Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Thatcher Cemetery - Thatcher, AZ September 9, 2010

Thought I’ve heard it all so far in hospice. The patient that I had just left decided that she was going to "shopping" for her own grave site at cemeteries located here in the county.
I’ve had patients plan their funerals, write their obituaries or compose their whole memorial service. Never had anyone pick out their plot of land for their remains within weeks of their possibly death. When it comes close to your time and the grim reaper may be knocking at your door, as human beings we need to feel as if we have some "control."
My first horse, a roan-colored Appaloosa named Princess Lulu, has been struggling with cancer for the past two years. Even though she still has energy, the cancer has taken a toll on the definition of her body lines along with a huge tumor growing out of her left eye. It’s her time. I picked October 1, 2010 to have Lulu put down because that day allotted me time to grieve without many outside demands. I’ve paid a rancher to pick her up at my place, take her to his ranch, mercifully shoot her and bury my beloved mare next to his favorite cow pony. Lulu doesn’t have the ability to make those decisions. She’s dependent on me to spare her a painful end. The age old struggle with choices and control is my burden right now with Lulu. I want the control but I hate the price of the pain. I hate it.
On my way back to the hospital, I drove through the Thatcher Cemetery for the first time.
I photograph grave sites from time to time. Not because I know the people who are buried there. Folks tend to decorate them so interestingly.
I wasn’t there for five minutes when I came across one that was cause to stop and park my car. The grave was all gravel and had a large quartz rock and a huge empty, black cowboy boot planter on it - standing side-by-side. A piece of tin, with faint etching, was shoved into the ground. Next to that was a pair of old leather cowboy boots stuffed with tattered, silk mum flowers that had all their color bleached out by the sun. The only writing I could make out on the piece of tin was "Jake Johns - died 2007."
The grave site seemed kind of lonely looking to me. I went back to my car and returned with a cowboy and indian icon art piece. I placed, photographed and documented #58 there. It appeared to fit right in with John Jakes’s other elements of decor.
Before I walked away I spoke out loud to the spirit of John Jakes. "Hey, I sending you my mare, Lulu soon. Please look out after her." Then I smiled, "Happy Trails."

Sunday, September 19, 2010

1125 S. Highway 191 - Pearce, AZ September 7, 2010

On my travels down 191 to and back from Pearce, I would always see these two curved shaped, steel, abandoned buildings. They reminded me of barracks one might see on an army base. Today was the day I decided that it was time to take a look.
Parked my car on the side of the highway. The buildings were 1/8 a mile from the highway. My walk consisted of watching how I stepped through waist high grass. My
little friends, the grasshoppers, lead the way. It was a careful climb up the wooden steps to the open entrance of the steel building on the left. Thank goodness it wasn’t high. If one of the steps had rotted out from the harsh AZ weather, my descent to the ground wouldn’t be far.
The first thing I noticed on the floor was what appeared to be a pack rat’s next. Rodent feces were scattered around the floor. Once again, I had to be careful how I walked on the wooden floors since they were prone to give in under the weight of my body at any time. There was a navy colored weathered, hand-painted in yellow sign which read, "FOR SALE. $35.000. 600 FT. FRONTAGE." Parts of the ceiling had already caved in. Most of the paint on the walls was peeling off. There was, what was left of it, a bathroom at the left end of building.
It appeared to be a building that was once used for social functions. On a sill of one of the broken windows was a festive Christmas arrangement made entirely of plastic. In some of the small piles of rubble that were through the building were bits Christmas decorations such as flat green garland and images of Santa on torn plastic sheets.
There were a few Christmas cards here and there on the floor. I picked up a soiled one off of the floor. The front of the card had a wreath made out of red chili peppers and read, "SEASONS GREETINGS." The inside of the card had a printed sentiment that read, "WITH WARMEST WISHES FOR A FESTIVE HOLIDAY SEASON AND A WONDERFUL NEW YEAR." Under this message, hand written, it read, "Brian, Jock (my husband) keeps saying how he wants to see your house and 9 acres (119,000?) sometime. Merry Christmas, Barbara Highfield."
After finding a shelf near the bathroom, I placed, photographed and documented art piece #61. This time, I once again manipulated the art piece’s final placement by setting Barbara Highfield’s Christmas card behind the art piece on the shelf. Then, I picked up a piece of green garland from the floor and wrapped it around the base of art piece #61 before taking my photograph.
Since this building was once a home to merriment, I decided to use the contents already there to make the placement festive. A tribute to the ghosts of parties past. Then I wondered, "What ever happened to Barbara Highfield? Was she still alive? Did Jock and her ever visit Brian? What kind of a relationship is Brian and Barbara really have?"
I took calculated steps out of the building and back into the bright, hot sun. Grasshoppers accompanied me on my walk back to the car. I touched the hot handle on my car door and with a precise maneuver, I opened it. Key in the ignition, with a quick twist, the engine started and the air conditioner began churning out, temporarily, hot air.
Once I was back driving on the asphalt highway, all I could think about was Barbara Highfield. Did she have a dance with Brian at the last Christmas party held in that building? I pictured two special friends sharing a laugh and gliding across the dance floor as my car made its journey - directly in the sun. I smiled and hoped in my heart that Barbara and Brian found happiness in their journey, together or apart. Whatever, I’ll toast them both on 12/25/10.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Broken Arrow Baptist Church - E. Ironwood Road, Pearce, AZ September 7, 2010

