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Laura Adams Armer was born in 1874, in Sacramento. As a child, Laura was considered "puny" and "dreamy" and a total mama's girl. By age sixteen, Laura had shown a talent for sketching and painting, and her uncle paid her way to the San Francisco School of Art.

She graduated, then established a photography studio in San Francisco. In 1902 she visited the southwest for the first time: "There at Tucson and in the Catalina Mountains I was first inoculated with the desert delirium."   She went back home to write articles illustrated with her photographs for Sunset and Overland Monthly magazines.

Laura married her former art school classmate Sidney Armer, who later achieved fame as the highest paid commercial illustrator in California, whoop. They had one son and one daughter, but the daughter died as an infant. Austin, the boy, became the nude child pictured in many of her art photographs until, at age sixteen, he finally rebelled.

The family moved to Berkeley, where Laura continued her photography, winning awards and going on hotshot assignments and stuff. It was glamorous.

Laura returned to the southwest and spent a great deal of time with the Navajo and Hopi people, teaching an art class at a government school on a reservation. She set up a tiny private studio in two tents in the Blue Canyon. She weaseled her way into lots of secret native rituals and meetings. When the Navajo objected to her photographing their sand paintings, she asked what exactly about it was sacred. Learning that the "sprinkling of pollen" was the forbidden part, she convinced the elders that perhaps it would be ok to photograph the sand paintings before the pollen was put on. She eventually photographed more than one hundred sand paintings, which had never before been done.

An even bigger deal was her being allowed to film the Mountain Chant ceremony. With no previous filmmaking experience, Laura wrote, directed, edited, produced, and marketed the entire project. She talked very skeptical investors into giving her the money for the film. Since some of the public showings were narrated by Navajos in their native tongue, The Mountain Chant is considered to be the first all Indian motion picture in an aboriginal language.

When promoting the movie got old, Laura retreated to writing, and promptly won the Newbery. "I was living in the wilderness of the Navajo and Hopi country, seventy eight miles from the railroad. In the Hopi village of Oraibi, a sand storm raged for four days before I left... Traveling by train across New Mexico, through Texas to New Orleans... I had time to think about the Newbery Medal - that I, as a genuine amateur in the field of literature, had never heard of the Newbery Medal."

Laura wrote books about Indian lore, art, and spirituality, some for kids, some for adults. Many were illustrated by her husband. They built and lived in an eight-sided house on an Indian reservation in Arizona. Laura died in 1963.


Dark Circle of Branches

Waterless Mountain   (1932 Newbery Award)

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