Nancy's Travelblogue

... there isn't a train I wouldn't take, no matter where it's going. -- Edna St. Vincent Millay

Location: California, United States

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Writer's Diary # 5: Site-Seeing

I'm pleased to report that oral history is alive and well in southern Arizona, thanks to dedicated historians like Shaw Kinsley of the Tubac Historical Society and Indira Berndtson of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. I took a break from writing  to make site visits to these two oral history projects here in Arizona. Shaw and Indira are typical of the dedicated and underappreciated individuals I meet whenever I visit community oral history projects. These are the people who are preserving our cultural heritage from the ground up.

If you are like me, you may never have heard of the village of Tubac, but it is the oldest settlement in Arizona, founded as a presidio in 1752 to support Spanish missionaries at the Tumacacori Mission down the road (definitely worth a visit). Tubac is about 30 miles north of the current US/Mexican border, and after many iterations in its 200+ year existence, is now state historic park and arts village, and a destination for Arizonans and others who know about it.

Shaw Kinsley is the Director of the Historical Society, and is working double time since budget cuts eliminated state support for the site. He showed me samples of the oral histories the Society has been collecting over the years -- of old timers and newcomers. Shaw is eager to resuscitate the oral history program, and to get the community excited about documenting their own history once again. The Tubac Oral History Project is an excellent example of how documentation of a little known piece of history will fill in the gaps in a much larger story -- with many chapters. The story begins when Juan Bautista de Anza led an expedition which founded Yerba Buena, the predecessor settlement of my home town of San Francisco. And the recent history of Tubac is just as interesting, mingling stories or land acquisition and use, arts community, newcomers vs old timers, and border issues.

Indira  Berndtson is an equally dedicated oral historian,  documenting the history of a  higher profile site, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation at Taliesin West.  Frank Lloyd Wright purchased the property and founded Taliesin West in 1932 to support his vision. And what a vision! Aerial photos from that time show the property and the surrounding area as one gigantic slice of the desert -- no Phoenix, no Scottsdale, no I-10 of course.  Only sagebrush. 

Indira is the perfect person for the job, since she has both an insider's knowledge and and oral historian/archivist's perspective. She lived at Taliesin as a child when her parents were apprentice architects under Frank Lloyd Wright many years ago. Both Indira and her mother (at age 96) continue as long time residents at Taliesin.   

Indira's project at the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation is a perfect example of how oral history can offer another perspective to a well known person or movement. Frank Lloyd Wright is a greater than life figure in the public eye, and his public story is filled with controversy and myth. The 1500 interviews of persons associated with Frank Lloyd Wright and the Foundation offer a broad and balanced perspective to the public record. In fact, she has more research requests than she can keep up with. 

Bravo to Shaw and Indira and to all the community oral historians around the country and the world who are collecting, recording, and archiving personal accounts of their own communities  for the benefit of the public. It's our cultural heritage, folks. Without a sense of the past we are, indeed, bereft.


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