This week I viewed some petroglyphs in Albuquerque with my family. Not for the first time (I’m quite sure) our particular visit was a meeting of modern and ancient artists.
There are several places (all within a couple of hours of Mountainair) to see this remarkable art, but since I was with my New York artist brother and his wife, we chose the one that boasted at least 300 petroglyphs, Piedras Marcadas Canyon in Albuquerque.
I don’t know if you’ve ever done this kind of time traveling, but with just a little imagination I was able to see lightly clad native Americans squatting by black lava rocks, stone picks in hand carving animal, human and symbolic messages that had definite and specific meanings in their time. I saw them busy early in the morning or very late afternoon, when the midday sun we were modernly trying to avoid with hats and sunglasses was not so intense.
I hoped there was more water and more shade for them.
Or maybe they were just tougher than we were. After 30 minutes or so I was so overheated my inner temperature gauge went haywire and I was shivering in the 90 degree heat and had to head back to the car.
But was it worth it? Oh yes…
It was a treasure hunt…along the trail and from several yards away we stood still, scanning black boulders of mixed size. Horned lizards, birds with fantastic headdresses and shamanistic figures with piercing eyes appeared, staring back at us from the rock.
We moved closer, right up to the design, careful not to touch them with our hands (having been warned of their centuries-old frailty.) Being so close to the work of a fellow artist, separated from me by hundreds and hundreds of years was an extraordinary privilege.
The meanings might be elusive and coded, but the petroglyphic beauty, rough and worn by passing centuries is a current communication, at least to me. One artist to another, one human being to another, ancient carvings of the very lizards and birds that dashed through the sand and into the brush on either side of our trail that afternoon.
When I found Kokopelli, the flute player with the hunch back, (obviously created by different artists all with different skill levels), I mentally compared those roughly beautiful carvings of this strangely joyful figure with the too perfect modern versions you see these days on coffee cups.
I am moved by those who felt their messages were valuable enough to carve in stone. They were, and they still are.
Is there some artwork of the past that moves you emotionally? I would love to hear about it in your comment here!