WPA FEDERAL WRITERS’ PROJECT



NEW MEXICO: A GUIDE TO THE COLORFUL STATE

COMPILED BY WORKERS OF THE WRITERS' PROGRAM
WORK PROJECTS ADMINISTRATION (WPA)
NEW MEXICO



"A vast array of articles, pamphlets, books, and monographs were published by the FWP on all aspects of American life, including history, folklore, nature studies, children’s educational materials, and the first ethnic studies to reach the general public. No one knows exactly how many publications bear the imprint of the Federal Writers’ Project or Writers’ Program, but one statistic claims that in seven years, at the cost of $27,189,370.00, seven twelve-foot bookcases of printed materials were authored, including 378 commercially published books."

A BRIEF OVERVIEW OF THE WPA


The graphic at the the top of the page depicting the book NEW MEXICO: A Guide To The Colorful State was one of those vast array of books so mentioned in the opening quote. It was compiled and written exclusively by authors and peoples under the good graciousness and auspices of the Depression era WPA program. The individuals so cited within the context of the book, be they writers, visual artists, etc., were all exemplary members of the New Mexico art community. Below describes one of those members:


The New Mexico artist so selected from and so mentioned within the text of the book and presented here was not only an up-and-coming well respected artist, albeit an east coast transplant of Caucasian descent, he also became well accepted by most spiritual elders and tribal members of the indigenous people of the desert southwest he interacted with as a person at one with the Earth. He eventually married a Native American of the Little Shell Plains Ojibwe who was a fourth level Midewiwin medicine woman that was held in awe by most that came within her presence. He himself moved with an almost cloak-like and uncanny nearly invisible ability, passing among people and places without disturbing the environment. Some say he was a Cloud Shaman and it may very well be the case. However, for the most part, he felt it was an impropriety to usurp for ones own gain or any other reason the traditional spiritual realms of others. Plain speaking he followed two very basic concepts: "When walking in the woods, never leave tracks," and "when you depart from a campground, always leave it better than you found it." Both concepts, although worded specifically in context, were meant to be expanded to the world and ones life as a whole.

While it is true in his early years in New Mexico he had to overcome seemingly unsurmountable traditional and cultural roadblocks to be viewed as "one with the Earth" in the eyes of the indigenous people of the desert southwest he interacted with, it did not just happen overnight.

Starting just out of high school he began studying art at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, the College of Fine Arts at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, and the Art Student's League in New York City. A year or two before the start of the Great Depression and barely into his 20s he decided to follow an important and well established artist he met and studied under named John Sloan to New Mexico. Sloan traveled to New Mexico each year for a few months to paint and relax. On their second or third trip, when Sloan returned to New York, is protégé stayed, having fallen in love with Santa Fe, the culture and the desert southwest. The protégé, especially before the advent of the Depression era Works Project Administration arts program, better known as the WPA, was, if not more so, still a struggling artist and to stretch his limited funds and maintain his health he began fishing, hunting rabbits, and looking into the potential possibility of edible and medicinal plants indigenous to the desert. In doing so he was soon coming in contact with Native Americans. At first they found the white man foraging in the wilderness one day and painting pictures the next day a bit strange and kept their distance, but after awhile they discovered he was neither there to destroy the environment nor to exploit them. A few Indians, and then soon more and more, began to assist him, and in return he helped them with marketing their wares and making their art more commercially viable. He began looking into local plants, soils and rocks to enhance pigments and dyes. Overcoming many deep rooted apprehensions and suspicions he soon became accepted as one with the Earth and eventually many secrets and rituals that would otherwise not have been revealed were shared with him without concern.[1]

