by photojournalist Georgia Evans.
Guest post and photographs
by photojournalist Georgia Evans.
The smell of campfire smoke wafted up over the treetops as a tall, well made man with fringed buckskin shirt, painted leggings and moccasins stepped out of the door of his canvas tepee. He had three long white braids streaming down his back and a large smile for the people gathering around him. This is Gray Wolf and this lovely clearing, surrounded by trees beneath the red stone cliffs was set up for people to experience a bit of authentic Native American life. I approached with curiosity and then sat to listen as Gray Wolf of the Cheyenne nation began to share his mesmerizing stories.
This eloquent man spun tales of his Cheyenne and Micmac ancestors that many people outside the tribe would never hear. Tales of the importance of the buffalo and how his people used all the parts of the buffalo including hides, bone and meat to make their homes, utensils, weapons and food. He told of how the women made and owned the tepee homes and why their society was built around the matriarchs and the esteemed elders. His often humorous stories brought the Cheyenne people to life when he explained about a “begging stick” to obtain pot-luck meals for big meetings, told how a woman could divorce (rarely done) a man by simply throwing his moccasins out the tepee door, as well as the origins of many common “English” words such as “bootleg”. Gray Wolf’s unique stories explained why the people revered, of all things, vultures and skunks. The fun was in his details, for instance, learning why their buckskin clothes had fringe sewn on them. He told who the “dog soldiers” were and what “counting coup” means as well as what it means to go on a vision quest and become a warrior.
Later, Gray Wolf invited us into one of the tepees. We sat on robes where he went on to explain about colorful articles of clothing, painted blankets, water carriers made of buffalo intestines, beadwork, feathers, his spiritual altar, furs, beaded saddle blankets, weapons, painted shields and other authentic objects displayed and hanging within the canvas walls for his guests to see.
As the afternoon went on we met up in a large, grassy clearing in front of assorted targets to practice some skills such as shooting a bow and arrow or throwing a tomahawk under the expert tutelage of Gray Wolf. Unlike myself, most everyone was able to get their tomahawks into a target amid a lot of cheering and laughter. There was also a campfire ring and tent for cooking where everyone enjoyed a tasty traditional meal after the storytelling and skills were done.
This Native American man had a warm, enthusiastic welcome for the assorted people of all ages and abilities who joined us last Saturday. He truly made everyone feel at home. As Gray Wolf says, “I study Native American history and philosophy, and with great respect, try to keep alive the ancient lifeways of some of the earliest peoples who inhabit the land now known as North America." In my opinion, Gray Wolf is a treasure to and for his people and I enjoyed the afternoon immensely.
Note from the Heart J Center: Thanks to Georgia Evans for this wonderful description and photographs of our Day with Gray Wolf this July. Gray Wolf will be back in Summer 2017. Contact us for information about our day programs, or even better, discover an incredible family vacation by spending a week with Heart J Center and Sylvan Dale for Native American Week 2017. Email Laura for information: firstname.lastname@example.org.
David Jessup, co-owner of Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch, has long been fascinated by the people who settled the Big Thompson Valley. When he set out to write a historical novel, David looked to local characters to provide inspiration, with his own beloved red cliffs providing a rugged backdrop for the powerful story of love and loss that became Mariano’s Crossing.
With the Heart-J Center’s Mariano’s Crossing Book Tour, local readers and history lovers have the chance to take a behind the scenes look at the people and places that inspired David’s story.
In May and September this year, groups of 30 participants gathered at Sylvan Dale for a delicious meal to start off the event. David then shared a slideshow with historical photographs, maps, and stories of Sylvan Dale and Loveland history to set the stage for the day’s adventure.
A walking tour along the Big Thompson revealed the site of the original Alexander homestead and provided an exploration of the damage done to Sylvan Dale by the flood of 2013.
After the informative walking tour, the group formed a vehicle caravan and toured historical sites nearby including the remains of the Weldon School, the Medina Cemetery, grave markers at Namaqua Park, and the site of Mariano Medina’s toll bridge, where the Overland Trail crossed the Big Thompson River.
Back into vehicles, the group took a four-wheeling adventure up Big Thompson Red Ridge (the ridge behind Big T Elementary) for a wonderful picnic amongst the red rocks overlooking the river. This is the spot David Jessup envisioned as John Alexander’s secret hideout and the location of Lena’s gravesite.
"David Jessup is so knowledgeable of the history of the ranch and it was fascinating to go behind the scenes of his book. He generously shared a lot of his personal experiences and perspectives. It was a very special day for all of us." ~Dolly Halverson, Loveland
The next book tour will be in May 2016.
Send a note to email@example.com if you'd like
to be notified when registration opens.
