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Summer of Color

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From orange-winged butterflies to crimson rugs and turquoise jewelry, Santa Fe celebrates the season with a boldly hued series of exhibitions across the city.

By Eric Wybenga

Peruvian artist Zenovia Paricela at the International Folk Art Market.
Peruvian artist Zenovia Paricela at the International Folk Art Market.

The mere mention of the Southwest evokes a world of intense color. Beginning Memorial Day, Santa Fe celebrates this distinctive palette with Summer of Color, in which the city’s museums will feature specific Southwestern colors in their exhibitions through Labor Day.

Museum Hill serves as the focal point. At the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture you’ll find Turquoise, Water, Sky, highlighting the museum’s collection of turquoise jewelry. Next door,
the Museum of International Folk Art features The Red that Colored the World, a visual exploration of cochineal, an insect dye responsible for the brilliant red of traditional Southwestern textiles. The Santa Fe Botanical Garden takes the color outside, with a profusion of orange plants and blooms honoring the endangered monarch butterfly.

Many of Santa Fe’s more than 200 galleries are also organizing shows around colors of their own choosing. The New Mexico Museum of Art, meanwhile, puts the full spectrum on display with Colors of the Southwest, from the chamisa yellow and sage green that punctuate the desert floor to the brooding purples of twilit canyons. Drawn from the museum’s extensive permanent collection, the exhibition represents artists, from the early 20th century to the present, who have found a muse in the region’s unique qualities of color and light.

“I’ve tried to show different times
of day and different times of year,” says curator Carmen Vendelin, “but also
just work that really has a strong visual impact and is very beautiful.” That beauty manifests in a surprising variety of media and subject matter, from more traditional landscape painting by artists such as E. Martin Hennings of the celebrated Taos Society of Artists to the works of ceramicist Eddie Dominguez.

“Growing up in the desert Southwest, I was always influenced by the color that surrounded me,” says Dominguez, who cites the extraordinary range of greens, blues and pinks he finds here. His sculptural ceramics reflect that variegated landscape in bright, contrasting glazes.

A persistent theme running through the show is the Southwest’s power to transform artists. “The high desert views and colors are mind-blowing to anyone arriving there for the first time,” attests Mitchell Johnson, whose Cerrillos (Clouds IV), painted in New Mexico, represents a dramatic departure from his more abstract work. In the Southwest, Johnson, like so many before and after him, has discovered “the drama of the broad bands of earthy reds and yellows, foiled against the ocean of sky, challenging all artists’ ideas about color.”

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