One can sure tell its Fall in SE AZ by driving down any asphalt road. There are hundreds of grasshoppers all over the road. One of my dogs, Belle, switches from chasing lizards to pouncing on grasshoppers at this time of year.
On my way to a patient’s home, I drove past a building, with a long sign of faded lettering, that read, "Broken Arrow Baptist Church." There were also some letters on the left hand side of the sign which read, KJ1611. I parked my car on the side of the road and walked 50 feet through tall grass. I carefully scanned the grass for rattlesnakes. No snakes, just grasshoppers.
The front door was chained and locked. The ceiling to the left of the entrance had almost caved in. Scattered around the entrance were identical, books with red covers which read,
"All American Church Manual." They were worse for wear from the weather.
Since I chose to manipulate the staging of the photographs at today’s scenes - I gingerly picked up two of the hymnals. One I placed as a back drop against the front door. The other I laid in front of it and opened to a hymn. There I placed, photographed and documented #60.
As I walked back to my car, I couldn’t help but wonder about what happened to the congregation of this church? Not enough coin in the Sunday collection plate? It occurred to me that this was an unusual name for a Baptist church - "Broken Arrow." Perhaps the church’s name had some connection to the Cochise Apaches who once resided here. Perhaps these folks were missionary types trying to convert the "savages?" Maybe the congregation just wanted to have an unique name for a Baptist church.
Another riddle unanswered. Got to my car. Another grasshopper I almost stepped on. Another patient to see before my car has to head down north Highway 191.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Nielson Trucking Co. and Car Wash - Duncan, AZ September 1, 2010

Every time I drive into Duncan, I have to pass a red, white and blue painted self-serve car wash. Never do I see anyone actually using the facility or any vehicles parked there. Today I stopped the car to explore it and hopefully place an art piece there.

It must still be in occasional use because I didn’t see any debris around or broken glass from soda or beer bottles. It appeared that someone has been looking out after it.

Upon further exploration, I noticed a piece of plywood, painted white, which read, ”Nielson Trucking Co. - Owner & Operator Dan Nielson.” There was a semi-truck cab also painted on the sign. I was surprised, however, to see that there wasn’t a phone number listed any where on the sign. I placed, documented and photographed #57 on the ledge below the sign.

While I drove back to my office at the hospital in Safford, I thought about the assemblage pieces that I was working on in my studio at the ranch. These weren’t related to this art project except by theme. These assemblage pieces were made mainly of vintage cowboy and indian toys that I’ve acquired from all over the world on Ebay. The figures, plastic and metal, in various sizes were placed in off beat scenarios on table top sized shelves.

These pieces would be sold in a gallery or directly to a private collector.

While I worked on these assemblages, I thought back to the overseas tourists I’ve seen visiting Tombstone in the past. Were some of these Old West enthusiasts - as children, had they once played with some of the vintage figures I purchased from the four corners of the earth? Were they following up on their childhood iconic passions?

While driving to a patient’s home in Clifton the other day, I noticed that cowboy and indian icon art piece #50 was gone from where I placed it. Hopefully, who ever picked it up noticed my email address written on the bottom and will contact me. Maybe it was one of those overseas tourists. Maybe they were passing through on their way to visit one of the other local locations used as a backdrop in one of the old westerns. Maybe.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Cochise Cemetery - Cochise, AZ August 21, 2010

I headed to Grapevine Canyon Ranch for the weekend when I came across a cemetery. This wasn’t a weekend for rounding up cattle. I went to the ranch for rest, relaxation and a bit of riding. Eve, the owner of the ranch, told me that grasses were way up over one’s knee from all the monsoon rains. The cattle were so fat and sassy, from eating all that good grass, that pregnant heifers were fetching $1,600 and up at the Willcox Cattle Auction. This was a very good price, indeed.

It wasn’t too far from this area, back during the 1860's, Cochise and his Chiricahua Apaches raided a group of cowboys in the Sulphur Springs Valley. The cowboys were trying to get a herd of cattle from Texas to California. It wasn’t unusual for the Chiricahua Apaches to raid and steal cattle.

I chose this particular cemetery because I knew some of the folks that were laid to rest here were either victims or witnesses to some of the attacks of the Apaches on the settlers. This is the only cemetery I’ve ever seen that had a windmill right in the middle of it. A convenient source of water? Was the windmill there before it was actually a cemetery? Don’t know.

There was a particular grave that I was drawn to. It was that of “Elizabeth Livingston” - 1840-1934.” I placed, documented and photographed #49 on her grave. Now this was a local woman whose life would’ve been impacted by the unrest and conflict with the Chiricahua Apaches. This is the first time I actually left a Cowboy and Indian Icon Art Piece on someone’s grave. Her small grave stone was broken up and the ground around it unattended. I assumed that she either had no family left in this area or if she did, they didn’t care about the resting place of her remains.

When I arrived at Grapevine Canyon Ranch, I checked on where I left Cowboy and Indian Icon Art Pieces #19 (left on 11/27/09) and #31 (left on 4/12/10). The plastic cowboy figure on #19 was severed off at the ankles. Since the art piece was destroyed - probably by weather - I took it with me and placed it on my car floor until I got home. It was in bad shape so I decided to retire it. Maybe give it a bit of a burial ceremony on my property since it met its demise in the line of duty. Now #31 was still in place and in great shape. Seeing that encouraged me.

Since the climate here can be so unmercifully hot, I’ve been trying to place most of the Cowboy and Indian Icon Art Pieces in a spot where they would be sheltered from the sun.

But there will always be the placement where it can’t be sheltered from any of nature’s elements. Just like the flesh and blood Cowboys and Indians. Survival of the fittest. Art, once again, imitating life.