Thursday, November 30, 2006

Trudy Blom


I've been trading comments on Chiapas with Lassë of The Big Thoughts, and Franz Blom came up -- the Dane who worked at Palenque and set up La Casa Na Bolom in San Cristóbol de las Casas, in Chiapas, Mexico. Blom’s wife Trudy is of particular interest to me – a quick google turns up nada on her work, so I thought I’d post this to at least create a point of reference in the great google-sphere – because her work really should receive more attention.

I come by what I know of Gertrude Blom through Nick Hopkins and Kathryn Josserand, both Mayanists, who I’ve written about here before, and Chip Morris, the MacArthur Genius Grantee and author of the Living Maya, who lived near the Bloms in San Cristóbol, and knew them well.

La Casa Na Bolom

Nick studied under Trudy’s husband Franz, and Nick and Kathryn stayed with Trudy at La Casa Na Bolom frequently after Franz passed away. They have some great stories to tell about Trudy and her regal ways, but I’ll stick to the ones that matter here: Franz and Trudy worked closely with the Lacandon Maya, and established La Casa Na Bolom as a research center for better understanding their language and culture – and also, as I understand it, to try to elevate the standing of the Lacandon within the Mexican context in which they live -- a culture which by and large treats them very poorly, as an indigenous people. (An ongoing trend here in the Americas.)

bridal suite
view large

Trudy’s photographs of the Lacandon are startling and endlessly appealing for their warmth and humanity. They’re also notable, of course, because they show the Lacandon within their cultural context – something that’s not readily available to outsiders (although is more so now, given the work that the Blom’s did). Trudy shot with a box camera, and some folks say that it was this – the fact that her face was not concealed when she was shooting – that made it possible for her to establish such a warm and trusting connection with her subjects. I suspect it had more to do with Trudy herself.

Lacandon Maya
view large

Not too long ago I visited the home of Bob Goldberg[1], a Chicago schoolteacher who has amassed an extraordinary collection of Mexican art over the years – every school vacation he would take his station wagon south and pile it high with goods. It’s so extraordinary that he recently donated it all to the Field Museum, which responded with the appropriate gleeful enthusiasm to have it all.

Before it was received and cataloged by the Field he invited small groups into his home to see the collection – a traditional Chicago greystone, overflowing with the colors and textures and art of Mexico – it was on one of these visits that I saw, in a small hallway, what looked like Trudy’s photography. I asked Bob if they were. His face changed immediately – melting from one of the warm, if carefully distant host, to one of recognition, excitement, and loss. (Trudy, of course, passed away in 1993.)

“You know Trudy? You know her work?” And I told him how. He took me into the bedroom and showed me where more of her work was hanging, and then he pulled out several photo albums, sharing stories all the while, of his friend, Trudy, and her wonderful photographs.

Library, La Casa Na Bolom

The only place I know where you can view Trudy Blom's photography is at the La Casa Na Bolom itself, where the walls are covered with them -- and unfortunately I took too few photographs of those photographs.

[1] I need to double check Mr. Goldberg's name -- it might be Bill.


Lasse said...

very interesting reading!
Mexico is Magic. As far a I remember the have an exhibition on Trudy's photos in the basement of Na Bolom - am I right?
I remember seeing an exhibition of hers in a dark room anyway.
I would LOVE to go back - I always have - I just haven't had the time yet! (for 12 years -who's he kidding?) said...

Dear Detritus,

I have written a one-woman play on the life of Trudi Blom based on research I did years ago. I've uploaded some of her photos to flickr for a Trudi Blom site so I can direct interested theaters to a place where they can see her work. The play depends on projections of her work. I haven't contacted Na Bolom yet but am working with the approval of one of Trudi's archivists at Duke U's Documentary Studies Department. Alex Harris edited a book of Trudi's work, BEARING WITNESS. I'm waiting (impatiently!) for the flickr account to clear, but when it does would you like to know? I loved your profile of Na Bolom and Trudi. It is good to find references to her work. My play might be difficult for her friends. She was not an easy person to write about but she makes a damn fine character. Best wishes, Alex Finlayson

suttonhoo said...

wonderful -- and congratulations!

yes, please keep me in the loop -- I'd love to know more about it as your production unfolds.

Maria Luisa Armendariz said...

Dear Sutton:

I have to say I´ve seen must of the pictures taken in Na Bolom. I am becoming old because I knew Trudy very well and I loved her very much. That´s why, I believe, I take her place now when I am the president of the Asotiation she created to take care of the house and the projects she held in the Rain Forest of Chiapas.

I saw your pictures and I entered in this blog just to say Thank You. For creating, for finding what is not easily seen, for creating a and capturing a moment of light... you made an incredible job.

It is fantastic, thank you.

We are here, I guess our children will come after us, and we just hope we find the strenght to mantain this beauty.

Maria Luisa

Upsunday said...

I met Franz and Gertrude Blom circa 1961, in their cabin in San Cristobal.
What a place!. My father, Head of the State of Chiapas´ Communications and Public Services engaged in a frienship with the Bloms. I am a lover visitor to San Cristobal, and probably I will move to live there someday. I will pay a visti to Na Bolom next time!
Thank you for your blog.

Morelia said...

As a child, I knew Trudy in a closely distant way..We lived in the mountains of Chiapas and she would often come by our place astride her horse with bangles lining her wrist. She was daunting though I wonder now if that was just how she wanted to appear or perhaps it was just my childish view of this lady! One day she came by and rode her horse straight up the hill where our ranch house stood, right through my mother's patch of red lillies and stayed for a bite. I won't forget her or the first time I visited Na Bolom in San Cristobal. Such wonderful memories!

Anonymous said...

I met Trudy in The summer of 93 ,while I was working with the Zapatistas.She clamed she was being held prisoner in her own home,while some say she was not always coherent, she seemed "sharp as a tack" to me! Due to my jungle involvement,and time in Chumula I was not able to make it back before her passing,our conversation always bothred me ! She spoke flawless english although she would slip into other languges occasionaly usually as staff aproched. I truly pray that she lived her last days in trnquility, and not fear ! Godbless, Padre T

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