For the past 16 years, Gray Wolf has come to Sylvan Dale for a week each July. With a blend of Cheyenne, Micmac and Irish heritage, Gray Wolf has dedicated his life to learning and teaching Native American history and culture. Through his stories, Gray Wolf keeps alive the ancient lifeways of some of the earliest peoples to inhabit the land now known as North America. He loves sharing his knowledge with people of all ages through stories, activities and crafts.
This year, in addition to creating a life-changing week for Sylvan Dale’s dude ranching guests, Gray Wolf worked with the Heart-J Center to offer several programs open to the public.
Each gathering began with a lesson in tomahawk throwing, with Gray Wolf teaching each of us how to pace off the perfect distance, then pull the tomahawk straight back, take a step forward and release. More often than not, the first throws sailed over the stump targets into the long grass behind, as most of us first tried to throw the tomahawk like we would a baseball. Gray Wolf reminded us to keep our elbow close to our side, focus on the target and release and just the right time. The second throw would invariably hit the mark with a satisfying thunk.
When Gray Wolf welcomed us into his lodge, we stepped back in time. We took our seats on the buffalo robes and opened our ears to stories of life on the Plains. We learned of honoring the seasons, and following the buffalo on which life depended. We learned of changes made possible by the gift of the horse. We were inspired by the traditions of respect for nature and respect for elders. We heard tales of adventure, including details of Gray Wolf’s yearlong horse pack trip from Santa Fe to Canada.
We touched the handmade tools, weapons, toys and clothing that furnish the lodge, many of which are antiques passed down through generations of Gray Wolf’s family. We asked dozens of questions which Gray Wolf answered with patience, honesty, wisdom and humor.
After sharing dinner around the campfire, each person left with a heart-to-heart hug from Gray Wolf. We hiked back to our cars and drove back to the modern world, but each of us carried a strengthened connection to nature and history, with an important reminder that we can each do our part to make a better future by respecting lessons from the past.
This is a guest post by Donna Bearden, of Loveland, who has been instrumental in arranging for Shelden Nuñez-Velarde to join us at the Heart-J Center in October for a week-long Jicarilla Apache pottery retreat. Donna shares her personal experiences as a student in Shelden's workshops.
How do you write about something that touches you deeply? How do you describe someone who is so accepting and sincere and accomplished and, at the same time, humble without making him sound like a saint? How do you put words to feelings and experiences that are beyond words?
Those are my questions and my challenge as I try to write about my times with Shelden.
Shelden Nuñez-Velarde is an award-winning potter from the Jicarilla-Apache tribe in Northern New Mexico. Best of show at Santa Fe Indian Market, Judges Choice at Southwest Indian Market in Tucson, pieces in museums and private collections. Shelden’s work catches people’s eyes. But what you see is only the surface, the physical result of all that Shelden is inside.
Pottery, along with other crafts like basketry and beading, were being lost to the Jicarilla-Apaches. Arts dying with the aging grandmothers. Shelden saw, felt, knew that if someone was to save the arts, it was his to do. He learned pottery from his grandmother and other elders. And what he has learned, he passes on to the younger members of the tribe. It is too beautiful an art to lose.
Shelden is one of those ageless people, a wise old soul who enjoys life as much as a child. I met him about 10 years ago when I took a week-long class from him at a retreat center in Northern New Mexico. It is not an exaggeration to say that I rank that week as one of my touchstones, one of the events in my life that would shape my life, would be a turning point, a redirection, a clarifying event. Why? Because it wasn’t just about pottery.
Art of any kind has the power to touch people in places that are not accessible through words and logical thinking. Pottery, because it is so tactile, so hands-on, seems to be especially suited, or at least it is for me. For me, every step of the pottery process that week was meditative, trance-like, a slowing down of time, an experience of cares and worries losing their holding power because nothing mattered except the moment. The moment, the clay, the creating.
But it was not just the clay, the experience of making pots. It was Shelden. It was his method of teaching which I would more correctly call “sharing.” His method of sharing what he knows. That’s what he does. He does not teach A-B-C, 1-2-3. He does show us the steps. In order. But it’s more like he’s simply sharing what he’s doing. He shares. He demonstrates. And then he turns back to the piece he’s working on and allows people to get back to their own experience. He quietly worked on his piece and we followed suit. We learned by watching. We assumed the same quiet, mindful concentration that we witnessed in our mentor.
I don’t want to imply that he ignored us. Far from it. He simply set up a learning environment that was free of judgment, free of expectations, free to BE with the clay without worry about right-wrong. His coils were beautifully formed. Mine were lumpy fat-thin. But I could laugh and try again. He didn’t try to correct me, or even try explaining again. He knew it was in the practice and I was a beginner. His pots were elegant. Mine were heavy and clunky. But never once did I feel I had failed, that I hadn’t measured up, that anyone was comparing and judging.
