Monday, February 13, 2012

La Querencia

sarah siltala
Quiet Splendor (New Mexico Sky)  12"x12" oil/board

As a native New Mexican, I find as I get older I have a deeper and deeper appreciation for the land that surrounds me.  In this small western portion of the United States the forever skies and pristine views are captivating.  The mountains and mesas sit serenely in the distance, beckoning me to ponder at the vast distance and space that is present there.  There are no houses, or people or highways to deter from it's greatness.  Clouds billow and skirt across the sky, the sun travels it's course and the quiet stillness will take your breath away.  The air itself is clearer here, and colors are more luminous under the brilliant light.   I'm also becoming more aware of the spirituality here, generations of different cultures cultivated a deep reverence to the land that continues to this to day.

'La Querencia' is the Spanish term for the deep feeling of connection with your homeland.  It is an old Spanish word derived from the word 'querer' or to love or desire.  According to Gussie Fauntleroy, it is "the place to which one is deeply drawn, and drawn back time and again if one wanders away.  It is the soul's comfort, the heart's joy".*  The feeling is not uncommon among New Mexicans and the reason many visitors have dropped everything and set up roots here once they've visited our beautiful state.  That is what happened when Taos artists Bert Geer Phillips and Ernest L. Blumenschein's buggy broke down in New Mexico in the 1890s.  They hiked to a nearby village for help and upon arriving they stopped their journey immediately and set up art studios instead of continuing on their travels.  That village was Taos and they were captivated.  They eventually helped create the Taos Art Colony and began the list of many artists who came to settle here and paint.

La querencia is deeply rooted with the Spanish speaking communities of New Mexico.  It included extended family, community, and the seasonal rhythms of planting and harvesting.  The Roman Catholic Church participated in the cycles of nature with festivals and feast days which continue to be an integral part of this world.  These rituals were woven into daily life in these communities and  hold the voices and memories of ancestors who were part of this history for hundreds of years.

For Native Americans in New Mexico the feeling of querencia is equally strong even though they do not use the same language.   In the Tewa language, shared by several northern New Mexico pueblos, they do not have a word equal in meaning to querencia.  The people of these pueblos do not feel there is a need to describe a relationship with the land because they see no distinction between themselves and the Earth.  Their word for this connection is nung, which means the Earth itself and also the members of the pueblo as a group.  The connection is more symbolic and spiritual than physical, and exists everywhere and also within each individual.

I believe querencia is what has drawn me to try and paint New Mexico recently, and try to capture the feelings I have for my homeland.  I think the feelings of querencia aren't limited to New Mexico, but for any person who feels a deep connection and love for a land.  Caroline, a landscape painter from Scotland, talks about the idea of homeland recurring in her work as well.  She speaks of it beautifully here:

To Regions Solitary

To learn more about La Querencia read:
*Gussie Fauntleroy. "La Querencia" New Mexico Magazine September, 1997.