One Museum Hill

Santa Fe, New Mexico

[Clicking on individual photos = larger display]


If you visited our home, you’d find masks on several walls and small carvings and statues scattered among the things most people use to decorate their dwellings. Part of this has deep roots–Emily’s great uncle was a whittler and I love Inuit carving–but a lot of our objects d’art were inspired by having known the regal Miriam Usher Chrisman, an important advisor during my early graduate studies. She loved to invite grad students to her home, which she and her husband Donald filled with wonders gathered during their travels. As Miriam told the story, when they were younger and raising their children, they lacked the money to collect painting, sculpture, and other items associated with the (elitist) term “fine art.” So, they collected folk art instead.


It will thus come as no surprise when I tell you that Santa Fe’s Museum of International Folk Art (MIFA) is one of our favorite museums anywhere in the world. We’ve been there three times, but it’s so chockful of delights large and small that you could visit daily for a year and would probably still miss something grand.


The MIFA has expanded since our first visit and now has wings for special exhibits, not to mention an entrance corridor for assemblages such as saint medallions, etchings, and hangings. But the main attraction is its warehouse-like maze of folk art fashioned from wood, ceramics, clay, fibers, dried plants, and glass. It is true to its handle in that it is truly international in scope.


Among the marvelous things about folk art is that genres meld into one another and it’s impossible to judge any of it. By definition, most folk artists are untrained. As such the stories and cultural values embedded within objects take priority. Perhaps we can look at two pieces and see that artist A was a more skillful wood carver than B, but that in no way means you or anyone else will prefer one over the other. The MIFA has some themed displays, but often it doesn’t. For example, cases of ceremonial masks are hung willy-nilly and unless you grab the laminated card for individual cases–objects are numbered rather than placarded–you won’t know for certain if a mask is Amazonian or Ghanian.


You would exhaust yourself in short order if you tried to ID every object and the cool thing is that you don’t need to do so. The MIFA is a place to feel the magic of human creativity and it simply doesn’t matter who created, when, or why.


I could fill my blog with a month’s worth of pictorial postings but instead, here’s a Part I sampler. When I know something about the photo, it is so labeled. Otherwise, do what I did and take a casual meander to see what catches your eye.


Rob Weir


Mermaids abound, sirena in Spanish.


Mexican villages are a major theme of MIFA


Subtle commentary on anthropologists and tourists

West African, I think

Amazing. This large hanging is yarn pressed into warm wax!

African, but I forget where.



Liane Moriarty on Tennis, Regret, and Secrets




By Liane Moriarty

Macmillian Australia, 516 pages.





 Recently I reviewed the movie King Richard, so how about a follow-up tennis novel? Apples Never Fall is the latest novel from Liane Moriarty of Nine Perfect Strangers fame and it bears passing resemblance to King Richard in that it deals with an Australian version of a tennis-obsessed family, a great champion, and adjustment fallout when one’s coaching days are over.


 Stan and Joy Delaney once ran a tennis school in Sydney, but Stan is now 70 with bad knees and Joy is 69, sick of Stan’s slovenly ways and moaning, and in need of something more in her life than Stan and the travails of her four children: Amy (39), Logan (37), Troy (35), and Brooke (29). To paraphrase a famous movie line, each of them could’ve been a contender, but none reached their potential and Stan lost the student who actually became a champion when Harry Haddad moved on to a different coach and won three majors before he got injured and retired.


It’s hard to put that behind you when you learn that Harry is trying to make a comeback. It’s also a bitter pill to swallow when the kids have seemingly made a hash of their respective lives. All four won college tennis scholarships, but three turned them down. Amy has three flatmates, is in therapy a lot, and has part-time gigs as a taste tester and in market research. Logan—who once beat up Harry–has just broken up with his longtime girlfriend that Joy hoped would produce a grandchild, Troy is once-divorced and remarried to a (gasp!) Yank, has become (double gasp!) a money-obsessed commodities trader, and quit playing tennis in college (quell horror!). Poor Brooke suffers from migraines, runs a failing OT clinic, and worries that her marriage might also be crumbling.


Collectively they are prone to blame their parents for their struggles though Joy imagines, “All four of her children each fervently believed is separate versions of their childhood that often didn’t match up with [her] memories, or each other’s for that matter.” After all, Stan and Joy can’t possibly be to blame for much; everyone agrees they have a “perfect” marriage. The only blemish–other than losing Harry—is that Stan is so conflict-adverse that he walks away from troubling things and sometimes stays away for several days. And, no, there’s no mistress or other such secret involved.


Stan and Joy get a jolt when a young woman shows up on their doorstep, claiming she is fleeing from domestic abuse. Stan thinks she’s not their problem, but Joy invites her in. Before you can say love-40, Savannah has moved in. You don’t have to be Sigmund Freud to figure out that Joy sees her as a granddaughter substitute or to predict her presence will make Stan uncomfortable. Savannah is content to be a live-in Jill-of-all trades: gardener, cleaner, chef, chauffer…. At this stage of the novel we wonder if we are moving into Single White Female terrain. Is Savannah as advertised, or is something sinister lurking behind her fa├žade? The siblings, especially Troy, are convinced of it. When Logan watches a TV show and hears exactly the exact words he heard Savannah use to describe her backstory, he’s convinced as well. Both daughters are also on edge for various reasons. Jealous brats or parental guardians?


