Magical May in Taos: Rebirth of the Human Spirit

By: Bill Whaley
3 May, 2013

In May Taosenos y Taosenas observe the spirit of nature–trees bud and flowers blossom—as the green spirit emerges while the climate expresses itself in fits and starts and the earth wakes up. Historically May Day celebrations combine the pagan festivals of Flora, the Roman goddess, and the Roman Catholic tradition that celebrates Mary’s month. In secular terms, May is the month to recognize the workers of the world and the liberation of Mexico, during Cinco de Mayo, from the European occupation.

Here in Taos, local gardeners plant flowers and vegetables, Hispanic parciantes and Taos Pueblo natives prepare their fields, irrigating, burning, tinkering with head gates and cleaning out laterals. And so merchants and artists in the town and villages also emerge to celebrate the arts of dining and the creative arts that commemorate the human spirit.

In the historic district on Bent St. Lambert’s Restaurant opened in the old Apple Street location in early April, creating joy among the merchants and hope for the summer season. Next week, Martyrs Steakhouse, a block north of Bent St. plans to open, followed shortly by Mosaic Fine Dining in La Fonda de Taos on the Plaza. Any day now Orlando’s new mid-town restaurant, called Station 316, a nostalgic paean to Levi Cohn’s gas and oil operation, and onetime home of found auto parts, will also open.

On Saturday, May 4, the Rancho Milagro Collection will feature its first show, highlighting the work of Jim Wagner and Jonathan Warm Day from 4-6 pm at 127 Bent St. You can inspect or buy blankets and treasures, art and books, or chat with friends at an opening, which promises to remind Taosenos of celebratory Saturdays when everyone turned out to join the muses. (Trudy says attendance is suggested if not mandatory.)

The Wagnerian oeuvre from the vast Rancho Milagro-Healy collection highlights the impish Jim, maypoles, flying women, the transfiguration of local adobes, pick-ups, and farmyard animals—chickens, pigs, sheep–into new and delectable objects of desire, suggestive of totems and fetishes–the epitome of magical Taos writ large. The Wagner fish, objects of pursuit, are much praised by Taos fishing maven, Taylor Streit, whose expertise connects John Nichols and Jim to man’s noble battles with trout fishing on the Rio Grande. One could ask oneself, is Jim Wagner the John Nichols of Taos Art or is John Nichols the literary equivalent of artist Jim Wagner?

And, too, you can pick up Jim Wagner, Taos, An American Artist (Rancho Milagro Productions, Taos, 1993) written by Steve Parks for $100. (The book sells today on Amazon in used versions from $75 to collectibles as high as $230.) According to Rancho Milagro Collection curator Steve Parks, and the collectors themselves, Ed and Trudy Valerio Healy, the artist has experienced a new burst of creativity during the last decade, refining his technique and exploring his imagination, surpassing his previous work in this–the golden age of Wagner.

The Rancho Milagro Collection also features the work of Jonathan Warm Day. The Taos Pueblo artist recently exhibited at the Harwood Museum of Art, where Jonathan’s unique vision could be seen as a family legacy. His mother, Eva Mirabal Gomez, who achieved fame for her cartoons, drawings, and paintings, has found an appropriate heir in her son’s light touch and representative images of story telling that commemorate both his individual talent and the customary rural culture of Taos Pueblo.

Many Taosenos and visitors are familiar with Jonathan’s Taos Pueblo: Painted Stories (Clear Light Publishing, Santa Fe, 2004), a sensitive depiction of historic and living Pueblo and a favorite purchase at bookshops and airports for visitors to the Southwest. Jonathan also illustrated a children’s tale, Kiki’s Journey by Kristy Orona-Ramirez (Children’s Book Press, San Francisco, 2006).

After visiting the unveiling of the Milagro Collection, you can join Tessa Cordova at the grand opening and celebration of LAS PISTOLERAS INTSTITUTO CULTURAL DE ARTE, 1219 Paseo del Pueblo Norte, El Prado, Saturday, May 4, from 5-9 pm. Described as EL ENCUENTRO: A CONTINUATION OF FAMILIA, COMUNIDAD, ACTIVISM AND ARTE, the opening will have food, entertainment, and door prizes. (For information, phone, 575-758-3227, Las Pistoleras land-line or 575-779-0445,cell.)

As Tessa Cordova says, “Las Pistoleras Instituto Cultural de Arte is a communal space where cultura, activism and the arts are at the forefront of community identity. It is a place that fosters and promotes organic intellectualism, formal education, community activism and all aspects of the arts. We encourage the practice of community rituals and traditions that enlighten and create healthy, educated, strategic environments which in turn create positive communities that thrive even in times of educational and political uncertainty. Ultimately, it is a space where Chicana knowledge is reflected and everyone else is respected. `It’s magical realism…but for reals.’”

You can finish up the weekend on Sunday, May 5, at the Harwood, where Hank Saxe will discuss is work and ideas at 1 p.m. According to the Harwood, “artist Hank Saxe, whose ceramic work is currently featured in the Joyce and Sherman Scott Gallery, will lead a free- ranging conversation focusing on the nine sculptures on view.

“Over four decades in Taos Saxe has investigated a wide spectrum of ceramic materials and processes, from crude clays and rock dug directly from the ground, to sophisticated industrial technologies. In Saxe’s work the artist’s resolve bumps up against the laws of nature, and the results are informed by a willingness to let the processes dictate outcomes. Geography, geometry, geology, biology, and architecture morph into one another in the featured sculptures. Saxe uses the ambiguity in his work to probe the boundaries between these fields.”

Museum admission is free to Taos County residents every Sunday.

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