This weekend the Paseo Project once again takes its Festival to the streets of Taos.
Begun in 2014 by Matt Thomas and Agnes Chaves, The PASEO was founded first as a project of the Taos Fall Arts Festival, after Matt walked into their offices one day, proposed the idea and left the meeting with a check for five thousand dollars.
Together they established the mission, guidelines and project ethos.
Paseo’s original purpose was to connect the multiple venues of Fall Arts’ exhibitions with street activities to keep visitors engaged and moving. That first festival was one day (September 26, 2014) and approximately three thousand people attended. Fifteen installations were presented by twenty-six artists.
Last week I met with Agnes Chavez, and the Paseo Project manager, my pal and sometime collaborator, the fabulous Rita O’Connell, Matt would be joining us on Skype from Vermont, where he was doing an artist’s residency for two weeks.
I had invited Janet Webb to join us, and after a bit of confusion regarding the actual date, it got sorted, and she agreed to meet us at the HUB, a half an hour after our meeting started.
Rita was there when I arrived and after I told her about the confusion, she reminded me of the email I’d sent the week before, and her response.
“Fun trying to schedule a meeting with five of the busiest people I know! you’re a brave woman, Lynne.” She wrote.
Janet had responded right away to let me know she was traveling to Los Angeles that weekend, with her daughter Rachel Bell for the art opening of Taos artist Sasha Vom Dorp who happens to be Rachel’s husband, but that she would be back in time to meet with us.
Janet is no stranger to the L.A. Art Scene, having grown up there and come of age during the Sixties as the Scene was exploding into the Zeitgeist it would become a part of; a creative tidal wave that swept the planet.
Janet first met Larry Bell, her long time partner and father of her three children, in L.A. on that Scene.
She was married to her first husband (whose name she kept), who was involved with Gemini G.E.L.
Gemini was founded in 1966 when fine art printmaking was on the verge of both a technical renaissance and a new-found popularity. The initial focus of the print revival was devoted to lithography, primarily as a result of the training master printers received at the Tamarind Lithography Workshop, founded in Los Angeles in 1960.
One of those newly trained master printers, Kenneth Tyler, had a small shop in the city when, almost a half century ago, a pair of University of Southern California friends and fraternity brothers, Sidney B. Felsen and Stanley Grinstein discovered Tyler’s shop and saw that it had the potential to become a unique fine art workshop and publishing house.
Larry Bell and most other artists in L.A. at the time were in one way or another, connected to Gemini, so it was inevitable that she and Larry would eventually meet.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Two of the other artists Janet met during those Halcyon days in Southern California, were Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, both of whom would play pivotal roles in her transition from West Coast to the East.
Her gig as an illustrator was taking off; GQ gave her an eight page insert (“Black ink on brown Kraft paper.” She remembers.), and she was illustrating the covers of Butterick patterns, and mainly the up and coming New York designer, Betsey Johnson’s patterns for Butterick.
When her marriage ended, she decided to check out New York, where her clients were based.
I say hello and go to order myself something to eat while we talk. I’ve asked her to meet me here, because I feel her story and involvement with the Paseo adds so much cache’ to the already great concept Matt and Agnes conspired to gift our lucky town with!
Janet’s illustrious career has been well acknowledged in New Mexico. As the founder of Webb Design, Janet’s company had the monopoly on the way Taos was perceived by the outside world for close to four decades. Her influence on bringing art based tourism to New Mexico cannot be understated, and in fact was richly rewarded by the New Mexico Tourism Board with an Honorable Award upon her retirement.
Janet’s retirement (quote unquote),has provided her with an opportunity to reinvent her life yet again, or at the very least, to pick up where she once started.
For I digress. When Janet left L.A. for NYC, she stayed for a week at Jasper John’s home, which he kindly lent her while he was out-of-town. Robert Rauschenberg learning the young woman would be homeless upon his friend’s return, promptly offered her a gig house sitting his home for six months.
“You know those guys were probably only in their forties at the time,” Janet recalled, “but to me they were the Old Masters, and I was a bit in awe that they took me under their wing.”
Rauschenberg occasionally returned during those six months Janet spent in his home, and when he did, he’d throw parties.
