RoadTrip America

Routes, Planning, & Inspiration for Your North American Road Trip

Made in the Southwest: A Shopper's Guide to the Region's Best Native American, Hispanic and Western Craft Traditions, by Laura Morelli

Made in the Southwest
This is a flat-out fantastic book. In addition to being visually gorgeous, it just may be the most surprising -- and perhaps even most important -- road trip book of the year. In these days of increasing polarization of opinion and belief about "the border problem" between the United States and Mexico, author Laura Morelli brings a sense of balance and appreciation for all of the human cultures that have lived, worked and created art in the great southwestern deserts.

I don't particularly like admitting that Made in the Southwest: A Shopper's Guide to the Region's Best Native American, Hispanic and Western Craft Traditions resided in the "to-be-reviewed" pile of books in my office much longer than it deserved because the title did not immediately grab my attention. Don't make a similar mistake -- this is a book that transcends everything you might have thought you knew about Native American, Hispanic and Anglo-American (Western) craft traditions. In addition to my new-found respect for Hispanic art & crafts this book opened my eyes to a whole new way of looking at road trips and the importance of seeking the unusual in the midst of what seems very ordinary.

The best shopping guides have detailed information about the artisans, suggestions for visiting, and background information about a region. Morelli delivers all of that and also succeeds in educating us about the historical sources for many of the artisans' inspirations over the last couple hundred years. In addition, and unlike most guides, this book is in itself a work of art. There are eighty color photographs that light up the pages in ways that surprise and delight. The paper looks and feels opulent, and the page layout is visually stunning. The cover includes a lacquered effect more beautiful than any I have ever seen on a trade paperback guidebook.

The book is divided into two sections. In the first section, Morelli, who holds a Ph.D. in art history from Yale University, provides an overview of several different ethnic craft traditions originating from both Old World and New World values and ideas from the Americas and European continents. After reading this book, I have a much clearer understanding and appreciation for authentic Hispanic tinware, wrought iron, and straw crafts. Most surprising to me was the section on cowboy boots and spurs from the Western craft culture. Throughout this section, the author provides insider tips about where and when to find the most unusual examples of each type of art.

The author's sense of humor and adventure become apparent in her personal recommendations for finding authentic examples of various types of crafts and art in Arizona, Southern California, Southwestern Colorado, New Mexico, Southern Nevada, Utah and West Texas. I "discovered" stores that I have passed by scores of times over the years but never knew about, including one in downtown Las Vegas only a few miles from my office. You might not think that reading store listings would be entertaining, but trust me -- you won't find descriptions like these in your AAA guidebook! This is more than a buyer's guide -- it is treasure map that can lead you to amazing discoveries on your next road trip to the southwest.

Mark Sedenquist

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