Saturday, December 1, 2018

My Love of Landscape – Part 9

Part 9 of My Love of Landscape:  The Return to New Mexico

An Unexpected Spring Snow 12x16 Oil
Outside my studio in Timberon

Traveling from one beautiful landscape to another equally beautiful is the common thread that stitches together my years.  I don't think I've ever lived in an "ugly" place.   Of course, there are plenty of places I travel through that are ugly.  How would I define "ugly"?  Let me start by defining "beautiful."  A beautiful landscape to me is rich with a variety of terrain:  hills but also flats, woods but also open land, streams but also perpetually dry patches.  The beautiful landscape possesses an engaging and perhaps unexpected texture that invites exploration.  To use a few art history terms, I enjoy the picturesque, the pastoral and the sublime.  (Here's a good article on what these terms mean.)  As for signs of human activity, the beautiful landscape might include a few, perhaps a road, a barn or a utility pole, but they are only accents to the landscape and not the focus.

Now to define the "ugly" landscape.  It is what remains when you remove the beautiful.  Think wind turbines, skyscrapers, dumpsters, six-lane highways, traffic crossings.  Of course, I may choose to paint these, but for me the subject then is the abstraction of pattern, color and value, which can be beautiful, and not the thing itself, which cannot be.  Much of the landscape I pass through on my travels—cities, urban sprawl and the industrialized farmland—is like this.  But I learned something from teaching workshops on the road:  The inhabitants of these landscapes are always proud of the places they take me to paint.  Beauty is a personal thing, and you seek it where you live.

Carissa Springs in Timberon

Timberon, in the southern Sacramento Mountains of New Mexico, is where we ended up after Burke Hollow, Vermont.  Not many people, even in New Mexico, have heard of it, and with good reason, as it is far into the mountains.  To get there, start at Cloudcroft (8600 feet elevation), follow the road south 17 miles to Sunspot (9200 feet) and the Sunspot Solar Observatory, and then continue another 16 miles to Timberon (6900 feet.)  Near Sunspot, the road passes broad parks of grassland and thick stands of Douglas fir, and from the road you can catch views of White Sands National Monument, the distant San Andres mountains and, sometimes at dusk, herds of elk.  Toward Timberon, fir gives way to ponderosa, and the road follows the Sacramento River; at one spot, in monsoon season, a seasonal waterfall cascades over walls of crusty travertine.

Timberon was originally a vast ranch.  Back in 1969, it was bought by a developer who put in an airstrip, a golf course, many miles of gravel road and a water system.  Because the development was difficult to access, A-frame homes were flown in by helicopter; prospective buyers arrived via airplane to view what was being sold as an exclusive community.  I suppose it was a little too exclusive, as the developer went bankrupt, and a water district was formed to take over the water system and roads.  By the time we arrived, the community had a restaurant, two small convenience stores, a post office and a golf course.  The last 16 miles were still unpaved, and it took a good hour for us to get to the grocery store in Alamogordo, for a total of 45 miles.

Jeffries Peak in summer...

...and winter

Strangely, our house had been previously owned by a prepper who was worried about Y2K; or so the Realtor said, by way of explaining the cabinets filled with #10 cans of salmon and other staples.  But since my restaurant days were long over, we donated the canned goods to the local Lions Club.  The house also had an attached guest house, which prompted us to start our first "Pastel Intensive" workshop, where a student could live with us for a time and receive instruction.  A one-car garage we converted into a studio with lots of windows to let in the strong New Mexico sun.  From our front porch, we had a spectacular view of 8600-foot Jeffries Peak.  (I painted this so many times that I began to consider it Timberon's answer to Cezanne's Mont Sainte-Victoire.)   Beyond our house, we enjoyed many quiet roads for walking, and one that we especially liked, at the far end of the community, that overlooked the Otero Mesa and the Cornudas Mountains to the southeast.  The violets and pinks and oranges of that distant, desert landscape provided a welcome contrast to the green of the Sacramentos.

My studio

I didn't have much to do in Timberon but paint, write and explore.  But I needed to make a living.  Even with the cash infusion from my law firm job and the house sale, we were at a point where we needed to consider our financial future.  Although I continued to do web design for the developer in Grants and even had a few clients of my own, I felt that painting and writing would be my true path.  I have to admit, as organized as I am and as much a planner as I am, I've always taken the intuitive approach when it comes to making a living.  I first feel my way toward figuring out a goal; and only then do I construct a plan to get there.  I allow a certain amount of serendipity in my life.

