Thursday, April 9, 2009
Taos snapshots: art and agriculture
(Photograph used with permission from Chuck Henningsen)
While taking a brief family vacation in Taos, New Mexico, this week, I couldn’t help but think about agriculture, even though the economy there is clearly centered on tourism—outdoor sports, fine art, and Native American culture.
But agriculture certainly exists in Taos, if you look around a little. Some of my first impressions of it:
• A guy selling pinion nuts out of the back of his pickup.
• A small herd of scraggly cows grazing bone-dry range.
• A pickup load of red chili peppers parked in front of a grocery store.
• A truck pulling a flatbed of big square bales on Route 68 along the Rio Grande.
The agrarian roots of Taos are found at the Pueblo, the longest continuously inhabited community in the United States, and presumably birthplace to our oldest agriculture. The adobe homes we visited there were built between 1000 and 1450 A.D.
No obvious signs of extensive farming exist today. On the road through the reservation, I saw a few ranchettes that kept some horses. Like Taos itself, the industry at the Pueblo is in selling art to tourists. But, the tribe still celebrates a harvest festival every September. And local farmers bring their produce to a weekly farmers market in town.
We stayed in an old adobe cottage near the center of Taos, a place that turned out to make us neighbors to an artist from Iowa. Chuck Henningsen’s gallery was a short walk along an ancient irrigation ditch, up a lane flanking his aquatic gardens.
Henningsen graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in industrial engineering. He took his first job with Hewlett-Packard in the Bay Area and later started his own own company in Silicon Valley. Success in that business paved his way to the Southwest and to a long, successful career as a fine art photographer.
While touring his gallery, I discovered Henningsen's Midwest roots in a photograph of a corn crib he took in northeast Iowa.
On Monday, we sat in the middle of his gallery and talked about art and agriculture, in which time he told me about the recent hard times in Taos. Taos has had as many as 2,200 working artists, but the art world has shrunk to a fraction of what it was a year ago, he said.
The number of galleries likely will decline from about a hundred to less than half that this year. Art is "ethereal," he said. And, as such the arts have been the first to suffer in this depressed economy.
Seeing the connection of the old traditions of the Taos Pueblo, which gives the region its soul and authenticity, to the town's modern art and culture, one thinks of the Daniel Webster quote:
"When tillage begins, other arts follow. The farmers, therefore, are the founders of human civilization."
One hopes that the "other arts" of Taos will continue to flourish--along with the time-tested Pueblos.
Posted by John Walter at 11:03 AM