Once upon a time, each having traveled great distances seeking adventure, two people met not one moment too soon nor one moment too late. Crossing continents, he had participated in military campaigns as a combat photographer. Infected with the wanderlust she, too, had seen much and met many.
Bound by fate, shaking hands they made a pact; “partners” for life. Time passed.
Events led to the day when, neither young nor gifted from birth with artistic talents, the two challenged themselves to paint in oils on canvas. Trial and error, patience, learning the values of darkness and light, working out colors and layering paint, it was discovered that in the challenge of creating something worth looking at, they were able to subdue on occasions the individual storms of the mind. Inspiration for their paintings was found in every sunrise, blades of grass dancing in the wind, in light bouncing off mountains and the waves of the sea.
By chance, while searching for a view of a specific high peak, they came upon the Vietnam Veteran Memorial in Angel Fire. In one room of the visitor center many paintings accomplished and donated by vets were hung in eclectic display. Poems by veterans in sleeves on the walls were presented for one to take. The emotions exhibited in that room, those paintings and those poems became indelibly imprinted in the hearts of the couple.
Returning years later to see that the visitor center was not the same, the enormous exhibit of veterans’ art and poetry sadly missing, upon leaving the memorial the soldier turned artist said to his wife, “We need to open a gallery for veterans, a place where their artwork will always be displayed. It will be a place where veterans and their family members can learn to make art. And, if a vet or his wife needs help to write poems and books, we’ll provide a space where they can come and get help with spelling, commas and the hard writing stuff.”
It was a dream propelled to obsession by the obvious and not so obvious depression of veterans both young and old… by the 22. Grateful to have survived decades of living in a society that’s not been inclined to care, aware of difficulties experienced by veterans and their families, the couple founded a small New Mexico non-profit – A Veteran Affair Centro de Educación para Artes y Culturas. Every non-profit must have a mission statement. In the apartment of a young vet struggling with depression in the civilian world as he spoke of the suicide of his comrade in arms, the mission laid itself out: to assist in the transition between military and civilian life and recovery from the traumas of war through education, expression, and appreciation of the arts. The least that could be done was try. To house the endeavor, they needed a place big enough for lots of art to be shown.
Wagon Mound, N.M. ~ 705 Railroad Avenue I-25 by-passed the village long ago. Amtrak rushes the rails once north, once south each day. Much of Wagon Mound appears semi-abandoned, adobes melting and crumbled, shabby. Few historic commercial buildings remain on the main street where a once vibrant village conducted business. Seems history sidestepped Railroad Avenue. Today one structure stands out, painted in colors that are a reminder of our country’s involvement in the Vietnam conflict. These colors for the building were not intentional, they designated themselves; green, deep yellow and red. This is the home of A Veteran Affair, an adobe now in jeopardy built as a cantina circa 1884. The current project is to restore the adobe to operational – for military veterans, their place anytime, their space of dignity, respite from sirens, hueys overhead, city traffic – sensory overloads. In the belly of that dilapidated adobe one imagines tap water, electricity, handicap accessible restrooms, a small coffee area, library shelves of the many books and magazines that have already been donated, a computer for fingers to write poems, tables, easels, a potter’s wheel outside, movie screen, projector, and on all the long walls proud art, beautiful art, be it rudimentary or Smithsonian quality as the art once eclectically exhibited at the memorial.
To spread the word, the website www.awagonmoundveteranaffair.org/ was created by a young friend. In a dream world the site will be discovered by a billionaire who will adopt The Affair. The billionaire and friends will donate their tax deductible gifts through our fiscal sponsor expediting the project. Villagers will be paid to save the adobe. History will be saved. A center will be operational.
Art will happen, taught not by therapists as no one in the village is a therapist, art will happen because a few artists will inspire others to challenge themselves to paint, or stamp tin, or write a book. Veterans will come to visit. Adjacent property owners will repair and paint their historic buildings. The shabby village will no longer be shabby because of art, poetry and the telling of tales.
Or, maybe the art available will sell and one adobe brick at a time will slowly make the dream come true. Much interest has been shown in the endeavor. The time has come to begin taking down and rebuilding the front section of the north adobe wall, after the art fest.
Memorial Day weekend, May 28, 29 & 30 A Veteran Affair shall host the 2016 Wagon Mound Art Fest. Sponsored by the Las Vegas Citizens Committee for Historic Preservation and Springer Electric Cooperative, this is the second year for such a fest on Railroad Avenue. Every hearty soul willing to participate and spread the word is most welcome. Wagon Mound is Wagon Mound. Artists and vendors who arrive to make this show happen shall all deserve medals for backbone and grit. The entry fee of $10/day and $20/weekend is only to help cover the costs of the event. Flyers will soon be posted. Call 575-668-2057 – leave a message – or email: mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos courtesy of A Veteran Affair