Alex Seowtewa

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Around 1994 work took me to Santa Fe, New Mexico.  We made a family vacation out of it, and Lori and Robert, then about ten, traveled with me.  One of the places we visited was the Zuni, New Mexico.  We didn’t know quite where to go when we arrived in the village, but we headed off to a building that looked like a small chapel.  At the door we were greeted by a man named Alex Seowtewa, who identified himself as the person who was restoring the chapel along with his sons. He welcomed us in, and we sat down in the pews and listened to him for over an hour. He talked to us about the murals, what it meant to him, and the history.

He told us the Spanish forced the Zunis to build it in 1629. The chapel had fallen into disrepair, but Mr. Seowtewa had pretty much dedicated his adult life to repairing it, and also bringing the spirituality to home.  Along the walls instead of saints and biblical scenes, he painted life-size kachinas (spirit beings).  On the left side of the chapel was a semi-circle of birds, insects and plants.  He explained that this painting was a prayer.  I looked at it for a long time together and separately as things to be thankful for and to understand a prayer as not words but a picture.  It nudged me to remember to see things as a whole, and not as little separate parts.  In the front of the chapel, by the altar, was Christ robed as a Zuni rain priest.  It was a powerful, but startling image since it was the first (and only) time I saw a bare-chested Christ with a turquoise earring.

As a way to raise funds to finish the chapel restoration, Alex sold prints of the prayer.  We bought one to support his work, and also bring a prayer from Zuni home with us.  Alex invited us to come back for when the chapel was rededicated.  I’m sad to say I am sure we missed that, but if I ever get to that part of the country again I will certainly go back to the chapel.

Alex Seowtewa on Vimeo.


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