The Oo-oonah Art and Culture Center originally opened its doors in 1985 as a space for art instruction and learning at Taos Pueblo. For the past dozen years, the Oo-oonah Art and Culture Center has run a Heritage Program at Taos Pueblo. The program teaches young children, mostly ages 5-12, to appreciate traditional life skills such as food preparation and cooking, gardening, mud plastering and more. The children learn to haul water from the river, use their ancestral irrigation systems, bake in hornos (traditional adobe ovens) and greet their elders in the Tiwa language.
This Saturday and Sunday (Dec. 16-17), Oo-oonah will have an Arts and Crafts Fair to raise money for the center. The fair takes place from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. both days at the Taos Day School Cafeteria. It is free to attend. Taos Day School is located at 200 Rotten Tree Road at Taos Pueblo.
The arts and crafts fair will feature more than 20 artists and artisans, most from Taos Pueblo. Some of the items for sale include paintings, pottery, moccasins, drums, baked goods, candies, holiday plates and Christmas cards.
“It’s an opportunity for our community to have a place to sell right before Christmas and be able to earn some extra money for their families,” said Marie Reyna, the center’s executive director.
There are still a few spaces left for vendors to show their goods at the arts and crafts fair. Interested persons can contact Marie Reyna.
Another important part of the Arts and Crafts Fair is the shoebox gifts that are collected for distribution to children at Taos Pueblo at Christmastime. A donor packs useful gifts into a shoebox or boot box – items such as beauty aids, toothbrush, brush, gloves, scarves or snacks. Then, they wrap the box and label it with the age and gender of the child it is meant for. The boxes should be dropped off at the Taos Arts and Crafts Fair by Sunday at 3 p.m. said Reyna.
This tradition of shoebox Christmas gifts dates back to when Reyna was a child. She said that the annual gifts were started by Carl Schlosser who owned Carl’s Indian Trading Post on Kit Carson Road, east of the Taos Plaza. Schlosser would hand out slips of paper to his customers; each paper had the gender and age of a Taos Pueblo child written on it. His customers would fill a shoebox with gifts for that child, and Schlosser would collect the gifts.
“He would drive in to the village on Christmas Day with his car packed to the brim with shoeboxes; they were even on the roof,” Reyna said. She recalled how all the children would come out and gather around the car in anticipation. “We looked like ants coming out,” she remembered. Reyna emphasized that her father, the late Tony Reyna, always encouraged his children to write a thank you letter to the person who had gifted them with a Christmas shoebox.
Reyna explained that the Arts and Crafts Fair helps to raise money for the Oo-oonah Art and Culture Center through vendor fees and the concession stand which will be selling Frito pies, nachos and other goodies. Reyna said the money raised will be used to pay for electricity for the Oo-oonah Art and Culture Center, a few outstanding bills, and the installation of a propane heater for the studio space.
As part of the center’s Heritage Program, Marie Reyna teaches about historic events that took place at Taos Pueblo. Reyna teaches through traditional storytelling as well as by bringing in guest speakers. The children learn about events such as the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, the Taos Revolt of 1847 and the return of Blue Lake to Taos Pueblo, which was signed into law on Dec. 15, 1970 by President Richard Nixon.
“We talk about [the return of Blue Lake] and we say if that never happened and the government took our lake away, life as we knew it then would end. So there probably would be no reason for Heritage [Program] because a central part of our world is our lake, our religion and our culture,” Reyna said. “If our lake wasn’t there, it would interrupt the whole cycle that we’ve carried through for generations.”
Reyna recognizes that she benefited greatly from the attention of her elders and credits them for teaching her and other young people important life skills. Her mother, Annie Cata Reyna, was a home economics teacher at the Taos Day School who taught sewing, cooking, canning and related skills. Marie Reyna remembers her mother’s former students would tell her how grateful they were for the skills they learned in her classes. From her father, Tony Reyna, she learned to load hay, fix fences, gather wood and related activities. Both are gone now.
In describing the Heritage Program, Marie Reyna said, “Our kids like our program. There’s nothing like it because it takes place in a traditional setting of a pueblo home with an area for gardening.”
The immersion program includes planting traditional seeds and preparing and eating Taos Pueblo foods, as well as learning language and cultural skills.
“We consider ourselves [the students’] uncles and aunts and they address us as such,” Reyna said. Students are taught the Tiwa greeting for saying hello to their elders. “We’ve had elders say this is the first time in years a young person has acknowledged me” said Reyna, explaining that when a young person does not acknowledge their elders it is like saying they do not exist.
“These kids have learned a lot,” Reyna emphasized.
In addition to the Heritage Program, Oo-oonah Art and Culture Center holds a variety of classes throughout the year in areas such as drawing, printmaking, sewing, beading and jewelry-making. Classes have been made available to adults and teenagers as well as children.
Commenting on the future of Oo-oonah Art and Culture Center, Reyna said, “We want it to become a community center that serves everyone in the community, but our main focus is the children.”
“Oo-oonah” is a Tiwa word meaning “a child.”
In addition to attending this weekend’s Arts and Crafts Fair, support for Oo-oonah Art and Culture Center can be provided through monetary donations or through donations of art supplies, healthy snacks and baking items. As the center is a nonprofit, donations are tax-deductible. Please contact Marie Reyna at (575) 779-9566 for further details on what is needed and when.
For more information, contact Marie Reyna, director of Oo-oonah Art and Culture Center, at (575) 779-9566.