Back then borders were just lines on paper, if that. As it was, most people didn't even have the paper. Arizona didn't exist as a state until only a few years before. In the desert wilderness traveling from New Mexico into Mexico into Arizona meant nothing. Tribal units pretty much kept to their traditional lands that basically just ran from their central operating core until they faded out with no specifically designated border. Although peoples of one group might interact with peoples of other groups they kept their secrets to themselves. He went between tribal areas and cultures up and down and across the desert interacting and learning different ways and methods of either doing the samething or not doing the samething, giving him a much broader base of understanding. What might be poison to one group another found away around and a use. Where medicinal plants, datura or peyote might be ignored by one group, one, the other, or all might be embraced by another group or clan. Learning and respecting local and traditional curing methods and rituals, over time what the artist learned then did was refine and synthesize, strengthening here, eliminating there.[2]


For a full and free complete unabridged online version of the book NEW MEXICO: A Guide To The Colorful State in PDF format please click the following link:


NEW MEXICO: A GUIDE TO THE COLORFUL STATE


The book in question, NEW MEXICO: A Guide To The Colorful State, is what is called a compilation with various sections written by a variety of WPA authors. However, in the end as a book it was edited by Joseph Miller.

Long after his WPA days Miller continued in the writing and editing field almost always exclusively aimed toward some aspect of the desert southwest. So said, among other things he edited a book titled ARIZONA CAVALCADE: The Turbulent Times, pictured below.

What is interesting about Arizona Cavalcade, published in 1962 and edited by Miller is the section that appears in the book on one of the most controversial subjects to ever show up in the lore of the desert southwest: A story regarding a secretly hidden ancient hand-hewn cave said to be carved out of the solid rock cliff sides high up on one of the walls above the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. The cave is said to be composed of many rooms and deep within one of those rooms is said to be a more than life size carved statue of the Buddha. The whole controversial story is based on an article that appeared in an Arizona Gazette in the 1900s.





On Monday April 5, 1909, the evening edition of the Arizona Gazette printed an article on the front page that said on the previous day, Sunday April 4th, a man identified by newspaper accounts as an archaeologist and explorer, reportedly working for the Smithsonian and said to go by the name G.E. Kincaid, "related to the Gazette" that archaeologists of the Smithsonian Institute, of which he was one and of which was financing the expedition, were exploring a mysterious cave high up on the walls of the Grand Canyon hewn out of solid rock by human hands that he, Kincaid, discovered. Among other things the article goes on to say:


"Over a hundred feet from the entrance is the cross-hall, several hundred feet long in which is found the idol, or image, of the people's god, sitting cross-legged, with lotus flower or lily in each hand. The cast of the face is oriental, the carving shows a skillful hand, and the entire object is remarkably well preserved, as is everything in this cavern.

"The idol almost resembles Buddha, though the scientists are not certain as to what religious worship it represents. Taking into consideration everything found thus far, it is possible that this worship most resembles the ancient people of Tibet."


Many people, both credible and questionable, have researched and investigated all aspects of the contents of the article and have continued to come up short with any hard evidence of such a cave or even the existence of Kincaid himself. Many of those same investigators say the Smithsonian has no record of having any such person, persons, researchers, or archaeology-like teams participating in any venture similar to or like the ones so attributed to in the article.

In the above I write there is a possibility the artist may have been directly responsible in bringing the legend of the cave to Miller's attention. The thing is, like I say, when the 1909 article was published the then yet to be New Mexico artist and biosearcher was only around seven years old --- and yet to travel any farther west than Pennsylvania. It wasn't until his early 20s that he showed up in New Mexico and highly unlikely he would have had, living mainly in and around the Santa Fe area in his early years, any access to the 1909 Arizona Gazette article in question or its contents. Given the gap, the question arises how is it the artist became privy to the existence of such a cave? I think it goes back to the following quote from the main text above:


"Overcoming many deep rooted apprehensions and suspicions he soon became accepted as one with the Earth and eventually many secrets and rituals that would otherwise not have been revealed were shared with him without concern."


