Time Travel: Where the past isn’t so easily found

I’ve visited a few sites here in New Mexico that are familiar to me because of my previous visits… at least, familiar in their latitude, longitude, and geography. In a matter of a few years (less than than twelve), many of these site have been transformed (mostly) by man and seem quite foreign to my photographic-memories.

I think there is a tendency to remember places and events through visual windows of our creation. In my case it’s through the photographs that I’ve made; for others it might be pure memory or remembering images that someone else made or placed into a scrapbook or shared on the web.

My memory of these places is connected first to the images I’ve made, and secondly to the events that surrounded their making. I made a few trips to New Mexico back in the mid-1990s with a group of students from Richland College (Dallas) as part of a class trip exploring infrared photography. I returned later to enlarge and expand that early work into a series I’ve entitled Terrible Beauty after being challenged by the Water in the West group’s presentation at the 1999 SPE (Society for Photographic Education) conference in Tucson.

Those images served a purpose then (commenting on water usage in arid regions), but today they serve as a reminder that we live in a very ephemeral trajectory. Nothing is stable, but I wish that time weren’t rushing by so fast as to make the more memorable places, people, and things unrecognizable within my own lifetime…. and certainly not within a mere decade. This is not the case with Truchas or Chimayo, New Mexico. Each place has undergone rapid change and in many cases (in my opinion) not always for the better, especially Chimayo. It’s a point also made by John Nichols in his novel, The Milagro Beanfield War, that pits older established ways of life with new residents, alternative lifestyles, and an inevitable collision of cultures. What was true for Nichols (and most of Northern New Mexico) in the 1960s, seems equally true today.

infrared photograph

Consider Truchas, once a small, quiet, and slightly derelict mountain village that I first photographed in 1995. Today Truchas has given way to an onslaught of art galleries enabled partly by the normal attrition process of aging home owners leaving the place or planet and the younger generation’s migration towards better job prospects in nearby cities. Add to that an influx of artists seeking to recreate themselves in this New Mexican mountain air (@8400 ft) landscape. I discovered one the first of these artist through a blog, The High Road Artrist, by Jeane George Weigel. She came to Truchas on a rather spiritual journey back about  2006. I found at least a dozen galleries on the main street alone and others just outside of the town limits.

The owner of Truchas’ general store commented that these new galleries contained art that “wasn’t very good.” While I don’t usually seriously consider unsolicited art criticism, I did sense these newcomers’ introduction hadn’t been totally welcomed. Whether the art was good or not wasn’t as important to me as to WHY there were now so many in a town that (as far as I remember) had none just a few years back.
The galleries of Truchas, NM

He offered these were rich or well-off individuals who were retired and perhaps pursuing a dream or something else to do which was personally satisfying. I could certainly understand that last part, but again…. WHY Truchas? It is on the “high road” to Taos, but still rather isolated.

What isn’t obvious is how much traffic comes this way during the ‘high season” summer months or possible connections to the art establishments of Santa Fe (38 miles to the south) and Taos (40 miles to the north) or how the entire area seems to be moving towards a self-fulling goal of becoming an art region like no other in the United States.

Robert Redford first put Truchas in the spotlight by filming John Nichol’s The Milagro Beanfield War in 1988. It’s hard to imagine that alone was the catalyst for Truchas’ popularity among artist, but it certainly isn’t hard to see the effect on Santa Fe that Redford’s presence and notoriety propelled. Santa Fe is routinely touted as a great place to live or visit… and I can distinctly remembering the press’ flurry over Redford sightings in the plaza and elsewhere and subsequent articles about Santa Fe in Time Magazine and others. Who knows? I’m trying to contact Ms. Weigel and John Nichols for some insight. Yes, I get obsessed about these things. Somebody has to, right?

Up next, Chimayo and the ‘branding’ of a religious icon.

