Weaving Time and Gilding Canyons
by Charmagne Vasquez and Melissa
Weaving Time and Gilding Canyons depicts a woman of the Sunflowers. She is tied to her indigenous heritage, rising up into the sky from the canyons, on the strong, ancient path of living turquoise that manifests at each step. She is guided by the wise ones before her, and all around her. From the earth are her native foods, including sunflower seeds that generate lactobacilli, the bacteria that protects her from illnesses. She raises her hand to hold, to stop, to release and to guide. She is anchored, yet flowing with the sacred four directions, through all times.
I especially dedicate this work to my grand-matriarchs, Bertha Ruelas Vasquez, Sara Ruelas, Sagarnaga Ruelas, and Florence Loeschen Hall.
About the Process
by Charmagne Vasquez
I chose to work with Dr. Melissa Herbst-Kralovetz because her work is critical to the saving of women’s lives through better understanding the powerful bacteria, lactobacilli. Her current emphasis is to improve the health of underserved populations, and this spoke to me personally as the daughter of my paternal Mexican, Chicano and Apache family. I also felt a kinship with Melissa because of specific work I’d done as a former elementary school teacher in Arizona’s Title One schools. Melissa and I are simpatico about amplifying the story of lactobacilli. We hope to impart a message of saving the lives of women through every-day practices, like developing a prebiotic diet. We also hope to promote equity in health funding and medical access for women.
Melissa and I met several times, and spoke via email to zero in on her research and how I might illustrate this in a painting. Our collaboration was a meaningful and mind-expanding cross-pollination of professional practices. We sparked each other’s fascination, asked many questions and had long discussions. I wanted to create a dynamic, symbolic narrative that incorporates indigenous cultures, foods, flora and fauna. A tall order for me – and a magnificent challenge!
The more we discussed the cellular structure of lactobacilli and its protective bacterial journey in a woman’s body, the more I was convinced that I could create a visual landscape. We both knew that turquoise is of great significance in many Arizona indigenous cultures, and we were excited for it to also align with the positive nature of lactobacilli. I thought there may be a way to integrate several messages through the creation of characters and creatures. I wanted to embed three-dimensional media from around me… and as it turned out, my father, who is a master jeweler, was thrilled to contribute some beautiful raw turquoise stone and hand-rolled beads, including opals.
As the months rolled on, the back wall of my studio became cluttered with printouts of research articles, picture of landscapes and brainstorms on post-its. I even recalled a dream I’d had at age 16, wherein I stood within a canyon wall. Toward the last few weeks, sunflowers became prominently manifest in the work and I discovered their natural prebiotic qualities – perfect! I was thrilled to interview a young dine’ woman from Shonto, who illuminated my understanding with more significant history about turquoise, sunflowers, constellations and more.
As an intuitive artist, I work sensitively and somewhat blindly, trusting the process as I go. The finished work is rife with science, symbolism and a bit of traveling back and forth through time. It’s been an honor to collaborate with Melissa, an honor to become more a part of others’ lives in this process, an honor to listen to my matriarchs when I feel overwhelmed, and to avail my art as an educational conduit. It’s been a helluva ride.
As we make advances in sciences, I am convinced we must also pay attention and ask questions about cultural histories and practices. Sometimes the clues to health is right at our fingertips, just as it was for a woman of many generation before – only a sunflower away.
Meet the Team
Artist: Charmagne Vasquez
Charmagne Vasquez is an artist of abstract and symbolist painting and drawing. She studied at Northern Arizona University, earning a BA in elementary education and a minor in art. Her informal education was in a family of musicians and visual artists. Her surrealistic and current natureful works have been internationally represented, published and exhibited. She is deeply impacted by Arizona, Pacific Northwest and other biomes. Her current direction contrasts nature and societal paradigms through creating multifaceted layers and meanings. Charmagne now resides in Phoenix. Her works are held in international public and private collections.
Dr. Melissa Herbst-Kralovetz grew up in rural Arizona and is a first-generation college graduate. She joined University of Arizona, College of Medicine-Phoenix in 2009 and is a tenured Professor in the Departments of Basic Medical Sciences and Obstetrics and Gynecology. She has been recognized by numerous awards. Her translational research program is focused on understanding the microbiome and host-microbe interactions in the female reproductive tract as it relates to cancer, reproductive, women＊s health outcomes and health disparities. Dr. Herbst-Kralovetz enjoys interacting with the media to disseminate research findings and promote awareness and topics related to women＊s health to the public.