We ranged from beginners to experienced potters. We inspired each other. That is the beauty of working with other people. We were all learners, including Shelden. Shelden learned from his elders and is steeped in the traditional Jicarilla style. But he incorporates what he learns from his students – new ideas, new formations, new directions. That type of learning happens with an experienced teacher who is confident and open.
The steps. There is, of course, the forming of the bowls, the pots, the platters, the plates, the beads. So many ideas. So much variety.
But I should say something about the clay itself. This is not an ordinary clay you can get at a pottery supply store. This is micaceous clay Shelden digs himself in the mountains of Northern New Mexico. Red. Loaded with mica that will sparkle gold when it’s fired. It has its own feel. At least that’s what the more experienced potters said. A little gritty. Holds its shape.
The pieces dried fairly quickly in the high desert air. Then came the sanding, the smoothing off of rough corners. Done the old way with a rock. The smoother you got your pot, the more it would glow with a natural glaze. It took me a while to get into this step. Not as creative and engaging as creating. Monotonous. Boring at first. But then something happened. The scratching, abrasive sound became rhythmical. With a dozen people sanding, all conversation ceases. All sounds cease except for the rhythmical symphony of concentrated effort. That zone of mindfulness, of time losing its hold took hold.
Again, I would attribute that sense of meditation to Shelden’s presence with and in the process. Unhurried. Lost in his own thoughts, his own work. There was nothing to do but follow his lead. Be with the sanding just as we had been with the forming of the clay.
Burnishing was next. Adding a layer of slip saturated with mica to our pieces. Again with a stone, but this time a smooth one. Rubbing the mica slip into every surface of the pot, every little microscopic pin-hole. The more mica, the more gold shine.
Finally it was time for the magic. The real magic. The firing!
It doesn’t matter how many times I have experienced it, the firing is magical!
Unlike the ancients, we heated our pots first in the oven. Slowly. Starting at 200 and raising the temperature every 30 minutes until we reached 500. This helped assure that the pots were dry and ready for the fire, and helped prevent breakage from pots going too quickly from air temperature to fire.
We built a fire to Shelden’s specifications. We laid a grill across the fire to hold the pots. The pots were stacked onto the grill, all jumbled together just as they had been in the oven. For anyone who hasn’t seen it before, it’s somewhat disconcerting. In a kiln firing, pots are carefully placed so they do not touch each other. This is a jumble of pots tumbling over each other, supporting one another in community. The pots were stacked on the grill and then we added more wood to the fire, forming a teepee that would pull in air and burn hot and quick.
We stood back, watching in silence or short nervous conversations, trying to catch glimpses of the treasure within the fire. Shelden listened in reverent silence. In all the crackling sounds of the fire, he listens for a different sound, a ping that only his trained ears are able to distinguish. He listens for the ping he hopes not to hear, the sound of a pot cracking.
In about 45 minutes the fire was spent and we began pulling pots from the embers. If we wanted a piece to be black, we put it into a bucket of sawdust or newspaper. Otherwise, we put it onto other grills laid out on the ground. Some of the pots came out with beautiful smoke clouds, the firing adding its flare of artistry.
The pots and platters and bowls and beads were left to cool and we, the creators, full to overflowing, jabbered, exclaimed, admired, celebrated.
I love pottery. I can’t walk through a pottery display without reaching out to touch. Since that first retreat 10 years ago, I have taken week-long pottery classes from Shelden four more times. Each time has been a fill-me-to-the-brim experience. I return time and time again for the experience, the zone, the community, the magic of the fire, and the teacher who teaches by his presence with the clay and with all of us. I hope you'll join me in October when Shelden presents his first-ever workshop in Colorado! ~Donna Bearden
Join us for a transformational creative experience as we welcome Shelden Nuñez-Velarde to the Heart-J Center at Sylvan Dale,
October 25-31! Details and Registration
The Heart-J Center's first EXPLORE: Photography excursion was a wonderful day of adventure at Sylvan Dale. We gathered for coffee, then set out to make images that explored the theme of Patterns – both natural and humanmade.
The attendees ranged from beginning photographers to professionals and each had the time and space to pursue the patterns and details that interested them.
After several hours of photography, we gathered inside with our laptops to process a few photos and share our favorites from the day. Incredible photos emerged from the day, with the photographers exploring patterns in flowers, stones, pond ripples, fencelines, antique farm equipment, geology, and more.
It was fascinating to see the different approaches each photographer took when documenting the same landscape and subject matter.
