asked that we send her some photos. She is going to have to arrange for somebody to cut down the overgrowth.  One day they plan to build a house on the lot, which has a grand view of Apache Leap.  More on that in a second.

It was a nice excuse to stop for lunch at the Jade Grill, a very intimate little restaurant run by Superior native and master chef Lucy Wing. The cuisine is Asian Fusion – the presentation is nothing short of artistic.  Highly recommended. Lunch for two ran $24.

It was also an excuse to do some shopping at Funky Junk, an eclectic thrift store. We walked out with a coal burning stove and an old pick-axe that Liz purchased for the Superstition Mountain Museum miner’s cabin exhibit. I walked out with about 15 feet of antique barbed wire which I plan on fashioning into a wreath. He refused to charge me, and offered two bundles of wire. I didn’t want to take advantage.

You never know what you are going to find at Funky Junk – antique furniture, musical instruments including outsider art electric cigar box banjos and cigar box amplifiers, old mining equipment, a jackhammer, Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass Band 33 1/3 RPM albums, coils of barbed wire, fine antique china, a vintage smelter (if I had the cash I would have walked out with it) and an odd assortment of books and CDs and DVDs.

The son of the owner was lamenting the loss of business due to the highway expansion.  The only highway between Phoenix and Miami/Globe is shut down for three days a week for construction.  Superior is in the middle, and they have lost a lot of the tourist traffic they rely on.  Superior is an old silver mining town that was shy of becoming a ghost town before the Chamber of Commerce created a sort of arts district in the downtown.

The highway is closed for blasting, as the mountains have to be chipped away to make room for two more lanes of road. Superior is a town that is at once charming and also creepy. Artists have taken up residence in neighborhood that reek of poverty – of real poverty. Superior is on the outskirts of what used to be Apache territory – a few miles further east past Globe and you are on Apache reservation. If you are a White Eye, you do not want to screw up or do anything stupid. The Apache remember.

Which brings me to the story of Apache Leap.

The Apache had inhabited this territory since before recorded history. The Apache and The Navajo are descended from the same people. The Navajo settled and created an agrarian community. The Apache wandered and roamed, and hunted for sustenance. They also raided and took what they needed to survive, whether from white man or other native tribes. When the White Eyes began encroaching on their land, they did not rest easy.

Superior was once a farming settlement, and was named Florence Settlement. Frequent Apache raids were cause for a military fort to be situated a few miles west at Picket Post Butte in 1870.  Picket Post Butte was originally names Tordilla Peak.

This was the location of the town called Pinal, which boasted the Silver King Mine. A stamp mill was built here, and the silver was stripped from the vein.  A few miles east rose a mountain named the Big Picacho.  It is a huge up-cropping of rock whose face has been eroded by thousands of years of precipitation.

The Apache had established a small community at the top of Big Picacho. The path to the top was obscure, and the Apache felt safe in their secret hideaway. They used this vantage to observe military movement in the valley below, and via smoke signals communicate with other tribes. The military post eventually discovered the hideaway and were able to find the secret path to the peak.

A group of military and civilian posse surprised the Apache.  The Apache quickly surrendered, understanding the futility of fighting a larger force, they had no route of escape. The posse, however, would not accept surrender, figuring that the Apache would one day attack anyway.  They killed man, woman and child.  The Apache, with nowhere to go, ran to the ridge and lept to their deaths.Many Apache warriors rode their horses off the cliff, as some of the stories go.

Apache Leap overlooks Oak Flat, a parcel of land that indolent politicians in cohorts with international corporations have conspired to sell for the promise of a few low paying local jobs. While not tribal land, indeed the land is part of Tonto National Forest, it has a certain meaning to Apache tribes in the area. It is considered sacred because of the Apache Leap incident.

The company buying the land is an Australian/English consortium that has mines with Iranian interests. One of their mines had 15% Iranian interest. Money and greed have no national boundaries, and allowing terrorists to profit comes in second to personal riches.

The copper vein that would be mined lies miles beneath the surface, and the mine would destroy a landscape that is unique not only to Arizona, but to the United States. A gaping hole would be left in the wake of wanton avarice. Some jobs would be created for residents of Superior, and as unemployment is at an all time high, it is enticing to give consideration, however, the high paying administrative jobs wold go to foreign nationals that have no interest other than self-enrichment.



