Desbah Allison: Artist in the spotlight

Our thanks go to the elementary school artists for making the All Community Art Contest so successful.

Your art is wonderful. Your artwork is on display at the Co-op. Bring your friends by to see it.

A reception is planned for you on Sunday, Feb. 15, from 1-4 p.m. We will be awarding first, second and third place prizes to artists in first and second grades and first, second and third place prizes to third and fourth graders. There will be prizes from the following sponsors: DSP Pizza, Shang Hai Restaurant, The Springs Resort, Ramon’s Mexican Restaurant, La Tazza, Chato’s Restaurant, Tequilas Restaurant, J J’s Riverwalk Restaurant, Bear Creek Saloon, Junction Restaurant, Moonlight Books and Gallery and Liberty Theatre.

On Feb. 1, we started collecting art from students in fifth through eighth grades. All junior high and middle school students are invited to participate.

Just a reminder to the young artists: the deadline is Feb. 28. Contest applications and rules will be at the Pagosa Artisans’ Co-op, located in the purple house in the 100 block of Pagosa Street. The co-op is open Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sunday noon-4. Call 264-2781 for details.

In the spotlight: Desbah Allison — photographer

Desbah Allison, photographer and member of the Pagosa Artisans’ Co-op, sees life a little differently. I asked her, “What is different about your work?”

She responded quickly. “It is spirit; I am spiritual, very spiritual. I am from two different worlds, and I have always been thought of as unusual. Born a full-blooded Navajo, on the reservation in Shiprock, New Mexico, I learned the native traditions from my mother and the Christian faith from my Methodist preacher father. And, I learned very quickly about prejudice on the reservation which comes from both sides.

“My name means ‘going to war.’ The Navajo Tribe is a matriarchal society, women are the main folk. Before a young girl becomes a woman, the Navajo traditions states that she learns a traditional art form. My mother would say, ‘If you don’t know your culture, you’ll lose it.’

“I did not excel in the basic talents of the Navajo women, such as weaving, basket making and pottery. I was taken to my uncle who was a silversmith and learned that I had a talent in art and did very well in making jewelry.”

Desbah calls herself a newbie in the world of photography. It all started on a trip to Denver at Christmas time of 2007 when a photographer and friend encouraged her to start photographing.

Desbah began shooting sunsets and sunrises. She believes that being aware of the skies came from her mother, who said, “Wake up and greet the morning sun and the Great Spirit who made them and thank Him for the new day.” Then she began capturing the sunsets at the end of the day and “thanking the Great Creator for another day.” This was instilled in Desbah from a very young age.

“When I look at a flower, I am honored to capture it on film as it opens. I have the privilege at that moment to be invited to see every little detail as it comes into this world and is gone very quickly. I am just the person who pushes the button on the camera.

“I also visit grave yards. Others might see them as scary or different, but I see them as peaceful. I discovered there are many angel statues there. That is where I get some of my best shots of angels.”

Desbah, a Navajo, and her husband, an Anglo, have experienced the ridicule of a mixed marriage and moved off the reservation. They have lived in Colorado for 25 years, 14 of them in Pagosa Springs. They moved to Pagosa for their daughter, Rhyana. They wanted to raise her in a small town with small town values.

When asked about her relationship with the co-op she said, “Wow! The Co-op! The manager of the Co-op came to me. She had heard that I was a photographer and she asked me to show my things. I felt honored. It was a pipedream that my photos could ever be in a gallery. It’s a whole new world for me. It’s an open window. My Dad always says, ‘If one thing ends, something else begins.’ I believe this is a new beginning for me as a photographer. It makes me feel that I have the right to be called an artist.

“I love photography; it is a part of me. I know that I capture a part of the Creator. I gave my life to the Lord Jesus when I was a child and I see Him in everything. I have been blessed to walk this path. It’s a different path for everyone, but I took a leap of faith and am walking it.”

To Desbah, she has brought her two worlds together through the lens of her camera. He is God, Lord, the Great Creator and the Great Spirit and He is in everything she sees. She has learned the value of life and it shows in her photographs. We invite you to enjoy Desbah’s work and see how the world looks through her eyes.

Life in the Artist’s Lane

A spark of genius!

