|Marfa Mondays Podcast #15|
Gifts of the Ancient Ones:
Greg Williams on the Rock Art of the Lower Pecos Canyonlands
C.M. Mayo: Welcome to Marfa Mondays Podcast number 15 of a projected 24 podcasts exploring Marfa, Texas and the greater Big Bend region of Far West Texas, apropos of my book-in-progress. I'm your host, C.M. Mayo, and on my webpage, cmmayo.com, you can listen in to all the podcasts anytime for free, and also there you can find out about my several other books.
The most recent book is the reason these podcasts have been coming along a little more slowly this year. That book, which is done and now available in paperback and e-book formats, is Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero and His Secret Book, Spiritist Manual. For those rusty on their Mexican history, Francisco Maderowas the leader of Mexico's 1910 Revolution and he was president of Mexico from 1911 to 1913, so his so-called secret book, which I translated into English, is in many ways quite illuminating.
This podcast is of my interview with Greg Williams, executive director of the Rock Art Foundation. It was recorded on August 30, 2014 at Meyers Spring Ranch on the conclusion of a four hour tour of the rock art there and of the restored house of the military commander at Camp Meyers.
Meyers Spring is one of a multitude of rock art sites in the Lower Pecos Canyonlands, a region around the confluence of the Pecos River and the Rio Grande and extending south into Mexican state of Coahuila— by the way, the native state of none other than Francisco Madero. In this region, to quote Harry J. Shafer in the introduction to his anthology, Painters in Prehistory: Archaeology and Art of the Lower Pecos Canyonlands, "Magnificent polychrome, pictographic images, panels, and murals exist that rival any in the world."
Meyers Spring, which I toured with the Rock Art Foundation, is on private property a few miles drive from the tiny border town of Dryden, Texas. To quote from the Rock Art Foundation's website, rockart.org, "Meyers Spring is an isolated water hole in the arid lands west of the Pecos. Brilliant red paintings overlook a permanent pool of water sheltered only by a shallow overhang. Although faded remnants of much older pictographs can still be detected, the majority are attributable to Plains Indians who were latecomers to the region."
You can view pictures of Meyer Spring and other rock art sites on the website rockart.org, and for more about the rock art I can also recommend the books Painters in Prehistory, edited by Harry J. Shafer, and Rock Art of the Lower Pecosby Carolyn E. Boyd.
Before we go to the interview with Greg Williams, executive director of the Rock Art Foundation, an apology for the sound. There's a bit of a roar which would be the very necessary air conditioner. This was recorded in the kitchen of the ranch house so people were coming in and out and there was some target shooting going on from the porch. I managed to edit out most of the shooting, but you'll still hear a few pops.
I would like to dedicate this podcast to my friend and neighbor in Tepoztlán, Mexico, Patty Hogan, because Patty, I am so grateful to you for putting me in touch with the Rock Art Foundation.
C.M. Mayo: Most people that I've talked to have never heard of rock art in this area, and yet there's a lot of it, and it's really important. Why is that?
Greg Williams: Probably the best way I could explain it is explain to you what happened to me. In 1991 in my business I was trying to have some photography done, and so I looked in the phonebook and I saw a man named Jim Zintgraff who is a well-known San Antonio photographer. I hired Jim, and we went out to a photo shoot, and the conversation kind of waned, and my son and I had been camping in West Texas for years, and so the only thing I really knew about that I thought Jim might be interested in is I brought up West Texas, and it went from there. Jim was the director of the Rock Art Foundation then. Jim passed away eight years ago and I became director following him. But what happened is this gentleman brought me and my wife to West Texas to see things that I had never even known about, and they were the remnants of a past culture, a culture that had existed in the Lower Pecos region of West Texas, which is the confluence of the Pecos and the Rio Grande, for twelve thousand years.
I had no idea that people lived out here for that long, And so we wandered around and we looked at the remnants of that culture. We looked at their lifeways, through the floors of these dry rock shelters, and we looked at their language, the stories that they wrote for us on the walls of these shelters, and we didn't know what they meant. You'd have to be in the mind of the artist to find that out, but you could sit and wonder about these folks who lived so long ago here and how hard the life must have been for them, in our context. For them it probably was not quite so difficult at all. They had plenty of food, plenty of water.
But what they left behind was remarkable and it's called rock art. It's a book, it's a story. Some of the images out here in West Texas, you can call them the oldest known books in North America. They are thousands of years old and as we look at cultures of people that exist today, the Huichol in northern central Mexico, the Native American populations around the country, and we look at their art, and we look at this four thousand-year-old ancient art that we have here, we begin to see similarities. We see Lower Pecos images in Mayan art, we see it in Aztec art, and by making all those comparisons you can kind of start to believe that you understand what these people have written, and what's in their book that they've left us.
That's the mystery. Will we ever know? Probably not. You'd have to be in the mind of the artists, I think, to understand that, but to look at an ancient culture, to look at what they've left behind, to wonder about what you're leaving behind in our modern culture, it seems to me that the things that were left for us so long ago seem to be so much more important than what we're leaving behind today. So that's the mystery that keeps, I think, all [of us] coming out here.
We've got 35 people in the Meyer Springs Ranch today and that, what I just verbalized, was the entire reason they came here. They may not realize that, they may not verbalize it in that way, but to come and see a culture that passed so long ago, and to stand in the footsteps that they left, and to look at the book they wrote, and the messages that they left for us... pretty remarkable! And after years you feel that you begin to understand who they are. All of a sudden one day they become alive. You can see them.
We just came back from Camp Meyers and that was a much later culture, but you could hear them talking, you can smell them, you know they're there, and you feel that you're one of the very, very lucky few people that realize they're still here, and they're still here in what they left behind and the messages on the rocks, and I feel blessed to be one of the people that can stand there, and stare at that, and wonder, and have some kind of knowledge to what it might mean. That's what it does for me. I hope that makes sense to you.
C.M. Mayo: It makes beautiful sense. Kind of two separate things here, one is the rock art that we saw today which had images on top of images- we saw some that were very faint and possibly thousands of years old, and then more recent ones that look like they were painted shortly after the Conquest showing priests, showing a cross, handprints, birds, really a wide variety of images. But then we also saw Camp Meyers, and that was something from the late 19th century, which you restored.
Greg Williams: This is 25 years for me out here doing this. And I marvel at what's out here, but the military history, probably because it's not that far behind us, that intrigues me the most, and the life that these people lived here, and how harsh it was, and how gentle our lives are in comparison. I look back and I have great respect for those that came before us, and I look at where we're heading as a culture, and I'm not pleased. And I wish that some of the life values that these people behind us had, that we could adopt those today. Our children aren't, our adults aren't. It's very saddening to me, but to come out here and be a part of a group of people that I admire so much is important. And I learn a lot from that in how I handle my life.
And when we bring tours of people out here—and we've done it for over 15,000 people— when we bring people out here that's the message that I try to tell them without using words. If I can show them something that's totally astounding, and show them a better way, things that people did long ago that were much better than what we're doing now, and if you can learn from that, and you can make an impression, I think that's really very important. But I try to do it without words.
C.M. Mayo: What specifically do you think was done better in the past that's not being done now? ... CONTINUE READING
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