Mata Ortiz, Oaxaca, and the Art of Mexico

The pottery and catrinas of Magdalena Pedro Martinez
The pottery and catrinas of Magdalena Pedro Martinez

Spring is just around the corner, and it is time for the Annual exhibit of Mexican fine craft at the Superstition Mountain Museum. A four day event, artists travel from the small village of Mata Ortiz (population around 200) located in the State of Chihuahua, Mexico, and as far as Oaxaca. The artists practice craft handed down for generations.

Magdalena Pedro MartínezThe focal point of the event is the large variety of pottery and clay work.  The black pottery is called Barro Negro, known for the sheen and lustre and intricate design work. Magdalena Pedro Martinez is from Oaxaca. I spent time with them at one of the after parties, and talked with the help of their teenage daughter who acted as translator.  Since the extent of my Spanish is “cervesa”, “Besa mi culo”, and “puto” – we needed help.  one will get you a cold beer, the other two will get you beat up!

Magdalena and her husband are physicians, but she spends more time creating her art than practicing medicine. She is a renowned artist in Mexico.

I was showing them photos of some of the mosaic installations that Liz and I have done, and was surprised to learn we have friend in common. Magdalena was an artist at the Clay Studio in Philadelphia, and were guests of Isaiah Zagar during their stay. It truly is a small small world.

One of the features of the four-day event are the daily firings of the Mata Otiz pottery by Lila Silveira and her husband Carlos Carrillo. Lila and Carlos are from Mata Ortiz, hence the name of the pottery. The pottery is made from local clay, which they refine.  All of the pottery is hand turned, no pottery wheel. They are made with coils of clay and smoothed as the design of the vase takes shape. All of the colors are natural colors.  The paintbrushes are hand made – sometimes using an empty ballpoint pen with a single strand of human hair. The designs are all traditional, with the artist’s own interpretation. One vase will take two weeks to create. These are forty hour weeks. They are fired in the time-honored tradition of a pit kiln.

The firing of the clay is the final step, and one fraught with peril. In forty-five minutes, two weeks of tedious work can self destruct. Carlos heats the ground under the pit, to bring it up to temperature, and to remove any moisture in the ground.  Then two buckets are placed over the heated pottery.Wood is piled around the buckets, and the fire is allowed to burn until the wood is nothing but ash. One strong breeze can infiltrate the cover of the buckets and cause the pottery to split.  Typically, one out of four or five pieces is lost in the firing. Each destroyed piece is a loss of income. That means one less trip tot he supermarket, which is an hour drive from town.

Porfirio Guitierrez
Porfirio Guitierrez on the loom

First one bucket is removed to allow the pottery to cool, then the other – the moment of anticipation. As the pottery cools, you can watch the clay change color, and the pigments will change, too. This year, all of the pottery survived the firing.

Porfirio Guitierrez at the after party
Porfirio Guitierrez at the after party

Porfirio Guitierrez is a fabric artist, creating rugs and weaving in the traditional Zapotec method dating to pre-Colombian times.  Porfirio is also from Oaxaca.

The yarns are all dyed with natural dyes from plants, except for the red which is made from the cochineal, an insect. These colors will never fade, as is attested by remnants discovered in ancient archaeological ruins. Porfirio makes his own dyes, the yarn is locally spun from wool. A weaving can take from several days to weeks.

Porfirio works on a handmade loom of very basic construction. He was taught the art by his father, and says the most difficult part of the process is converting his design into the finished product. He says there is a lot of mathematics involved, knowing the thread count, the thickness of the yarn, the intricacy of the design.

Julia Fuentes hand painting a carving
Julia Fuentes hand painting a carving

Julia Fuentes is from the village of San Martin Tilcajete, Oaxaca. The daughter of master carver Epifanio Fuentes, she carries on the family tradition with her husband. Here she is painting the intricate designs on a carving created by her husband, Jose Juan Melchor. She was standing in the sun because she was chilly. The climate is just a little bit warmer in Oaxaca.