“I’d help him cook for those parties, and met incredible people there, including John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Elaine de Kooning and many others – it was an amazing time.”
When the six months were up, Janet learned of a loft at 35 White Street that had belonged to the artist Barnett Newman and for the next few years it became home.
“There was a band of blue paint on one wall, “ she told me, “that was a relic from his time there.”
The Max’s Kansas City scene was in full swing during the early 70’s and Janet hung out there which is where she first ran into Larry again.
“In 1972 I was back in L.A visiting family, when I ran into him (Larry) at a party.” She smiled at the memory.
“I told him I was going back to N.Y. but was stopping in Denver to see my sister, and he said he was driving to N.Y and stopping in Denver and then Dallas for a show he was having, and invited me to go with him.”
“I had only met him a few times so I asked a few people if he was cool and they all said yes, go, so I did.”
They stopped in Taos en route.
“I remember thinking to myself, what kind of town is this? If Hopper and Dylan are here, it must be pretty cool.”
Needless to say after that road trip a long distance relationship began with the two of them crossing the country many times until Janet became pregnant with their first child, and they decided it was time to co-habitate.
“I didn’t want to live in L.A., and Larry didn’t want to live in N.Y., so we decided on Taos,” she told me.
She continued to keep a place in the city for many years, coming and going from Taos for work, even after founding her design business (Swan Studios) with Nancy Pantaleoni and Joan Lloyd. Joan soon left after a disagreement with Nancy and Nancy’s decision to focus mainly on Artlines (the late Steve Parks’ magazine) proved a deal breaker, so Janet, who didn’t want only one client, founded her own firm.
Webb Design took off beyond her wildest dreams and when she, Rachel and Sascha were in L.A. recently, they went to see the Judy Chicago Birth Project, (coming to the Harwood soon), and there in the catalogue credits is Janet Webb.
“I’m a footnote to history now,” she laughed. “Of course it was Webb Design and my staff who did the work,” she explained, “but I think she liked the fact it was a woman owned company so she used my name.”
Far more than a mere footnote, Janet continues to be at the epicenter of the Arts in Taos. She sits on the Boards of both SOMOS and The Paseo, and she recently co-curated (with Judy Kendall), a highly acclaimed show (Work by Women) at the Harwood Museum (where she is on the Collections committee), and continues to be involved in every aspect of marketing and promoting the Arts and Culture of El Norte via her blog and Website, Beyond Taos.
Which brings me back to the Paseo – the main street that runs through Taos – the artery connecting us to points North and South.
“How do you like it here now, after all these years, with all these changes?” I asked her.
“Oh I love it!” She responded immediately. “I think it’s a much better place to live.”
She is thrilled with the current Town Management and the direction they are taking.
“I think they are great,” she said. “Karina (Armijo) really knows what she’s doing and it can only get better.”
“The events in the park, the Mainstreet Project, the Lamp-post project – taking it to the street is the Paseo’s core vision as well.” She reminded me.
Speaking of streets, she singled out Civic Plaza Drive.
“Also don’t forget to add that this year the Paseo stands alone – it’s no longer part of Fall Arts, and you might want to mention that Matt recently paid them back that five thousand dollars seed money they gave him that first year!”
As we left, talk turned to our kids and grandkids. She was hurrying home to meet the school bus. Her three oldest grand children were coming to her after school.
I told her I had a new one on the way – my daughter Angelica is expecting her third.
“We are so blessed,” she said, smiling.
We walked to the end of the Plaza before turning to go our respective ways.
“We really are, “ I responded. “And what a great time it is to be right here!” In no small part due to Janet’s hard work over the past four decades, she’s lived in Taos
Janet’s site Beyond Taos is a must read for anyone visiting Taos and the surrounding region. Bookmark it if you are planning a trip, or if you fell in love with The Land of Enchantment on your last one, and want to keep a finger on El Norte’s pulse.
Portrait of Janet Webb by Zoe Zimmerman.
Other images of Larry Bell, Robert Rauschenberg (with Merce Cunningham and John Cage, with Jasper Johns in L.A.), Dennis Hopper, Max’s Kansas City and vintage Taos, Stock Files