Artists began coming to New Mexico in the late 19th century. They came from around the United States, drawn by dazzling New Mexico deserts, the hospitality of town and village life, and the Indian and Hispanic cultures that had shaped the imaginative landscape of New Mexico for centuries. For an artist, New Mexico offered a rich mix, and between art and odd jobs, they made a living for a few decades—until there was no more work.
When President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal planners offered American artists jobs, the New Mexico artists picked up their brushes and chisels, and for about 10 years, from 1933 to 1943, signed onto federal programs to make art for their communities.
The McKinley County Courthouse New Deal Art Collection celebrates the work of 10 of the more than 160 New Deal artists who lived and worked in New Mexico. Their rich interpretations of that experience and a selection of the work they produced is what this web site is all about.
The McKinley County Courthouse New Deal Art Collection accommodates 20 paintings, three murals, nine metal interior lights, 10 exterior art deco lights, and trastero furniture in the courthouse collection.
To enrich your experience of the art, the web site not only finesses the arrangement of the artworks in an easy-to-view catalog but also offers full biographies of the artists (see panel at left) that provide history and information beyond the basics.
You won’t read merely that Lloyd Moylan was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, for example—you also will learn the relevance of that fact and more, such as artistic, social, and historic contexts, giving you several ways to learn about what you’re seeing.
Their lives and inspirations
This is a collection about art, instead of a collection of art. Each visit will be rich with meaning and interactive participation. How many artists were native New Mexicans? Where did most of the artists working in New Mexico come from, and where were they educated? How many used the Navajo and Zuni cultures as subject matter? And what was the inspiration behind the imagery of the 20 easels paintings and prints in the McKinley County collection?
Answers lie at your fingertips. Take a few moments and look through the biographies listed to the left.
You’ll learn that only two of the artists were native to New Mexico: Jose Rey Toledo, from Jemez Pueblo, and Brooks Willis, from Farmington.
You’ll discover that most of the artists came from the eastern United States and were educated in respected universities and art schools.
Two artists, Moylan and Keener, used Navajo and Zuni cultures as subjects for their art.
And inspiration for the New Deal artists of New Mexico was rooted in traditions as diverse as the French Barbizon landscape paintings of the early 19th century and later Impressionist and post-Impressionist explorations of the nature of light.
Although many of the gifts created by these artists hang on the walls of museums and public buildings, others have been painted over, destroyed, or stolen over the past 60 years. McKinley County officials are interested in preserving its portion of the New Deal art treasures and in making the public more aware of their existence. The City of Gallup recently acquired seven paintings from the former Red Rock Museum, and restoration artists are preparing the paintings for inclusion in the McKinley County collection.