Wood carvings
Wood carvings

The table of carvings contains her art, as well as examples of many other artists that could not attend the exhibit. Many were not able to obtain travel visas because they do not have birth certificates.

All of the artists that attend this annual event are masters of their own craft. I would stand in awe watching them work. Their attention to detail coupled with the use of tools that often are improvised, using supplies and materials that are also handmade and an art in themselves just reinforces the idea that Art Will Find a Way.

I guess I have to end this with a photo of some of the other people that make this event possible.  The Apache Junction Mounted Rangers provide security during the event. The AJ Mounted Rangers are volunteers, working long hours, as volunteers.  Did I mention they work for no pay?

AJ Mounted Rangers
AJ Mounted Rangers

They are an ubiquitous presence, patrolling the parking lots of supermarkets during the holiday season, mingling with the crowds during these events, and exemplifying the Arizona spirit of helping your neighbor.

Of course, this event would be possible without the dedication of the more than 200 volunteers of the Museum, putting in long hours, proving room and board for the artists, and especially hosting the after parties. It is one thing to see the artists practicing their craft and quite another to talk to them, and despite the language barrier, finding many things in common.

I cannot wait for next year, to connect again with new friends, to be amazed at the artistry and to acquire more amazing art for our collection.

Arizona Renaissance Festival

Arizona Renaissance Festival We are fortunate to live fifteen minutes from the grounds of the Arizona Renaissance Faire. The festival is located on 30 acres of permanent grounds just east of Apache Junction. Thirteen sound stages, hundreds of vendors, live acts and entertainment, artisans and crafts-persons all in one event. And of course food and beverages – adult beverages!

Arizona Renaissance Festival2016 was the 27th year of the event. It is easy to spot the geeks in the crowd, they arrive in costume. Yes, that includes Liz and myself! Many people strive for authenticity in their costumes.  Others opt for the fantastical. Many, this year, paid homage to Game of Thrones. And of course there are the scantily clad girls; not Elizabethan by any stretch of  the imagination, but who am I to complain?

TartanicOur first stop – after the beer stand, of course, is Tartanic.  Otherwise known as “Men without pants”, Tartanic is a band from Houston, TX playing their own version of bagpipe rock and roll. The performance is bawdy, lively and a great way to begin the day. Tartanic obviously believes they are a good way to start the day – one of their bits is having a member of the audience dial a friend that will likley be still in bed, so that they can play bagpipes into the phone and help them begin their day.

TartanicThe arena is soon filled with people dancing to traditional Scottish instruments and no-so-traditional Scottish music. After Tartanic, we hit the various stages to see the Wash Wenches, the Ded Bob Sho, and the Tortuga Twins.  All of the shows contain adult humor, but are basically child friendly as the humor, for the most part, will fly over the heads of young’uns.  Most involve luring innocent audience members on stage to participate in embarrassing acts to the amusement of those of us smart enough not to sit near the front row. Of course there is plenty to keep children amused, G-rated shows and rides.

JpustingUsually around noonish, we hit the food courts.  I had the turkey leg – this sucker had to weight three pounds! They have bread bowls that are almost too big to eat. There is pizza for the non-adventurous. There is even a stand that sells dolmas. All of the food prices are reasonable – and domestic beers are $4.  I opted for the Smithwick’s – a little more but worth it to drink a decent beer on draught.

The high point of the day is the joust. There are three tournaments each day, and the contests are not staged as far as who the winner is going to be. The jousters are paired off based on who win contests of skill. Points are awarded by whether or not the jouster hits the opponent’s shield, of knocks the shield off (more points) or breaks the opponent’s lance (even more points).

After the joust, we hit the belly dancers. Not literally, we would be banned from the grounds for that. Then we stroll the grounds one last time checking out the vendors. By four o’clock we are drained. Six hours is not nearly enough time to see everything we would like, but 4PM is the perfect time to make an exit, beating the mad rush at 5.  At $21, the tickets are a bargain. All of the entertainment is free – but it is a nice idea to tip the acts. They actually do this for a living!

With tourist/snow bird season winding down, my entertainment will be more of a back-to-nature sort. Hiking, camping, target shooting.  And I am running out of excuses to prevent me from working on the camper, or in the studio. At least until the summer weather hits.