It’s natural to feel disoriented. No amount of study could prepare anyone for what you will experience. It might provide concepts and names, yes, although those can also become blinders. He debarked and followed signs to another pavilion, where he’d await a connecting flight. This time the room was hushed and secretive, with recessed lighting casting small pools of fire, an attempt, he recognized, to create a place of restful privacy within the often crowded and all-too-public realities of travel. The carpeting and upholstered chairs stood in contrast to the vinyl and tile in other terminals, and the designers were wise to employ shadow instead of sunlight here. Their acknowledgment of local character included gallery cases of beadwork and basketry — some by tribes where he was headed. Here, then, was reason to pause, to wish to linger, to observe intently with pleasure. Even on the initial glance, he could see the styles of his destination contrasted with those of the coastal peoples, especially, as well as with other inland realms. The blue beads, emphatically, struck his attention — as will the vast sky on his arrival. Land the job, maybe we might begin a collection, he supposed, unaware such craftsmanship ceased nearly a century earlier. Besides, what’s available would be priced way beyond our means. How strange, to chance upon spotlighted clear sheaths of native artwork in a darkened stretch of terminal — one now silent as an art gallery, apart from the manipulated movement of air. Pieces made all the more remarkable considering the nomadic rounds of their creators and users. Even the most ceremonial pieces would have required packing and transporting. A person owning little may have had all the more reason for each item to be made well and express beauty. Little wonder, then, that discrete pieces should come to embody the vast landscape about to be encountered. Leather matching parched foothills, with beads as bits of dehydrated sky or bone itself. Baskets from quills or grasses already dun. The contrast, too, of moccasins, for journeys afoot, displayed in a temple of air travel. Horse bridles, as well. Baskets, set apart from baggage constructed of synthetic materials. As if to say that looking inward will be the secret to survival. Is that woven container really empty? When the horizon runs into the sky, think small. Savor each bite.

So what prompts this universal impulse to embellish and decorate? How essential is it to defining humanity itself, in contrast to other animals? How much effort and cost is required, even on utilitarian items, and how often do individuals balk at the expense or, on the other hand, willingly contribute? No matter how impoverished the people, a dash of color or a twist of the line appears. How much of this, too, arises out of waiting? Out of status? Out of naming and claiming within an environment? Why, too, this impulse to define and redefine our existence? All along, I’ve been surrounded by mechanical décor — patterns in the flooring and walls, in advertising, in clothing. But the human touch within the beadwork and basketry had a different spirit. One I was waiting to discover, even though I didn’t yet know what was unfolding.

For more of the story, click here.


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