But here were a people that were farmers, built elegant masonry villages and worshiped from subterranean holy chambers.
This spurred my continuing studies of these people and soon led me to the premiere cultural nexus centered around Chaco Canyon in northern New Mexico that started around 800 A.D. What fascinates me about the Chaco phenomenon (as it is known by some) is that this super civilization erupted overnight and into a sophistication that then deteriorated over several generations. The elegance of the super villages they created were unprecedented in the Southwest - and they were masterfully planned - symmetrically and astronomically oriented super-villages that made earlier prototypes seem awkward and rare.
When you get a chance to wander around these ruins today, one is struck by the immensity of the pueblos and the thousands of hours to work the sandstone and to haul in thousands of massive timbers, some from over 50 miles away.
I was instilled with the burning desire to be able to see these structures in their prime, with gleaming fresh stucco and crowded with the people.
After a trip to Chaco and pushing miles on foot into one of a dozen of the Super Pueblos or Great Houses as most say, I decided to "rebuild" a village to help myself and others to see how it must have looked to witness such a remarkable sight- a shining city floating above the desert washes.
I was drawn to the structure known as Penasco Blanco (Spanish for white rock, referring to the pale sandstone that caps the mesas in this canyon) unique in that has an elliptical configuration with not one square corner on its exterior walls found in all the other villages. It was one of the original core towns when the canyon was pioneered in the 8th century.
Penasco is at the west end of "Downtown Chaco" and was the portal city for the western edge of "main street" for the people entering or leaving the outlying vastness of the cultural province the Chacoans created.
For more information about the fascinating Chaco phenomenon please visit the National Park Service site for this World Heritage site. Chaco Canyon National Historical Park
Around 1999, I decided to do a rendering of Penasco as a response to the abundance of imagery and obsession by many concerning Pueblo Bonito, the "darling" of Chaco Canyon. Bonito was the largest and possesses a singular presence of grace in design. But I wanted to feature something that had not already been done.
|This is an aerial photo of Penasco Blanco Ruin in present day. The round depressions are Great Kivas and the faint line on the right is an ancient roadway.|
|Some remnant standing walls to this once 5-story structure. This is the approach from the canyon below.|
|A wall fragment showing the skilled masonry of the Chacoans. The walls were covered with stucco, thus veiling the structural beauty.|
|This is the view and elevation that I based my restoration on. This vantage point has a stone shrine structure nearby.|
|I found this floor plan and used it as reference|
|This is a study I did to get an idea of structure and lighting.|
|"Penasco Blanco" oil on linen 32" x 44"|