When Rena Rosequist arrived in Taos for the first time, in 1960, she could hardly have imagined that she would wind up running an art gallery here for over five decades.
The gallery in question, the Mission Gallery was founded by Ivan Rosequist in 1962 and Rena became its first manager. Having studied art and art history at the University of North Carolina and later at Black Mountain College, she was a good fit, and stayed on in more than one role.
In 1970 she and Ivan Rosequist married and continued to run the Mission Gallery together for 23 years before his death.Rena had been married once before and had two young sons from her marriage to Joel Oppenheimer, an American poet associated with both the Black Mountain poets and the New York School. He was the first director of the St. Marks Poetry Project (1966–68).
Oppenheimer was best known for his columns in the Village Voice from 1969 to 1984. Oppenheimer met and married Rena Furlong while at Black Mountain. He left the school in January 1953 without taking a degree, eventually settling in New York and working in a print shop while continuing to write poetry. He died in October of 1988.
I got to know Joel when I lived in the city. When I met and fell in love with my second husband, Sonny Boy (Mark) Robinson, he and Joel and Rena’s son Danny, were sharing an apartment on Bleeker Street and had founded a punk band together, The Lords.
Joel lived at Westbeth, the artist’s community, and the three of us would often visit him there, in his book lined study. When I met Danny and Sonny, I’d already heard about Taos, but between them, they convinced me I had to see it for myself, which I soon did.
Rena and Danny have always been a part of my daughter’s lives. Sonny and Danny remain close friends. Rena has long been a force in Taos, not only in the Arts but with regard to Preservation of Historical sites in the neighborhood that housed the Mission Gallery, including the Couse property. She has always been vocal and passionate about the legacy of our town.
When I visited Rena one morning at her gallery a year ago, there was no indication she’d be moving on from her familiar perch in the little office at Mission, any time soon.
Although our conversations were rarely about art or business – we discussed our kids mostly, and grandkids – I asked how she felt about being there still and she smiled.
“I have always been interested in art,” she said. “Though I never wanted to be an artist, I always have had many friends who were artists or writers, creative people.”
“I like working with them.” She said. “It gives me pleasure to help them.”
Helping people has long been her forte’. Her dear friend and long time neighbor Polly Raye, credits Rena for helping her find the converted church that borders the Couse property.
Last October, The Couse Foundation and Rena Rosequist issued a joint statement announcing that the Foundation had agreed to acquire from Rosequist the building owned by her that houses the Mission Gallery as well as an attached rental space.
Rosequist said that the transaction will help to facilitate her vision of a new beginning for the property her husband, Ivan Rosequist, acquired more than 50 years ago.
“Although the Mission Gallery will be closed, the property, as a part of the Couse-Sharp Historic Site, will continue to enhance the reputation and history of Taos as a vibrant destination for artists and art lovers from around the world,” the Press Release stated.
A couple of weeks ago, Rena’s son Dan Oppenheimer arrived to help his brother Nick move their mother to a smaller, more efficient space. Although his once jet black hair has turned white, and my once raven locks are shot with silver, it’s as if no time has passed when we see one another; we are still young, living on the edge of the Zeitgeist.
Times change, we all get older. The above image of Rena at Black Mountain reminds us that this very beautiful young woman now looks back over almost a Century of life; more than half of it spent in Taos.
Rena, who is now in her 80’s, thankfully has her sons, Nick and Danny keeping close tabs on her. One wonders what she’d be up to next if they didn’t?
No doubt another gallery or two.
The Mission Gallery was the oldest gallery under continuous ownership in New Mexico. For more from Rena, see the link below.
Except for the b&w shot of Rena at Black Mountain, these pictures were taken in the Mission Gallery a year ago this week, on my iphone. Rina and I had a lovely chat that morning. We laughed and shared more than a few memories and stories.