Silver City/Grant County
The latest area art happenings.
Local art icon Harry Benjamin, 67, died May 2 at his home/gallery/studio, What's a Pot Shop, on the corner of Yankie and Arizona streets in Silver City. Benjamin was Desert Exposure's cover artist in May 2004 and July 2007, and was profiled in-depth in the latter issue ("Still Wild About Harry").
A Grant County native, born Sept. 5, 1945, Benjamin and his two brothers grew up in Bayard, where their father's Texaco station was described by one childhood friend as "a scene right out of Mayberry." He was introduced to art at an early age by two aunts who painted, and his artistic abilities were recognized and encouraged by Cobre High School art teacher Ken Sparks. He briefly attended the California School of Arts and Crafts in Los Angeles, but grew homesick and returned to Grant County, where he completed his formal education at what is now Western New Mexico University, earning an art degree.
In 1967 he became involved with efforts to open a museum in the historic H.B. Ailman House, due to be vacated by the Silver City Fire Department. Benjamin served as founding curator of the Silver City Museum, with lodgings in a one-room apartment upstairs provided in partial compensation. (See "Making History," June 2007.)
He and his assistant, Susan Berry (who would follow him as museum director), came up with the idea of a gazebo for Gough Park as a local Bicentennial project and garnered Town Council support for its construction. After an unsuccessful attempt to save the community's old railroad depot from demolition, they organized the Silver City Historic Development Association, a proto-MainStreet group for downtown improvement. The Big Ditch Park project emerged out of this organization.
By night, the museum workroom became Benjamin's studio, where he stayed up late creating paintings, ceramic art, sculptures, assemblages and collages in a wide variety of media (including latex house paint, asphaltum and scavenged elements from his own bowling trophies). In 1976 Harry and fellow artists Beth Menczer, Polly Hughes and Eric Montoya opened Pentimento, one of the first downtown studio-galleries, on South Bullard Street. He later bought the old Silver Freight Lines warehouse at the corner of Yankie and Arizona. It would be his home, studio, and gallery/shop for more than three decades.
Benjamin moved into his new property and became a full-time artist in 1982, after nearly 10 years at the museum's helm. He opened What's a Pot Shop?, creating a nucleus around which the Yankie Street art district gradually gathered. His property was perhaps his largest work of art — a constantly changing, visually stunning environment that was featured in an HGTV documentary on nontraditional homes.
His paintings, especially his monumental landscapes, became sought-after collectors' items, but he lavished equal attention on smaller creations. The pots that were his stock-in-trade featured painted landscapes and designs influenced by ancient cultures. His iconic corn angels have "flown" throughout the world, along with a heavenly host of clay angels in other forms. The Silver City Museum celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2007 with a Benjamin retrospective.
In 2008, Benjamin's colleagues nominated him for a Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts, New Mexico's highest honor for lifetime artistic achievement. They kept the nomination a secret, knowing he would have objected. Friends from around the country traveled to Santa Fe to attend the award ceremony.
In a typical act of generosity, Harry Benjamin left his estate to two cultural entities that were important to him throughout his adult life. He willed his downtown property to the Silver City Museum Society, and his artwork and personal effects were left to the WNMU Expressive Arts Department to benefit a scholarship fund established in his name. Contributions to the Harry Benjamin Expressive Arts Fund may be sent to the WNMU Foundation, PO Box 1158, Silver City, NM 88062, (575) 538-6310.
A downtown celebration of Harry Benjamin's life, hosted by his friends from the arts community, will take place Saturday, June 15. Details are pending.
Looking back on his key role in sparking Silver City's museum and arts scene, Harry Benjamin told a Desert Exposure interviewer in 2007, "We were just a bunch of friends, running around together, doing things together. We all thought it was just so much fun! That's why we did it. It was fun."
He smiled and shrugged, then added, "I mean, if it's not fun, why do it?"
Oil painter Chris Alvarez will teach a special outdoor workshop, "Paint the Town in Oils," exploring the streets and scenes of Silver City, June 28-30, sponsored by Leyba & Ingalls Arts. Cost is $250 and pre-registration is required. 315 N. Bullard, 388-5725, www.LeybaIngallsARTS.com.
The Community Arts and Crafts Street Fair/Market is back for its sixth year, downtown at 703 N. Bullard St. every Saturday from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. 313-6468.
March 2013 cover artist Louise Sackett is now opening her Wind Canyon Studio on Mondays and Wednesdays, 9 a.m.-4 p.m., and by appointment. 11 Quail Run, off Hwy. 180 mile marker 107, 574-2308, (619) 933-8034.
Two Spirit Gallery, 313 N. Bullard, has closed its doors.
The 2013 Silver City Clay Festival has announced that it will feature a three-day Juried Vendor Fair showcasing clay-related work by local and regional artisans, including books, clothing, pottery, jewelry and more. The Vendor Fair will be held at the former Workshops of Carneros at 405 N. Bullard St., downtown, August 2-4. Hours will be Friday and Saturday 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
The Clay Festival will showcase tile, pottery, adobe and natural building processes. The festival, July 27-August 4, will include workshops, demonstrations, sales and exhibitions of clay art of all kinds; child-friendly activities; lectures, tours and films; receptions, dances, an opening-night gala, an adobe labyrinth build workshop; a poker tournament fundraiser and more. For more details, see www.clayfestival.com and watch for the preview in our July issue.
On display through June 8 at the Las Cruces Museum of Nature & Science is "ME=My Environment," featuring the photography of Ron Saltzman. This select group of wildlife images came from a photo safari on the Ladder and Armendaris Ranches in southern New Mexico. 411 N. Main St., 522-3120, www.las-cruces.org/museums.
The Main Street Gallery features "Capturing Cuba!," works by photographer Storm Sermay from a recent People to People Cultural Exchange trip to Havana, which he says was like an excursion in Peabody's "way-back" machine. The exhibit opens June 7, 5-7 p.m., and continues through June. 311 N. Main St., 647-0508.
The Las Cruces Arts Association's Mountain Gallery celebrates its first year with a Birthday Bash on June 7, 4-7 p.m. Currently on display are paintings in acrylic, encaustic, oil, pastel, silk and watercolor; fiber art; fused glass; jewelry; photographs and stained glass. 138 W. Mountain off Water Street, 652-3485.
Creative Harmony Gallery and Gifts will feature Roy Van der Aa in "An Evening with the Artist," June 14, 5-8 p.m. 220 N. Campo St., 312-3040.
The West End Art Depot is inviting Doña Ana County residents to submit works for a show that will open July 5. Works will be accepted at the gallery June 29 and 30, 12-3 p.m. each day. For information, email firstname.lastname@example.org. 401 N. Mesilla St., 312-9892
The Pastel Society of New Mexico is seeking entries for the 22nd Annual National Pastel Painting Exhibition, Nov. 1-24, at Expo New Mexico in Albuquerque. Digital entries are due August 15. For information, see www.pastelsnm.org or send SASE to PSNM-F, PO Box 3571, Albuquerque, NM 87190.
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