Friday, May 3, 2013

A Grand Illusion

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It was a Saturday afternoon and the clouds were rollin' in. Wind swirled about the parking lot, snatching up fine grains of red dirt and sandblasting tourists. People were driving up to Twin Rocks Trading Post and Twin Rocks Cafe, exiting their vehicles and leaning into the wind, forcing their way toward the buildings. To be perfectly honest, we do not disdain days like this because they force visitors to our small pioneer village to slow down, find shelter and stay a while. This type of weather can actually be good for business. Every time the Kokopelli doors at the trading post opened, a new guest was blown in or a recently acquired old friend was drawn out. It was one of those times when a dusty delusion turns into a positive situation.
Navajo A Grand Illusion Basket - Alicia Nelson (#213)
Just after 3:00 the phone rang. Alicia Nelson was calling about a basket. In her always-pleasant voice she asked, "What time do you close tonight?" "Old friend", I replied, "you have known us over 20 years. You know what time we close as well as I do." "I do know," replied Alicia, " and I know you are also closed Sundays. My question was just a nice way of asking if you will stay open until I finish this basket." "Uh huh", was my reply, "and just how long might that take?" Alicia explained that she needed at least three hours to complete the last coil and then another half hour or so to travel from her home near Red Mesa, Arizona to Bluff. I did the math and figured it would be a push for her to get here by closing time. I also reasoned that I had spent many an evening sitting around the store waiting on artists.

While I hate to stereotype, my opinion is that Reservation dwellers are notorious for not paying attention to the clock. They often see time in an altogether different light. Meeting someone in an hour or six is frequently all the same to them. "Can't do it", I said, "supper's waitin' at home and I gotta get to it." "I've heard you sing that tune before,” said Alicia, "but my daughter Caitlin is leaving on a school trip and I need to send traveling money with her." I groaned out loud, raising a curious look from the customer standing by the register attempting to extract sand from his ear and pay for a packet of Serena Supplee note cards. Priscilla moved in to pass him a Q-tip, which we keep around just for such an occasion, and cash him out.

Refocusing on Alicia, I recognized she has struggled since she and Jonathan Black separated. Although it broke my heart to do so, I have turned away a few of her weavings in the past two years because they were not up to her unusually high standards. Alicia recognized my hesitation and seemed to read my mind, saying, "You are going to love this basket. I guarantee it!" Because I am a born skeptic and was also looking forward to visiting with my daughter, Alyssa, who is home from college, I really did not want to wait. "Here's the deal", I told Alicia, "Stay home tonight and take your time finishing the basket. Steve is managing the cafe in the morning, so he will be here to appraise it." Alicia agreed to my proposal, said good-bye and hung up.

As it happened, Steve was roped into working the Saturday night shift, so the Sunday morning opening fell to me. Alicia showed up around 10:00 a.m., and we walked next door to the trading post for the unveiling. I will freely admit that when she handed me her weaving I was blown away. She had woven an extremely intricate and symmetrical illusion basket, one of the hardest designs to make. This masterpiece was easily one of the best baskets I have ever seen her execute. It seems Alicia has found peace and settled back into the mastery of her art. As she drove away, I set her basket on the shelf and stood back to appreciate it. Illusion baskets attempt to fool the eye and trick the mind into seeing subtle movement through complex designs. The patterns need to be placed precisely, and there is no room for error. If it is not properly done, the design fails to create the desired effect. I stared at the basket and in short order the darn thing made me dizzy; it worked perfectly. Not only is Alicia's basket extraordinary, but also a dear friend has regained her balance. In one fell swoop a grand illusion was dispatched and a grander illusion created.

With warm regards, Barry, Steve, Priscilla and Danny: the team.

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