2 thoughts on “Time Travel: Where the past isn’t so easily found

  1. Having just met you, I have to say I’m somewhat surprised by the tone of your article about Truchas. First let me say, and you acknowledged your mistake when you were here, I did not lead the way for other galleries here in Truchas. I’m a relative newcomer having been here only 4 1/2 years or so. Hand Artes Gallery has been in Truchas for 28 years and Cardona Hine Gallery for 25. These people paved the way. Harry Cordova is in the same weaving studio his parents and grand parents operated decades ago. Bill Loyd’s Bells has been here for at least 15 years and the Anna Karin Gallery, first started by my partner Anna Karin, has been here for 10 years. Add to that Castillo Gallery in Cordova, which has been open for over 20 years, and Centinela Traditional Arts, in Chimayo, which started in the early 80s, as well as Ojo Sarco Pottery in Ojo Sarco, which has been there for at least two decades, and one begins to see a clear pattern of art and artists living and working here on the High Road. In fact the Montez Gallery is the only “new” gallery in the village having moved from Santa Fe last season. The museum whose sign you show is a local woman who decided to pay homage to the many generations her family has lived in Truchas. In fact she comes from one of the original land grant families.

    As with everything and every place, you can find negative sentiments as well as positive. Those of us who are “new” to Truchas and have stayed, have been welcomed.

    As to the caliber of art found here, serious art collectors throughout the world find Truchas to be an important art-buying stop and international curators often comment on the serious work that is being produced on the High Road.

    I wonder about putting information out into the blogosphere, even if it is just your musings, without checking its veracity first. It’s rather insulting, being a very serious working artist, to be portrayed as a “rich or well-off retired individual.” That doesn’t describe me or any of my friends, most of whom have been earning livings from their art for decades. If we don’t sell, we don’t make it. No retirees, pension plans, or trust fund babies here.

    Change is a natural process of anything that is alive and vibrant. We can’t stop it. I like to think that the long line of artists in these villages have added, not detracted, from the culture here–just my hope and opinion–as valid as the “gentleman” you met in front of the store, I’m thinking.

    The real change occurred in these villages when Los Alamos Labs opened their doors and people left to find work there. That was the end of farming here and a way of life. Art did not end anything.

    Perhaps on your next trip to Truchas you will be able to see it with acceptance for what is, rather than a wish for it being what you perceived it to be in the past.

    • Hello Jeane,

      Thanks for your comments and perspective. I enjoyed our visit and did think you might be offended by Tafoya’s comments. The sentiments were expressed by him (not me) during our first conversation, and they are certainly off-hand, but are his response to my questions about where and how so many artists had found their way to Truchas. I think we agree he is no art critic… so his take on the art, artists, and galleries is a reflection of an insider who also views change in ways that are specific to his personal point of view. I think change looks different to everyone, but is always more positive when one is involved with the change, rather than being affected by change. He also shared that he shuts down the store during winter to find odd jobs in order to support himself… because customers choose to shop at Walmart in Espanola. Change comes at us from all directions.

      As an artist I thoroughly understand the difficulty in making a living from our work, especially when disconnected geographically from what we perceived as the major art markets. You’re introduction of Truchas as being ‘known” in the art collectors world was a wonderful insight into that world, so the answer to my original questions have been answered fully by you and (even more so now with) your current response to my blog. Thanks. As I expressed, I have a keen interest on how artist communities are developed, change, and evolve over time. Truchas will continue to be of great interest to me, and I hope we can continue this discussion and that you continue to prosper and thrive in the mountains.

      As my blog is essentially about me :-), I don’t always consider veracity as a goal. These truly are my musings or “Thoughts, Imagery, and Inspirations.” I think my lesson in this is that I’m responding to change in these ways because it continues to remind me that I’m getting older. I will continue to respond to my eyes and mind in ways that connect to my work, but becoming a serious writer isn’t a likely outcome.

      I’ll probably edit some of the text to better reflect who said what to create a clearer distinction between my thoughts and the sentiments of others…

      Viva Truchas

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