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An interview with Ruth Tatter, co-founder of Los Alamos Museum of Art

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By Mandy Marksteiner

Marksteiner:  How did you first come up with the idea for LAMOA?

Tatter: My mother was living in a condo in Los Alamos and one of her neighbors was a gentleman who had an incredible art collection. He had been collecting for a long time and was looking for a place to put it.

Los Alamos needs to have this place where these collections can go. There’s a scientific history here that has been well documented, but there's a cultural history that goes along with this of art and artists who've been here from the beginning.                                                                                                              

These early collectors are not getting younger and their collections will be gone if we don't do something.

First, our big push is to get a place. Once we have a place the collections can all come there.

The collectors can write it in their will or give them to us as a tax-deductible donation. Currently all the collectors are storing the collections in their own homes. So again, the urgency is to get a place for these before they disappear.

I feel an urgency about this. It has to happen and it has to happen soon.

Marksteiner: What will the museum be like?

Tatter: It will be an eclectic museum of collections.

We’d like it to be a hands-on museum. We'd like to be a museum where people would come to spend time, not just walk through.

Another part of what we would do, is to preserve the stories of the collectors and artists.

It will be a comfortable place, with easy chairs so you sit down and look at a piece. As you're sitting down, someone else comes and sits next to you and you start a conversation. It will be a meeting place, with art and atmosphere. Where you have time to think.

We'd also like to involve the scientific community and have programs on art and science. There are so many things that would involve the entire community in one way or another and I think that would make for a museum that would be really attractive to the whole region, be different and it could sustain itself.

Marksteiner: Why would people choose to give their art collections to LAMOA, rather than pass it down to their children?

Tatter: It’s a concern because these people are very attached to their collection, and while their children may pick a couple of their favorites, they may not want the entire collection. They just don't want stuff.

The kids are taken care of monetarily, so it's not like they're losing out. The biggest fear is that these incredible works of arts would be sold on eBay for less than they’re worth.

Also, most of the collectors would like their body of work kept together. It’s their legacy and they have put a lot of thought into it.

Marksteiner: Who else is involved?

Tatter: We have Elena Perez, who is on the Art in Public Places board. We've got Amy Bjarke, who works at the Fuller Lodge Art Center. Don Taylor, who is a photographer. Dick Martin who is like the world's best board member. Judith Stauber, who's the history museum director. And there is Karen Wray, who owns the Karen Wray Gallery.

Marksteiner: How close is the idea of the LAMOA to becoming a reality?  

Tatter: We’ve filed our paperwork. We have our 501(C)3, we're a nonprofit tax exempt. We have our mission statement. We have devised educational programs for students, adults and seniors, and we’ve created an outreach program. We have promised collections.

Marksteiner: Who has promised art so far?

There are several people who have already promised to give us their collections… but if we don't have a place we may never get them.

There's a collector in White Rock who has a wonderful collection of western art, and also a collection of bronze elephant statues.

We could incorporate those elephants into our educational programs, especially for little children. For example, we could place elephants in various places throughout the museum so the very young people would have to look and find them. And then we would periodically change them so the repeat children would always have something to do.

We have a promised collection of accordions, and they are gorgeous.

Part of what we want to do is incorporate all the arts, not just visual arts. And one of the things that we'd like to do is incorporate music, dance, and literature. And so, the accordion collection would fit in because they're key instruments in different types of music throughout the world.

Marksteiner: Why is art collecting so appealing to people in Los Alamos?

Tatter:As a species, we're collectors, and we always have been. We are continually collecting. How many likes did you get on your Facebook post? How many bicycles do you own? How many books or records or video games? These are all collections and our minds are kind of organized that way.

I think it's just a natural thing to collect, and some people have the inclination and the finances to collect good art.

Mandy: Why is it important that you include art that has been acquired through world travel?

Tatter: It's who we are. It is part of the story of the scientific community. It reflects the history of people who have had the ability to travel.Many of them have been sent around the world for work and for leisure and it is part of what Los Alamos is all about.

Join us this Thursday for a special reception at the Karen Wray Gallery

The LAMOA will host a reception from 5-7 p.m. today where the board and volunteers will display their own artwork. The community is invited to come and get to know the members of LAMOA. It will take place at the Karen Wray Gallery, located at 1475 Central Ave Ste 125, in Los Alamos. Find out more about the Los Alamos Museum of Art at https://www.lamoa.us/.