Below is a copy of the newspaper article that gave root to the story that showed up in the book edited by Joseph Miller titled ARIZONA CAVALCADE: The Turbulent Times in 1962. Why Miller, as the editor of the book, selected and included the Grand Canyon cave story is not known other than perhaps a hint of such as found in the quote above regarding the artist. Other than that, if he had any additional hard core conclusive evidence or sources other than what appeares in the Gazette article he never revealed it:


FOR A CLEAR TEXT VERSION, WITH DELETIONS AND LEFT OUT PORTIONS REINSERTED, CLICK HERE


BUDDHISM IN AMERICA BEFORE COLUMBUS


THE NARRATIVE OF HOEI SHIN


U.S. HISTORY: THE NEW DEAL
THE WPA: PUTTING PEOPLE BACK TO WORK

HUI SHEN: BHIKSHU





















Footnote [1]

Near midnight on July 3, 1944 the nephew of the above artist in question, the nephew then at the time being only a very young boy, was riding as a passenger on the record setting all-first-class Santa Fe Chief out of Chicago on it's way toward Los Angeles. The Chief, being pulled by a powerful Baldwin built 4-8-4 Northern with 90 inch drive wheels, on a downhill high speed run at over 90 miles per hour between Flagstaff and Williams, Arizona hit a 55 mph curve and derailed, sliding off the tracks through the desert over the length of two football fields before coming to a stop, injuring 126 and killing four.

The nephew of the artist escaped unharmed through a set of unusual circumstances put into place by his uncle with the help of a Native American tribal spiritual elder. Because of the wreck the adult or adults the nephew was traveling with had been hospitalized, being left without adult supervision. The artist, living in Santa Fe and the closest relative was contacted and he in turn contacted a close by tribal spiritual elder he knew to watch over his nephew until he could get there. The boy recognized the spiritual elder the moment he walked into the hospital waiting area looking for him because of the events as found in the following quote:


"Mid-evening on the night of the-unknown-to-anybody at the time up-coming crash I had gone to bed in the bunk in my compartment and as far as I knew had fallen fast asleep. Sometime during that period between the time I fell asleep and the crash occurred I found myself neither asleep nor in my bunk but outside of the train standing barefoot on the desert floor in the middle of the night in my PJs some distance off from a set of railroad tracks, my hand being held by an elderly Native American man."


THE SPIRITUAL ELDER AND THE SANTA FE CHIEF






















Footnote [2]

The artist so alluded to in the above main text, prior to participating in the WPA, was already an up-and-coming artist. In the years afterward, much to thanks of the WPA, he edged even higher into being a fairly well established artist, especially so amongst his fellow desert southwest peers.

He was also as well, a biosearcher, a botanist of sorts that looks for and searches out new species of plants in the wild. Prior to his death in 1989, as a biosearcher, he had more than a half dozen plant species named after him following years of trekking, searching, and discovering previously unknown and unnamed plants all over mostly remote and hidden areas and sections of the desert southwest. In 1943 he was biosearching alone in the then largely uninhabited mountainous and desert-like terrain in the central section of New Mexico between the New Mexico and Arizona border on the west and the north-to-south flowing Rio Grande on the east.

In the process of his biosearching he came across two men, and unusually so, both Asian. One of men was flat on his back all but unconscious and visibly quite ill after apparently having been bitten by a rattlesnake with the bite being left untreated. The artist, after using the healing properties of indigenous plants he gathered up, soon found the man up and around. One of the men who had a rudimentary use of English told the artist they were Japanese, were testing soil samples for radioactivity, and had been left off in Mexico by a submarine. By then the biosearcher come artist was wanting to beat a hasty retreat, but before he could one of the men pulled a pistol and shot him in the back point blank. They took his truck and although they left him to bleed out, thanks to some Native Americans who had been observing from a distance, he survived. In 1985 a book titled The Japanese Secret War authored by Robert K. Wilcox was published. In the book Wilcox writes about the two Japanese men the artist encountered and the U-boat they arrived in, of which more can be found at the source so cited:


"Wilcox's book that, for the first time brought to the public's attention Japanese agents having been in the desert southwest during World War II specifically tasked with testing soil samples for radiation, was published in 1985. It was well before, in 1970, that my uncle told me about his 1943 encounter with Japanese spies soil testing deep into state of New Mexico and the fact that they, according to their own testimony, had initially been brought to Mexico via a German U-boat from Europe."(source)