Bond Cabin painting to fund restoration

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By Roger Snodgrass

The Valles Caldera National Preserve got a lot more out of Gary Morton than its first profitable season in the cattle business.

Not only did Morton regularly supply free cowboy coffee to early morning visitors at the property this summer, but he also spent the waning days of September on a special art project.

Morton and his wife Suzie rented the historic Bond Cabin as their residence for the grazing season, which ran for 120 days starting the first week in June. Morton was the contractor for the preserve’s cattle-grazing program this summer. His 2000 head of frisky young steers were fattening on the rich mountain grass and putting on about 300 pounds apiece over the four months.

A lifelong cowboy since he graduated from high school, Morton is also an established Western artist and cultural figure in the state. One of his oil paintings, the four-foot by eight-foot “Simple Pleasures of New Mexico” was commissioned by the state legislature and is on permanent and prominent display in the State Capitol in Santa Fe.

At the end of September, before the roundup was finished, he began a painting of the Bond Cabin, titled “Peace in the Valles,” and has donated the proceeds from the finished work to Los Amigos de Valles Caldera, the support group for the preserve.

The painting expresses the simple elegance of the log cabin in the mountains and the serenity of a moment out of time with two saddled horses hitched up, waiting outside.

The painting was on display during a Valles Caldera Trust meeting in Santa Fe last week.

Doug Fraser, Los Amigos’ chair, made a pitch for the public to buy a limited edition of lithographs of the painting, “Peace in the Valle.” Only 350 prints have been made and the first one was given to Sen.Pete Domenici, R-N.M., for his role in founding the preserve in 2000.

The prints will cost $225 each, including shipping and handling.

The Bond Cabin dates back to 1918 and is a candidate for listing on the National Register of Historic Places as one of the most outstanding features of the built environment in the unique volcanic caldera.

The cabin served as ranch headquarters from 1917 until the federal government purchased 89,000 acres of the property that was known historically as the Baca Ranch in 2000.

The building has been thoroughly researched and its history and current condition were thoroughly documented recently.

Frank Bond was a merchant from Española who ran sheep on the Baca Ranch. He leased it at first and later purchased the ranch.

After his death, Fraser said, Bond’s wife sold it to the Dunigan family in 1962. The Dunigans subsequently sold it to the federal government for $100 million.

“There’s no foundation, but a bunch of rocks, and the place is in need of repair,” Morton told the preserve’s trustees. “It’s a great house.”

If all the lithographs sell, he said, it would raise about $70,000 that could be applied toward restoring the house.

Judging by its recent portrait, the building seems to have worn its years with great dignity.

Information on how to purchase a lithograph is available at the Amigo’s website, http://losamigosdevallescaldera.org, or call Barbara Johnson at 505-474-6689 or Greg Kendall at 412-3843.