EXPLORE: Photography ~ PATTERNS
Gallery of Participant Images
Many Heart-J Center programs include an art component, with students painting a watercolor landscape, drawing a colorful mandala, exploring photography or learning to capture the details of nature in poems.
With art such an integral part of HJC’s mission, we are delighted to work in partnership with the Bloom Project and Madwire Media on the Colorado Kids Create Art Contest, which is designed to ignite a passion for artistic expression.
Each year, young people ages 5 to 18 from throughout Colorado are encouraged to submit an entry to the contest, based on the theme of a different traditional western song. The theme for 2015-16 is “Home on the Range” and the deadline for submission is April 1, 2016.
Check out the wonderful gallery of entries from the past two years’ contest
and then spread the word to Colorado teachers, parents
and students to get involved in this year’s contest!
Donations and sponsorships of the Colorado Kids Create Art Contest support scholarships for kids to attend the Heart-J Center’s educational programs. Visit the Colorado Kids Create website for more information on how to get involved!
Wild Child field trips are a partnership of Heart-J Center and Boys & Girls Club of Larimer County, giving kids ages 5 to 12 the chance to explore nature, experiment with art, and enjoy being outdoors. Since July 2014, the wild children have gone on wildlife hikes, spent time in the lodge with Gray Wolf, worked on teambuilding and confidence at the challenge course, learned about survival skills, solar energy and geology, and had the chance to get outside and explore with unstructured adventure time.
On a perfectly windy day in April, ten kids came to Sylvan Dale to learn the science of weather. The kids were given an assortment of supplies – paper cups, straws, tape, and fasteners – to design and build anemometers.
Eight-year-old Jack carefully cut his paper cup into spokes reminiscent of a windmill. Sadly, the breeze that day was too strong for his meter and it blew apart. He smashed the pieces into the trashcan and sat in silent frustration while the other kids shared their designs and tested them against the wind.
We encouraged Jack to leave the setback behind and try the second project: making a windsock from paper, streamers, yarn, and a stick. At first the dejection lingered, but his mood perked up with the choice of Denver Broncos’-colored orange and blue streamers. Within minutes he had succeeded with his creation and used his new windsock to experiment with the changing wind speed and direction.
As the students gathered to get back on the bus, Jack stopped to say goodbye. “Thank you for this amazing experience. I had so much fun!” Then he happily ran off to the bus with his windsock streaming behind him.
The monthly Wild Child program helps kids like Jack learn that they are smart, strong, resilient, curious, resourceful, and connected ~ to each other, to the community, to history, and to nature.
On March 8 and 9, Heart-J Center joined with the Big Thompson River Restoration Coalition to offer a series of presentations on river restoration and monitoring, followed by a "river walk" and a "bio-blitz" inventory of aquatic life, which included sampling for insects and macroinvertebrates, and catch-and-release fishing.
More than 50 people attended, including CSU faculty and students, water engineers, anglers and neighboring landowners - all coming together to learn about next steps for restoring the Big Thompson River and to take part in an inventory of aquatic bugs and fish.
Dr. Boris Kondratieff, Professor of Entomology at Colorado State University, guided the sampling process and wowed the crowd with his encyclopedic knowledge of insects. Sampling resulted in 12 different taxa of aquatic insect and macroinvertebrates. Boris reported that a typical survey of the Big Thompson pre-flood would have yielded 20 taxa. However, the presence of 12 taxa, including several species of stoneflies, which have a 2-4 year lifespan, showed the river is providing the habitat needed to support insects and macroinvertebrates and indicates natural healing of the river system.
Information from the research activities was incorporated into a Fisheries Design Plan for the mile-long Sylvan Dale reach of the river. The Heart-J Center is grateful to the donors who made it possible to complete the design plan, which will be used to restore fish habitat to the river and as an educational tool for Heart-J Center groups of all ages far into the future. More info...
Eight wonderful people, all from the Denver area, joined the Heart-J Center at Sylvan Dale for our first healthy living retreat. This delightful mix of people was made up of two couples and two sets of friends, who invested their weekend to relax, learn and have fun at this Friday-Sunday program, which emphasized a holistic approach to health and wellness and provided tips and strategies for making topics learned at the retreat applicable and achievable in the real world.
Participants headed home on Sunday after lunch, tired but relaxed. We're already looking forward to future wellness retreats, with students from the March event planning to return, and an array of additional topics and activities. Stay tuned!
Twelve students from Hastings College in Nebraska, spent a week with the Heart-J Center at Sylvan Dale, for a January Term course that explored the interconnections of art and science.
The Heart-J Center's first foray into block-style learning for college students was an exciting success and we look forward to future classes with Hastings and other colleges. Special thanks to Dr. Gary Johnson, Vice President for Academic Affairs at Hastings College for supporting the development of this course!