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Art, Culture, and Cohousing ABQ

Updated: Dec 6, 2022

A painting by Marriott Sheldon from her recent trip.

New Mexico has called me for some time. My third trip to New Mexico in early October had a twofold mission–to meet the amazing Cohousing ABQ crew and to experience the art and culture of the northern New Mexico area. For a while, I’ve been intrigued by the concept of intentional community with opportunities for meaningful relationships and shared values caring for Mother Earth. Cohousing ABQ is compelling because of my fascination with the Southwest region and my passion for everything art.

New Mexico colors. Photography by Marriott Sheldon.

I am an artist and art coach currently living in North Carolina and have taught in several colleges. During one memorable Art and Visual Culture class at Bergen Community College in New Jersey several years ago a student gave a presentation about Georgia O'Keeffe which prompted great conversation–her intriguing work, success as a female artist during the early 20th century, life with Alfred Stieglitz in New York City and later the bold move to Abiquiu, New Mexico. During the class session the students and I recognized O’Keeffe as 'The Mother of American Modernism’–an accurate title! I do believe Georgia herself has beckoned me to play.

View of landscape near Ghost Ranch with Pedernal Mountain that O’Keeffe often painted and referred to as ‘her mountain.’

During a tour of the Cohousing ABQ land I saw how wonderfully rustic and natural the land and surrounding area is as well as the close proximity to Old Town Albuquerque. We walked to the Bosque and saw trails, cottonwoods, and the adjacent neighborhood. I imagined the enjoyment of walking or riding a bike on the path through the Bosque.

Curious about the origins of the rich creative culture I started learning more about the complex history of the Native Americans and the Spanish colonists, the Santa Fe Trail, artists and art colonies and other events that influenced and helped shape the cultural tapestry.

Some of the earliest artists and artisans in the area–now known as the Ancestral Puebloans–lived in New Mexico and across the Southwest for perhaps 11,000 years and were very creative people. Their life included a naturalistic religion with community ceremonies, a complex system of roads and extensive trade routes. The Ancestral Puebloans were architects of magnificent cities including a civilization in Chaco Canyon that built the largest structure in the Western hemisphere until the late 1880’s. They were basket weavers and potters. They wove blankets and used natural vegetable dyes.

Rich desert colors at Echo Amphitheater show the beautiful palette that influenced Ancestral Puebloan artistry and inspire artists today.

When the Spanish arrived in 1540 they named the native people in the villages 'Pueblo' meaning community or village. Organized communal settlements made them resistant to attack by outsiders and colonists and they retained much of their culture and way of life. Within 100 years after the Spanish arrived, however, more than 50% of the Pueblo population was gone, probably due to disease brought by the Spanish and prolonged drought. Despite those losses, today there are 23 tribes located in New Mexico–19 Pueblos, three Apache tribes and the Navajo Nation.

Creative, resilient people who designed and built communal dwellings, held ceremonies and honored the land…what an inspiration for a co-housing community!

Hiking in the Sandia Mountains to the east of the city with a cohousing member I saw the desert up close, the white sandy soil, cacti and other vegetation with tiny unexpected blooms. These are foothills but provide fabulous views of the city. The Pueblo Revival architecture in Albuquerque and throughout New Mexico was inspired by the Taos Pueblo and historic adobe structures.

Artists and art-lovers continue to flock to New Mexico.
San Antonio de Padua Catholic Church in Dixon, NM, is an historic example of traditional architecture.

Beginning in the 1890’s, anthropologists and archeologists, artists and writers streamed into Santa Fe and Taos. The Taos Society of Artists formed in 1912 and Santa Fe art colony began in the 1910’s. In 1921, 'Los Cinco Pintores' had a show declaring their goal was to "take art to the people and not surrender to commercialism”–a manifesto I totally love.

Arts patron Mable Dodge Luhan arrived in Taos from New York City in the 1920's along with writer and artist friends and among her visitors was Georgia O’Keeffe whose art drew deeply on New Mexican light and color. Photographers, writers, painters, sculptors, weavers, printmakers and potters, many of Navajo and Apache heritage, contributed to the dynamic that evolved.

The traditions and wildlife of New Mexico continue to inspire its artists, as in this work in a current gallery exhibition.

Santa Fe is now one of the top art markets in the country and was named a UNESCO Creative City. My own highlights in visiting the area included music performances at an art collective in Taos, an exhibit at the Sculpture Center in Taos, plein air painting near Ghost Ranch, and an artist's talk in the Railyard District in Santa Fe.

But Albuquerque itself is also a center for art and artists. The city has the distinction of being an important center for the film industry and home to a major university, the University of New Mexico. While there, I got to take in the Albuquerque Folk Festival as well as the colors of the Corrales farmers market.

Albuquerque has much to offer including easy access to incredible mountains with lots of recreation including hiking, rafting, and a ski basin that I’m sure would entice my sons. Many pictures of the desert-mountain-sky-landscapes will serve as references for abstract paintings in my studio.

While I already had one good friend in Albuquerque, after this visit I am glad to say I have many more! Members of Cohousing ABQ welcomed me and with each person I felt a real connection.

Getting to know cohousing means making new friends who are co-creating community together.

This truly is the land of enchantment, and much enriched by its art and artists, but it is the people who made my visit unforgettable and the possibility of Cohousing very enticing. From my perspective Cohousing ABQ honors and reflects the vibrant culture of New Mexico and, one might say, is an art form of its own!

- Mariott

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