I always thought of a genius as someone with an exceptional natural capacity of intellect, and it was out of my reach because it is not in my genes. It is true, but there is the genius of the heart. It is that distinctive character or spirit of an artist that in a certain period or language he is able to communicate the voice of his soul.

So do I believe we could attain just a spark of genius? I believe we can. It seems some people enjoy the gift and others do not. Where does it come from and when does it happen?

So I asked a few of my artist friends what they thought about it.

One artist said, “My first thought is that it’s insight that others do not have. It is looking at a sky and not just seeing blue, seeing a rainbow and not just seeing an arch. It is part of your character, your makeup. It is a gift from God. Can it be learned? No. Most gifted artists do not realize where it comes from. Often the outsider will recognize it before the genius does. More so as many of them have a low self-esteem problem. They are the odd man out so they are not valued as having something special to offer.

“For example, Frank McCourt, a Pulitzer Prize Winning author of ‘Angela’s Ashes’ and writer of other books, is thought to be a genius. Was he always thought of as a genius? No. Frank McCourt was a teacher for thirty years during which time he was not recognized as anything but a teacher. He states, ‘I had it in me before, but now that I am accepted for being more than a teacher, I am considered a genius.’”

This is a sad thought to me that being just a teacher didn’t qualify him as a genius, and he was not recognized until he had a best seller.

There are those who are also ahead of their time, which often others are threatened by. New ideas mean change. What about the Tucker automobile? Tucker was a genius in his own right. The auto industry fought him but capitalized on his ideas.

I guess it is safe to say that there are those who are in tune to their time, and the world thinks they are geniuses. They are at the right place at the right time, and they enjoy fame and fortune, especially if it benefits the pockets and status of others.

Then there are those who have struck the right chord, but no one is there to hear. When they see or experience beyond the box of what everyone accepts as real or true, they bring into the human experience something new.

The artist who is in tune with his own soul is not recognized as genius, but considered odd; the world is not ready for them. Like Van Gogh, who struggled for a meal when he was alive, today they clamor to possess his work and pay enormous sums.

Beethoven is another one. He was a maverick. He stated, “We musicians are emperors of another realm.” He understood this voice of music and rhythm. He was a student of Bach and took music to another direction, thereby setting music free. He changed the course of music.

One instance was when Beethoven was captivated with Schiller’s poem, “Ode to Joy,” it became the inspiration for Beethoven’s “Ninth Symphony.”

The first line of that famous poem speaks of that spark from God. It reads, “Joy, shining spark of God, daughter of Elysium, we step drunk with fire, heavenly, into your sanctuary”.

These words live on a higher plane. This thing born of joy is a shining spark from God; it burns within us and brings us into that sanctuary of the heavenly host.

Have I ever been slain with that spark of genius as an artist? Three painting experiences come to mind. Was it really a genius moment? How did it happen? Each time I was poured out in complete helplessness, and I looked up. I can’t take credit for it. I can’t regain it. I can only enjoy it and be thankful. I am humbled to have been there.

I have three pieces of work that, to me, witness something out of the ordinary. I have painted thousands of pieces of art, but these bring me joy because I found myself in a sacred place, and a shining spark from the heavenly fire consumed me. Was it a burning bush moment? No, just an artist moment! Did the world hear it? No, but I heard it, and that’s enough!

I believe we have to be desperate enough for art’s sake and for our own expression in the arts in order to reach that higher plane. This flash of light or spark of genius comes when least expected. Whoever is in tune with his own soul will hear the voice within the voice and know it was a supernatural moment and will have connected to a higher plane of expression.

I am sure there is much more that you would like to offer that would add to this subject, we haven’t even touched the hem of the garment. Please send your comments to

Comments from our readers: “I loved the article on “the artist rules”. I think when our heart rules (the artist side of us) we live healthier and truer to ourselves which creates less or no anxiety. And anxiety is what makes us so unhealthy. It causes heart problems and eating problems and sleep disturbances and so many mental issues. And that is because we let the head rule.”

Quote for the Week: “Talent! What they call talent is nothing but the capacity for doing continuous work in the right way.” — Winslow Homer.

Photo courtesy Pagosa Artisan’s Co-op
Photographer Desbah Allison uses her camera to see “life a little differently.” You can view Allison’s work at the Pagosa Artisan’s Co-op, located in the purple house on the 100 block of Pagosa Street.