Getting to the root of culture

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By John Werenko

The Art Center at Fuller Lodge exhibition, “Roots of Culture in Northern New Mexico,” presents an opportunity to explore the meaning, not of the word root, as one might expect, but the word culture.


Jacques Barzun in the Prologue to his massive tome, “From Dawn to Decadence, 1500 to the Present, 500 Years of Western Cultural Life,” wrote, “Looking at the phrase ‘our past’ or ‘our culture’ the reader is entitled to ask ‘Who is we?’ … cultural ancestry becomes a matter of choice; people who feel the need ‘dig for roots’ wherever they fancy.”

In “The Culture We Deserve,” Barzun continues his discussion of this all-important word by categorically stating that, “Culture now is any chunk of social reality you like or dislike.” His declaration would be immensely insufficient if he did not explain what he meant by culture. “I mean by culture the traditional things of the mind and spirit, the interests and abilities acquired by thought; in short, the effort that used to be called cultivation – cultivation of the self. This original meaning, as used, say, by Mathew Arnold in ‘Culture and Anarchy,’ is obviously a metaphor. It is based on agriculture – the tilling of the soil, planting of seeds and reaping a harvest of nourishing things.”

That is the meaning of the word culture in the title of the show that opens Jan. 8 at the Art Center. Under Barzun’s definition, the word is linked to the roots of agrarian cultivation and the ‘harvest of nourishing things.’ The artists and the works in this show give evidence of 500 years of the cultivation of the mind and the spirit by those people who first inhabited this land coming from the continent of Asia and those who, arriving at the beginning of the modern era subsequently explored and settled in the territory of what is now New Mexico.

Further adding to the complexity of the word culture as it applies locally and regionally, the place Los Alamos, was ‘artificially’ created by a confluence of historic events in the middle of the 20th Century. Surrounding Los Alamos are villages and towns which date back hundreds and thousands of years, i.e., the Indian pueblos, the Spanish settlements and American military forts. The art represented in “Roots of Culture of Northern New Mexico” is a direct result of diverse societies coming together to form a single culture, in what was one time, a geographically remote corner of the Spanish Empire.

Secundino Sandoval is a special invited artist and is known to just about everyone in Los Alamos as “Sec.” He is a member of the New Mexico Art Association and a native New Mexican who studied with Randall Davey in Santa Fe and studied oil painting with Leslie Burtenshaw. For two years, he was a technical illustrator for the U.S. Army Aggressor Center. Sandoval has shown in numerous exhibitions here at the Art Center and his work may be viewed in many businesses and organizations in town, most notably Los Alamos National Bank.

Representative artists from Los Alamos who give evidence of the cultural diversity of the county as displayed in the themes, subject matter and content of their work are Teralene Foxx, Grace Parliman, Bradford Wright, Susan Eckenwalder, Ivan Faucon, Alexis Palmaffy, Mary Carol Williams, Joel Williams and Jerry Beguin. Additional artists from other communities who responded to the call are: Jeri Beitel and Eliza Schmid of Santa Fe, Bev Teagle of El Prado and Asja Kornfeld of Albuquerque.

Individuals make art but it took three artists to put this show together - Clare Villa of La Villita, Rollie Grandbois of Jemez Springs and Richard Guzman of Truchas, are the curators.

Clare Villa has been a faithful supporter of the Art Center and her work was recently featured in the Portal Gallery during the Affordable Art Sale in December. Villa and her husband Jose are long-time residents of La Villita, near Española and both were recently given the appellation, “Ten Who Made a Difference” in Northern New Mexico. Over the years Villa has furthered and expanded the Española Arts Festival and raised their eight children.

She has two works in the exhibition one is a collaborative piece with Lori Engler of Chimayo, featuring the all important image of the Virgin of Guadalupe titled “Virgen en Nicho.” The other work by Villa is a reredos on the theme of women transitioning from the Old to the New Testament.  Villa selected Andrew Ortega, Mary Brazas, Ken Beasley, Priscilla Hibner, Paul Reid, Theresa Montoya, Shawna Chavez and Patricio Chavez for the exhibition.

Rollie Grandbois is the founder of the Southwest Stone Carving Workshop held annually in Jemez Springs. Grandbois is a member of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa Tribe from Belcourt, North Dakota. Grandbois is a graduate of the American Indian Arts Institute in Santa Fe and is currently a member of the Art Center Board of Directors. His sculpture in this show stands in the quadrangle outside the Art Center, is marble and titled “Spirit Healer.” Grandbois’ choices for the show are Jim Vigil of Jemez Pueblo and Doborah Jojolla from Isleta.                                                   

Richard Guzman’s painting style has been described as robust, expressionistic, energetic with sweeping use of color and skillful harmonies. Guzman lives and paints in Truchas and exhibits his plein air paintings throughout the Southwest. Guzman teaches painting at the Art Center and said about art that, “I understand that the raw materials of art are everywhere, nonetheless a good work of art is highly improbable – it is in essence a small miracle.”

David Delano’s oil paintings and drawings of the human figure are displayed in the Portal Gallery in conjunction with “Roots.” Both exhibitions may be viewed through Feb. 13. The opening reception is from 5-7 p.m.  Jan. 8 in the Art Center at Fuller Lodge. For information call 662-9331 or visit www.artfulnm.org