By Emily Withnall
It is fitting that this issue of El Palacio Magazine is filled with so much dirt—from Rick Dillingham’s clay vessels, the melting adobe walls at Fort Selden, and the dusty Great North Road near Chaco Canyon. Dirt is everywhere, of course, but in New Mexico, it seems pervasive. The wind has a way of carrying it into hidden corners and crevices. And as evidenced by centuries-old ceramics artists and civilizations whose mud walls are still standing, dirt has staying power.
For those of you who do not recognize my name: Hello! I am the new editor of El Palacio Magazine. I began writing for the magazine in 2016 and I’m delighted to find myself now sitting on the other side of the desk. I am also a native New Mexican, raised in Las Vegas—yes ours, not the other one. As anyone who lives in Las Vegas or has visited can attest, the wind coming off the Great Plains towards the Sangre de Cristo Mountains is full of dirt. You might say I was raised on dirt—and a deep connection to the landscape that so often casts a spell on those of us lucky enough to live here.
Although I helped usher the fall issue out of the door, and my invisible fingerprints are all over the articles in this issue, the winter 2023 issue of El Palacio is, in many ways, a shared venture between me and former editor Charlotte Jusinski. Because magazine content must be planned well in advance of publication, I am thankful to Charlotte for ensuring that my transition into the job was a smooth one. Between her content curation and my editing, I am delighted to share our last El Palacio collaboration with you in these pages. Between us, I think we’ve managed to make a solid adobe wall: she laid the bricks, and I smoothed the mud over them.
Our collaboration on this issue is also a way for you to get to know me slowly. Good editing is often invisible and behind the scenes, but what you see on these pages reflects an editorial vision. For those of you who have read this magazine for years—or even decades—I imagine you’ve witnessed shifts in perspective and voice each time a new editor has arrived. As I plan for next year’s issues, I anticipate you will see another shift. You may not see my fingerprints in the mud, but I hope the warmth you feel from the pages will remain.
In the meantime, I welcome you into the world of dirt that this issue offers. Kate Nelson’s article on the preservation of adobe walls at Fort Selden poses questions that carry across many of the other articles in the issue: What do we preserve when we preserve history? How does what we preserve reveal what we value? From the complications that arise when we uncover more information about an artist, as Jennifer Levin reveals in her article about Gustave Baumann, to the layered histories at Mesa Prieta and Los Luceros as revealed by Matthew Martinez, preservation and record keeping is an active and ever-evolving practice. In Maurice Dixon’s profile of ceramicist Rick Dillingham, Charles Fisk describes Dillingham’s work this way: “To make, to unmake, to make again.”
Perhaps it is our job, collectively, to continuously make, unmake, and make again our art, our histories, and the adobe walls that shelter us.