Several events occurred in Timberon that sent me on my way to where I am today:

  • I connected with Cloudcroft Art Workshops.  They invited me to sit on a workshop being taught by artist Ann Templeton, who lived in nearby Ruidoso.  During the day, I had lunch with Ann—and when she learned I wrote for Pastel Journal, she asked, "Would you like to write an article on me?"  Thus began a long relationship with a dear lady who became my mentor, a friendship that included writing her 30-year retrospective, The Art of Ann Templeton.   
  • The Hubbard Museum of the American West in Ruidoso invited me to have a one-man show and to teach a workshop for them; this lead to a commission for a local architect and more workshops. 
  • Pastel Journal passed on a request to me from an arts group in Michigan, which asked if I would be interested in teaching a workshop in Traverse City.  I'd never thought of teaching more than just locally.  But I accepted, this prompted me to approach other groups to teach.  Thus began my traveling for workshops all over the US and in Canada.
  • Trina and I helped start a co-op gallery in Cloudcroft.  This was our first (and last) co-op gallery experience.  The gallery ended up having managerial issues, but thanks to it, we met other fine artists who lived in the area.  It also made us wary of ever joining a co-op again.
  • Thanks to Ann, I got into two galleries, one in Ruidoso and the other, in San Patricio.  The Bensons of Benson Fine Art in San Patricio truly loved art—their personal collection included Edgar Payne and Maynard Dixon—and their love showed in the way they handled their artists.  I was saddened when Peter died and Judy needed to close the gallery.  Such a strong, two-way relationship with a gallery is uncommon today.
  • I  became friends with artist Bob Rohm after taking his workshops at both Ghost Ranch and Cloudcroft, and I also helped him on his book.
  • I met master painter Albert Handell for the first time at a workshop I took from him in Sedona.  Since Ann passed away, Albert has become both mentor and close friend.  I am honored that he has such confidence in me that he has asked me to assist him in some of his workshops.

My show at the Hubbard Museum of the American West

Location for the co-op gallery

Ann Templeton in her studio

And as always, Trina and I explored the local landscape—Monjeau Peak, Sierra Blanca, White Sands, Cloudcroft, Ruidoso and the Capitans—as well as further afield in the Four Corners, including southern Colorado (Pagosa Springs, the San Juan Mountains), which we would like to spend more time in.

I will leave off writing this memoir here with Timberon.  Of course, my love of landscape continued and lives on today, but there is so much more I could write, and perhaps some day I will.  But I suppose I should offer a summary before closing.

Not long after settling in Timberon, we purchased a home by the ocean on Campobello Island, in New Brunswick, Canada.  Then we sold the one in Timberon, and—still loving the Southwest—bought another near Sedona, but finally sold that one after several years, too.  Today, we live again in New Mexico, not far at all from where we landed when we first came west to live.  In fact, the other day we took a nostalgic hike among the pink granite hills near the ranch and up to the fluorite mines.  From the top of the ridge, I could see again the broad, beautiful vista, the one I'd first seen nearly 20 years ago, the vista that includes the Narrows, the sandstone mesa that rises up from the lava fields, and the Datil Mountains, which still glow in the evening sun.  This is a beautiful landscape, which I share with the many people, including the Zuni and Navajo, who live nearby.
Walking in Beauty: Closing Prayer from the Navajo Way Blessing Ceremony 
In beauty I walk.
With beauty before me I walk.
With beauty behind me I walk.
With beauty above me I walk.
With beauty around me I walk.
It has become beauty again.
Today I will walk out, today everything negative will leave me.
I will be as I was before, I will have a cool breeze over my body.
I will have a light body, I will be happy forever, nothing will hinder me.
I walk with beauty before me. I walk with beauty behind me.
I walk with beauty below me. I walk with beauty above me.
I walk with beauty around me. My words will be beautiful.
In beauty all day long may I walk.
Through the returning seasons, may I walk.
On the trail marked with pollen may I walk.
With dew about my feet, may I walk.
With beauty before me may I walk.
With beauty behind me may I walk.
With beauty below me may I walk.
With beauty above me may I walk.
With beauty all around me may I walk.
In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, lively, may I walk.
In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, living again, may I walk.
My words will be beautiful.
And so my love of landscape continues.  Every day, I enjoy a communion with it.

Evening Light 8x10 Oil
Part of our property in Timberon

Fallen Hero 6x9 Pastel
Lots of these on our property

In the San Juans 12x16 Pastel

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