A few weeks ago, I was looking on the web for some information on the healing power of art. A friend of mine had made some really unique and beautiful handkerchiefs and I wanted to find a way to share his art and his story on the web.

I came across Michael Samuel's Art as a Healing Force website and sent him an email not really expecting an answer. But I got a response almost immediately and Michael asked if he could put the handkerchief art up on his blog. Through his emailed response, Michael Samuels unknowingly put me back on my path of using art to heal.

And I remembered then, that beginning with my first experiences of working with hospice patients, I have used art as a healing force. As well as providing art classes for AIDS patients, all our documentaries and photo oral history exhibits have used art, in some cases the visual arts, as a healing force.

The handkerchief art I wrote to Michael Samuels about comes from my present life: A few years ago a man came to help me with some work at my place in northern New Mexico. He was a carpenter but he referred to himself then as just a gofer..

One day he brought some drawings he had made—religious art in very pale colors. I was impressed and said so but he said his family had drawers full of it. He was very quiet and shy at first and hardly talked at all but gradually he began to talk more and more. He told me he had spent several years in prison when he was younger and that some of the ideas for his art, he had learned there.

I had never known anyone who went to prison and I had no idea that anything positive or hopeful or beautiful could come out of such a dark, cold, depressing place. I had once tried to show a film at a prison in Texas and I couldn't get out of the place fast enough. I did remember however, that an elder from this part of northern New Mexico had once said to me "There are so many of our people in prison because no one helps them appreciate their gifts."

Below are Jody Armijo's story and his art. His story is simple yet profound; his art is extraordinarily beautiful, telling a story of transformation and reaffirming the incredible beauty and resilience of the human spirit.

--Cindy Pickard
Director, Rites of Passage
October 2012


Theodore Jody Armijo

When I was little, like a fifth grader I was always fat and people picked on me and my dad took me to boxing... anyways I learned from my experience... I learned my lesson...

I used to have a bondsman and he told me Theodore meant "God's gift" and [you said] Jody means "of Judea"


I used to be a mean guy real mean. I used to do the monster mash on people. I thought I was big and powerful. My thing was drugs... I liked the money, I had nice cars.

I did 5 yrs and a day [in prison] in Colorado and 18 months in New Mexico… and lots of jail time... lots
That's where I learned everything [in jail]…in Denver I learned how to do the crosses [from] some guys from Mexico... I used to spin their nylon and then I learned... I learned [to make crosses] before I went to prison...

I used to see everybody drawing handkerchiefs…always black and white
The tower handkerchief was one handkerchief [I made] back in the days I don't want to remember…. It said everything about life.

It's a guy lookin' out of a keyhole.. he's just lookin'.. he's lookin at the tower but he sees clouds: his girlfriend is there, his car, his way of living and he misses that. When you're in prison, you got a little calendar and you mark your days and you know when you're gonna get out... your just looking.. just imagining how its gonna be when you get out.

I guess I was always on my guard…and now I'm peaceful. I think I went down from macho man to behaving. I'm doing better. I do what I was meant to do and I'm livin' life and enjoying life the way we're supposed to.

My main things are the roses with hearts. I love roses... roses are beautiful.

The handkerchiefs are comin' out good. My last 2 handkerchiefs: that's the sacred heart.

It's pretty cool because I enjoy it [drawing the handkerchiefs]. I mean I could just sit there and throw the pattern down and think about the detail. At the same time I'm feelin' happy that I'm doing something good.

It takes my mind off everything. It's a good feeling, it's something that I had and it's coming back to me.

I learned how to do my crosses when people die. Now I learned how to carve a little bit.

and the color turquoise brings out a lot

The more I make them the more I want to do ‘em… if they die and I know ‘em I'll make them a cross.

What are the most important values of the northern New Mexico Hispanic culture?

Respect for the elders and the land. Taking care of land is easy. It takes care of itself as long as you don't take advantage of it.

Now I'm livin' life. My life is country and I love it.

I wish I knew then what I know now. I wouldn't have been so stupid, but you know God works in mysterious ways though. Maybe I had to go through that hard time to learn.
But I learned my lesson, no? No more.

For more information on Jody Armijo's work: fonehome@indian-creek.net