Nora's People

When I was last in Española, this December, Nora was away, but she had invited me to visit "her people" after I told her that I had not been able to get them out of my mind. I spent a couple of hours in her yard communing with her people, clay versions of those she has observed in streets, in supermarkets, in cars. The reason that I had not been able to get them out of my mind was that they so clearly showed her insight into the human mind. She sees everything that we try to hide from the world.

These people are arranged in a group on a small flagstone patio just outside her studio, under the giant cottonwood trees. To me, they are a family and I cannot imagine them separated. There are five of them now, all about 4´ high, two men and three women.

One man is a uniform pinkish adobe color, head facing forward, he is erect, almost at attention. However his face is smooth, unformed, not just like a child's face, but simply not there at all. He holds a mask before his face, with both hands; and on the inside of the mask are written various symbols and words: $, ?, hope, what, shame. This man does not know what he is; he has no personal face. His mask is put on in response to the circumstance in which he finds himself.

One woman is a red-orange but speckled with grey flecks. She is using her arms to hide her body, her head is down, her shoulders hunched. She is ashamed of herself all the time. There is a brass plate on the back of her head that says "Thou shalt not." It is impossible for her to enjoy anything. The world is forbidden to her.

Another woman, a uniform brown, stands erect and wears a necklace of white beads. But her head is not connected to her body. Her two arms hold a faceless, front half of a head above the neck, suspended. The "head" is half a dark brown and half tan, the colors separated by a pink jagged line.

The third woman, unlike the previous people, has her head turned to the side, her arms folded across her chest. Her color is between the brown of the previous woman and the pinkish adobe of the man; she wears a necklace of green beads. In the back of her head is a hollowed out cavity filled with clouds and a small piece of brass in the clouds.

But the last man is the one that I simply cannot forget. He is dark brown with strong features, a sharp nose, mouth wide open in song, head lifted to the sky. In the top of his head is a small hollow containing a butterfly. But the rest of the man's body is tightly constrained. His arms are crossed over his stomach, clasping it tightly and the entire upper body is wrapped tightly in gauze. He is confined within himself.

© 1994 Karen M. Strom

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