Another crisis occurs when, this time, Joy disappears. After 17 days, foul play is suspected and that’s all you’re getting out of me. This is one of those novels that hinges on appearances, deceptions, excuse-making, over-active imaginations, and legitimate concerns. In tennis, love equals zero. Likewise, in both tennis and relationships double faults, and things that are out of bounds are bad.  But the ultimate question is what is at stake. There’s a world of difference between losing a point and losing a match point. I leave it to readers to discover how this match plays out.


Rob Weir


Camera Man: New Look at Buster Keaton



By Dana Stevens

Atria Books, 393 pages + back matter

★★★ ½ 




Most agree that Charlie Chaplin was early cinema’s king of comedy. Then it’s a tossup between Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton. Dana Stevens, a film critic and podcast cohost for Slate, makes a strong case for Keaton. She is an unabashed Keaton fan.


As Camera Man’s subtitle suggests—The Dawn of Cinema and the Invention of the Twentieth Century—Stevens has ambitious things in mind that go beyond a blow-by-blow look at Keaton films. Not that the latter is even possible; some of his one-reel films are considered lost. Stevens situates Keaton within deeper connections between popular culture and its historical context, a strategy that sometimes drops Keaton from the limelight and into the background of events that helped define the twentieth century, including social problems, reform movements, vaudeville, World War One, technological change, anti-Antisemitism, racism, the Roaring Twenties, the power of print media, surrealism, and the triumph of big business. In like fashion, Keaton takes his place among others synonymous with the shift from Victorianism to modernism: D. W. Griffith, Mack Sennett, Henry Ford, William Randolph Hearst, Ernest Hemingway, Louis B. Mayer, Mary Pickford, Mabel Normand, Irving Thalberg, Bert Williams….


Stevens begins her tale in earnest when young Joseph Frank Keaton—dubbed Buster to differentiate him from his father Joe—began performing in vaudeville at the age of three with Joe and his mother, Myra. Theirs was an act that would shock those of delicate sensibilities. Laughs were milked by Joe’s hurling of Buster across the stage with such force that Buster was dubbed “the boy who can’t be damaged.” When alarmists sought to end such endangerment, an outraged Joe Keaton told his detractors, “He’s my son and I’ll break his neck any way I want to.” Eventually, though, things did get out of hand; Joe Keaton descended into alcoholism, Myra briefly left him, and Buster read the tea leaves correctly and realized a new entertainment platform doomed vaudeville: motion pictures.


Buster’s movie career took off when he befriended Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. Count Stevens among those who believe Arbuckle was a wronged man when actress Virginia Rappe died at a 1921 party at Arbuckle’s home. Arbuckle was accused of rape and manslaughter and, after three trials, was acquitted though his career lay in tatters. Keaton fared better. The years 1920-28 saw Keaton make silent films that established him a star. Three—Sherlock Jr. (1924), The General (1926), and Steamboat Bill (1928)—are considered silent film masterworks. Stevens argues that Keaton’s move to MGM in 1928 was a misstep and I agree.  Camera Man, the 1928 film that lends its name to the book, is practically unwatchable.


Unlike Stevens, I only partly blame MGM. Film fans know that “talkies” took off in 1927. Keaton made several more silent films before shifting to talkies, but Stevens and I part company on Keaton’s post-1928 movie career. Keaton was a brilliant physical comedian who did outrageously funny things far more dangerous than being hurled across the stage—watch him ride backwards in a driverless motorcycle in Sherlock Jr.­ or stand in the door of a house falling down in Steamboat Bill Jr.­—that could have maimed or killed him. He was so nonchalant that he dubbed the “Great Stoneface.” Like many great comics, this sort of comedy had its season. The 1930s would belong to verbal comics and Keaton couldn’t top what he did in the 1920s.


Stevens correctly notes that Keaton tried to adapt. He was also a “camera man” because he became a producer and director, but was he funny? Keaton wrote gags for others, but even erstwhile friends such as the Marx Brothers found his shtick shopworn. His film work in the 1950s and 1960s was largely confined to cameo roles, as were his incessant guest turns on television from 1949-65, and as a product pitchman until his death in 1966. This work was extensive, but not artistically brilliant, though Stevens is right to give him credit for again identifying how popular culture was shifting.


Keaton’s deeper problem could be labeled “like father, like son.” Stevens details Buster’s own descent into alcoholism and attendant problems, including two failed marriages. I enjoyed this book, especially Stevens’ balance of analysis and snark. I wish, though, that she had more control over her fandom. Like it or not, the 1920s were not only Keaton’s high-water mark; they gave him license to be merely okay for the next 36 years.


Rob Weir