By Ruth Lambert
San Juan Mountains Association
The San Juan Mountains Association is conducting a study of the historic aspen tree carvings made by Hispano sheepherders along the Pine-Piedra Stock Driveway.
The carvings were made during the first half of the 20th century as herders drove sheep on seasonal migrations between low and high pastures. The project documents the archaeological remains of the activities within the herders’ campsites where they carved the arborglyphs. Historical and interpretive information has also been collected through research, and oral histories are being conducted with Hispanio carvers, their descendants and other family members. The SJMA has received funding from the History Colorado State Historical Fund, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the San Juan National Forest and the Ballantine Family Fund.
The project began in the early 2000s when archaeologists and SJMA volunteers documented more than 970 arborglyphs. The glyphs were photographed, sketched and mapped in camp areas. The study recommended that the carving data provide a good basis for future work that led to our current project.
Both phases of the project have resulted in activities that increase our understanding of the Hispano contribution to our regional history. In addition to archaeological field work and public field trips, upcoming project exhibits provide community information about the arborglyphs and the Hispano herding traditions.
On Oct. 16, the Open Shutter Gallery in Durango will open a project photo exhibit with images of arborglyphs, sheepherding and the forest environment. The exhibit will run through the month. Professional and local photographers have contributed beautiful images to this exhibit.
From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Oct. 18, the Animas Museum will host an exhibit, “Seasons of the Sheep – Yesterday and Today.” The event will include an educational exhibit about the history of the annual cycle of sheep and sheepherding as practiced along the Pine-Piedra Stock Driveway using historical and contemporary artifacts and photographs. The exhibit will look at the seasonal activities including herding and driving as well as the associated economics and artistic endeavors including textiles and arborglyphs. Opening day at the museum will also include hands-on displays, including a garden of traditional textile dyes, craftspeople spinning and weaving fleece, and live Churro sheep, the historic sheep of the driveway. In addition, there will be Hispano songs and stories for children, Ballet Folklorico dancers, music and food.
Finally, the project book The Wooden Canvas: Arborglyphs as Reflections of Hispano Life Along the Pine-Piedra Stock Driveway will be available at these events. The book describes the history and traditions behind the arborglyph carvings and why the names, dates and drawings are more than art; they are reflections of a way of life that has spanned generations.
These events follow the National Hispanic American Heritage Month, which runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. We hope that you can join us for this informational celebration about aspects of our regional Hispano culture.
Ruth Lambert is cultural program director with San Juan Mountains Association, a nonprofit dedicated to public land stewardship and education. Email her at Ruth@sjma.org or call her at 385-1267.