I Liked What I Saw

2019-2020 at the cody center

Dana Tanamachi is a designer. Accustomed to working at the behest of clients, her standard concern is delivering what it is they want to say. She’s good at it—her hand-lettered chalk murals led to a surge in the style nationwide, and her work has been commissioned by everyone from Google to Starbucks to the Wall Street Journal.

So the opportunity afforded by the Laity Lodge Residency—to live onsite for a full month and create new work that expressed precisely what it was she wanted to say—represented an unprecedented challenge, both professionally and personally.

But what to “say”? The New York-based Tanamachi found her inspiration while driving across Texas after an early spring scouting visit to the Lodge. In an email to the Lodge leadership at the time, she wrote, “After our discussion about themes I had another idea that I think will fit very well into the mix. I forgot how much thinking you can get done while driving the highways and backroads of Texas. It’s just not the same as riding the subway everywhere.”

That drive was a kind of homecoming. Tanamachi grew up in Houston, and her maternal grandparents, both Mexican-American, were born in South Texas agricultural towns. Migrant farm workers, each summer they crisscrossed the desert Southwest picking crops.

“I forgot how much thinking you can get done while driving the highways and backroads of Texas.”

Dana Tanamachi

Tanamachi’s paternal grandparents met and were married while living in a World War II-era internment camp in Arizona. When the war ended, they had no home to return to in California. A relative from the Rio Grande Valley of Texas offered refuge and the possibility of starting a new life. The Tanamachis took him up on the offer.

As quoted in the 1987 book The Japanese Texans, Dana’s grandfather, Tom Tanamachi, described their arrival in the Valley this way: “We traveled through miles and miles of desert, and all of a sudden we came into a lush garden. I liked what I saw.”

Japan, Texas, and New York on wood, 42″

Nearly 75 years later, this story—the move from desert to garden, and the familial life that took root there—has become the conceptual and narrative focus of I Liked What I Saw, Tanamachi’s Cody Center installation, which opened June 13. The exhibition is comprised of three groupings of works: five round works plus one large landscape; a cascading series of fans; and a collection of storybooks.

Together, Tanamachi’s Lodge works tell a personal story about journeys across landscapes, both literal and figurative, and the perpetual quest for meaning along the way. Deserts (geographical, relational, spiritual, vocational) abound. And so do desert crossers—those who continue to make the hazardous journeys across these expanses. Gardens—and the hope of gardens—abound, too.

I Liked What I Saw is on display in the Cody Center for the remaining 2019 retreats and will be held over into the first part of 2020. Visitors to the exhibit can pick up an exclusive gallery guide featuring more of Tanamachi’s story and an interview with the artist. To view the online gallery guide, click below.

Article by Gate Davis. gate@laitylodge.org

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