Frances Gillmor: Aztec and Navajo Folklorist

Frances Gillmor: Aztec and Navajo Folklorist

By: Sharon Whitehill (author)Hardback

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This is a literary biography of one of the first women to travel through the Southwest and Mexico on horseback and to record firsthand traditional stories of the Aztec and Navajo cultures. The book is a literary biography of Frances Gillmor, a scholar of the native cultures of the Southwest and Mesoamerica, and a writer of regional novels. An English and humanities professor at the University of Arizona for forty-odd years, Gillmor also inspired and promoted the study of folklore in the Southwest. In the words of her University of Arizona colleague James Griffith, "Any folklorist who works here is inevitably following a path which was blazed, scraped, and smoothed by Frances Gillmor." Frances Gillmor's life not only bridges a number of cultures, but also spans both a century (1903-1993) and a continent. From the old Scottish clan lore she learned from her mother to Mexican folk plays and dances, from the "Indien" maidens of her juvenile stories to fierce Speaker-Kings of the Aztecs, both her life and her work show a colorful breadth and variety. "Thumbcap Weir" (1929), her first novel, evokes the pioneer fishing settlements of New Brunswick; "Windsinger" (1930) takes us into the world of a Navajo chanter; and "Fruit Out of Rock" (1940) explores and foreshadows in fiction the threat of canyon erosion in terms of its characters' links to a family and regional past. "Traders to the Navajos" (1934) is a double biography of the Wetherills of Kayenta, who were not only traders but arbiters, doctors, companions, and teachers to the Navajos throughout the early part of the twentieth century. "Flute of the Smoking Mirror" (1949) follows the life of Nezahualcoytl, while "The King Danced in the Marketplace" (1964) gives us the history of Moteczuma the First: two Aztec biographies which made these kings' lives accessible to general readers for the first time and greatly impressed fellow scholars. Frances Gillmor herself was an actively practicing Christian who came to believe that religious experience need not depend on supernatural events or divine revelation, but instead that the spirit of God is revealed in the myriad beauties of nature. I have looked, as it were, over her shoulder, observing her passion for spiritual matters in childhood diaries, in the stories and poems that appeared in her high school literary magazine, and in her later embrace of the process theology of Alfred North Whitehead. I have noted with great admiration her steadfast refusal to allow either personal belief or official dogma to distort her responses to the spiritual practice of non-Christian cultures - not just the Papago, Zuni, Hopi, Yaqui, and Navajo Indians, but even the bloodthirsty Aztecs. I have also attempted to show how Frances Gillmor's sense of herself as an outsider, an "orphan" (or, as post-colonial critics would say, as the "other"), foreshadowed the scholar, folklorist, and author who valued so greatly the theme of connection. Leon Edel's metaphor of "the figure under the carpet" is relevant here because it expresses so well the approach that informs my own writing. Edel suggests that the subject's life can be seen as a carpet or tapestry: place it right side up and the "life-myth" or mask of the person is visible; reverse the carpet, however, and the tangled threads beneath are exposed as the raw and naked real self of the tidy figure above. Intrigued by this notion, I have spent a good deal of time on the early experiences and predilections which structured Gillmor's life, and which shaped from beneath the social, intellectual, and professional figure who emerged. I must emphasize one final point. Unlike Frances Gillmor, who wore many scholarly hats, I wear only one: I'm a scholar of literature. This biography thus makes no claims to being either comprehensive or definitive; its primary focus is on Gillmor's role as a woman of letters. Though any account of her life must of course refer to her work as a folklorist, ethnologist, and anthropologist, I shall leave it to others to do full justice to her outstanding accomplishments in these fields.


Foreword, i; Preface, iii; Acknowledgments, vii; Key to Abbreviations, xi; PART I: CULTIVATING (1786-1929); Introduction, 1; Chapter 1, 9; From Land Grants and Lumber to Coal (1786-1905): Family background and early years in Buffalo, New York; Chapter 2, 17; "Each Sheltered Nook" (1905-1913): childhood in St. George, New Brunswick; Chapter 3, 29; The Power of the Past (1913-1914): Grade-school years and early influences; Chapter 4, 41; "We Were All Easterners Once" (1914-1916): Move to Brockton, Massachusetts; Chapter 5, 55; Moving Around (1916-1918): from Brockton to San Diego to Chicago; Chapter 6, 71; Lake View High School (1918-1921): High school years in Chicago; Chapter 7, 83; An Eagle Preparing for Flight (1921-1926): University of Chicago and newspaper reporting in Florida; Chapter 8, 95; "This Blazing Desert Sunshine" (1926-1928): Undergraduate years at University of Arizona and Alfred North Whitehead. PART II: GERMINATING (1928-1937); Chapter 9, 111; Little Gray Islands, Outsiders, and Orphans: Thumbcap Weir; Chapter 10, 119; In Navajo Country (1928-1929): Research for Master's thesis; Chapter 11, 135; "The Woman Who Always Went to Ceremonies" (1929-1930): Navajo ceremonials and female ethnologists; Chapter 12, 151; "An Adventure of the Spirit": Windsinger; Chapter 13, 159; The End of an Era (1930-1933): Death of parents and research for first biography; PART III: RIPENING (1933-1957); Chapter 14, 177; Around Hogan Fires: Traders to the Navajos (1933-1937); Chapter 15, 195; "A Constant Succession of Contrasts" (1937-1940): First trip to Mexico, including Trotsky trial proceedings; Chapter 16, 211; "Intensely Alive and Beautifully Written": Fruit Out of Rock; Chapter 17, 221; "The Closest Friend I Ever Had" (1940-1943): Relationship with Ola Apenes; Chapter 18, 235; "A Conscience Dawning": Flute of the Smoking Mirror (1943-1949); Chapter 19, 253; Frances Gillmor, Doctora en Letras (1949-1957): Graduate work and doctorate. PART IV: HARVESTING (1957-1993); Chapter 20, 267; "This Europe That Is All New to Me" (1957-1964): Guggenheim year; Chapter 21, 281; "A Heart Cold as Jade": The King Danced in the Marketplace (1964-1974); Chapter 22, 293; "To Do Nothing, and Afterwards Rest" (1974-1993): Retirement years; Notes, 309; Bibliography, 359; Index, 369. 1. Frances as a schoolgirl; Photo used by permission of LaVerne Harrell Clark; 2. Frances as a young woman; Photo used by permission of LaVerne Harrell Clark; 3. Frances and LaVerne at the Clarks' home in Tucson (1958); Photo by LaVerne Harrell Clark; used by permission; 4. Frances's home on River road, Tucson, next to the El Corral Restaurant (1958); Photo by LaVerne Harrell Clark; used by permission.

Product Details

  • ISBN13: 9780773459427
  • Format: Hardback
  • Number Of Pages: 400
  • ID: 9780773459427
  • ISBN10: 0773459421

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