Work By Women: Anita Rodriguez

Work By Women, opens at the Harwood Museum of Art, on February 10th, and could not be more timely.

Curated by Janet Webb and Judith Kendall, this powerful exhibition is truly worthy of a museum show. Janet moved to Taos from New York over 40 years ago, ran a design and marketing business, Webb Design Inc, that focused on print and internet solutions for travel destinations and businesses in the Fine Arts arena for 36 years. She’s a member of the Harwood’s Collections Committee,  

While in the process of curating the show, Janet and her friend and collaborator on this project, Judith Kendall, discovered buried treasures deep inside the Harwood collection. Art made by women over the decades, women with names familiar to Tasenos – Blumenschein, Corbett, Ufer, Reed, Benrimo, Lawrence, along with traditional and religious art made by anonymous Pueblo and Hispanic women,

Janet  says that with some difficulty, they narrowed their choice down to just 76 of these women, Women who have made art in Taos, informed by Taos.

In the gallery guide for this show, Janet notes that “The importance of community became clear to me as the stories of these artists intersected on many levels. At one point in our curatorial process Judy said, “Women create in community. Men create in isolation.”

“The constant theme here is women as pioneers, doing new things, often against the odds,” she said.  “And the number of relationships win the show is amazing: Mother daughters like Nora Anthony and Zoe Zimmerman, and Lesley Brown, her daughter weaver Kristina Brown Wilson and her daughter-in-law Suzanne Wiggin. There are (obviously) so many others.” Janet explained.

After hearing from Janet, I decided to talk to a few of the women (living), to get their thoughts on being included in this show.

Over the next week or so, I will feature them here on taoStyle.

I drove out to the neighborhood near the Country Club and UNM-Taos’ Klauer Campus, to visit my old friend Anita Rodriguez.

Anita was born and raised here in Taos. An accomplished painter and award-winning writer, she had a head start in the Arts, having had a mother who was an incredibly talented water colorist, who in fact came to Taos to paint.

Meeting (and marrying) Anita’s father, the local pharmacist at the time, she gave birth to two daughters, both of whom have accomplished great things, both here and further afield.

Anita’s brilliant book, Coyote In The Kitchen, (edited by Diana Rico), will tell you all you need to know about being Mestizo in Taos during the 40’s and 50’s; a hardscrabble existence even for one with as much privilege as Anita had (comparatively.)

All that aside, this remarkable woman only began making art in earnest in her forties, after running a construction company for years and earning a reputation as the best  enjarradora (fireplace builder) in the Land of Enchantment.

I arrived at the home Anita built for herself over two decades ago, when very few were building in the area. Now it is a full-fledged neighborhood,with kids and dogs running around. And speed bumps.

She was at her easel beside a big picture window overlooking Taos Mountain, painting. Several other canvases, both completed and as yet, unfinished were propped around the room, leaning on and against the furniture.

She tore herself away from the piece she was working on, to graciously invite me to sit down at her table, while she made a fresh pot of coffee.

I looked around the room, a comforting and familiar space for me, and relaxed as I waited for her to pour me a cup, before sitting down across from me. The walls vibrated with the heavily saturated color of the canvases hanging on them.

Anita’s work is included in many important collections, but until now, a show at the Harwood has evaded her. It’s the usual story of not being seen by your hometown, but that story is clearly changing.

Her daughter Shemai, is currently the Manager of Marketing, Media and Memberships at The Harwood Museum of Art, so her inclusion in this show is doubly meaningful.

As is our tendency when we get together, one pot of coffee soon turns to three, and conversation does not follow a linear trajectory; Anita, like the art she makes, casts a spell over all who enter her sanctuary studio, and like the magical realism of the stories of Garcia Marquez and Allende, one finds oneself outside of “real” time.

By the time I left, it was already late afternoon and we had covered so much ground, from birth to death and beyond, I hardly remembered where we had begun. Even my notes were a jumble that I could not makes sense of.

When I returned home, I emailed Anita, asking her to forgive my stupidity, and to once again answer the one question I had come there to ask.

How did she feel about this show, and being included in it?

She responded at once.

“I am so glad to see steps being made at long last to correct the glaring imbalance of female representation in the arts – and am especially proud to be included as a woman of color – a group even less visible.  When all the women of Taos Valley, Native and Hispana included, have the support, recognition and space as Mabel Dodge, Bea Mandelman and Agnes Martin, we will have a Fort Knox of incredible art. The world will be richer when 51% of our talent is liberated and taken out of the shadows and storage rooms!”

Thankfully, Janet Webb and Judith Kendall share her sentiments, and embrace that inclusion in Work By Women.

For more about Work by Women (and Anita Rodriguez), please visit the sites linked below this post.

Harwood Museum.

Anita Rodriguez

Anita’s award winning memoir, Coyota In The Kitchen, can be purchased from Amazon

Coyota In The Kitchen

Top image thanks to Anita Rodriguez, all others taken on my iphone.