Recently a friend from Houston, while driving through southeastern New Mexico, asked me, “How can you live here?” I chuckled, skipping being insulted, because I understood.
To those who come from the Houston metroplex, Southeastern New Mexico may seem so vast, so bare. There aren’t thick forests of trees or miles of retail playgrounds. Our restaurants are quality over quantity.
When barreling down U.S. 285, it appears that art and culture in Artesia is like rain in the desert from an outsider’s eye. At first glance, our art museums are a bit humble. What my friend didn’t realize is that our town is as special as a Pecos diamond. Artesia may be lacking in big city style, but it makes up for that style in streets lined with prodigious works of art like the Berkshire Hathaway mural, the Agave Americana mural, the History in Bronze collection, the Heritage Walkway, and the 1952 Peter Hurd mural.
When driving north on U.S. 285, it’s hard to miss the Artesia Strong mural on the south side of Berkshire Hathaway’s building. Painted by Alyssa Marie, owner and artist at Alyssa Marie Gallery, and her husband Braden, this mural depicts all things Artesia, bulldog pride style. Brad Davis, partner and general manager at Berkshire Hathaway, explained that the mural was intended not only to, “Showcase the Berkshire Hathaway brand,” but also to showcase Artesia’s “tight-knit community.” Artesia’s bulldog pride is widely known, as is the appreciation for the oil and gas industry. Thanks to Alyssa Marie and the Berkshire Hathaway team, we have the mural to prove it.
Located across from Yucca Elementary School on 13th Street, Agave Americana is a large statement piece that grounds Martin Luther King Junior Recreational Complex. Vibrant with bold graphic detail, the mural is not just the perfect backdrop for a photo shoot; it’s a visual reminder of the culture that has built Artesia for generations. Painted in 1994 by local artist Noel Marquez, Agave Americana was part of a much-needed facelift. Originally, the walls where Agave Americana is painted were covered with graffiti while facing a dilapidated racquetball court. At the time, the park was locally known as “snake alley.” The mural was “dedicated to the people of the southwest who labored and continue to labor in the fields.” In 2010, Agave Americana got an update. This was no small feat because the large mural boasts 22 by 83 feet of in-your-face arts and culture.
Artesia is sure to have the most bronze per capita in the country as displayed in the MainStreet District in the heart of the city! Dubbed ‘History in Bronze,’ the series of larger-than-life sculptures present Artesia’s past.
- The Cattle Drive Series was designed to represent and honor the ranching industry in southeastern New Mexico that began in the late 1800s and was significant to the development of Artesia. The three sculptures feature personalities common in the Pecos Valley during the Cattle Drive era.
- The Sally Chisum sculpture captures the spirit of pioneer women. Created with Sally Chisum’s ambition and fierce independence in mind, the sculpture is befitting of a woman posthumously known as the First Lady of Artesia.
- The Derrick Floor, the life-sized, artistic representation of an oil rig, was dedicated “to the men and women who take the risks and do the work to find, produce, and refine New Mexico oil and gas.” In addition to the oil rig and water feature, some of Artesia’s pioneers in oil and gas are memorialized in bronze.
Heritage Walkway is a special place to take a break in the shade. When strolling through the area, it is easy to understand how Heritage Walkway was named. The last sixty years have transformed Heritage Walkway from a shell of a burned-out building and subsequent vacant lot to a path through local history, heritage, and culture. The first renovations of the space began in 1976 when Artesia Junior Women’s Club and local art teacher, Helen Mapes, created two murals. Then in 1999, Artesia MainStreet further renovated the area with an installation of the water fountain series and thousands of hand-crafted ceramic tiles. Ceramics artist, Shel Neymark of Embudo, New Mexico, was inspired by local crops and animals, as well as architectural details from historic buildings. Additionally, in 2004, muralist Noel Marquez added a third mural on the north end of the walkway. This mural highlights the local New Mexican landscape.
Once deemed the most beautiful library in New Mexico by the Business Insider webpage, Artesia Public Library is not only special because of its “traditional low-slung design and sleek glass elements,” it’s also special because of what is housed inside. Best viewed through the giant glass windows outside of the library at night when its beauty is aglow, the 46-foot-by-16-foot, 1952 Peter Hurd mural tells the story, “The Future Belongs to Those Who Prepare for It.” The artist, Peter Hurd, was a Roswell native who painted a scene of life in the southwest of the past. Although commissioned for the building in Houston, the mural is very much New Mexican. Once slated for demolition on the walls of the Prudential Building in Houston, the mural was rescued and relocated to Artesia. It was a huge endeavor as the large fresco painting was moved in one piece.
Educating the public about downtown Artesia’s unique development, historical value and architectural heritage is one of Artesia MainStreet’s goals. Because of the city’s efforts, MainStreet is a historic downtown area where people want to visit, shop and work. And, thanks to public and private partnerships, all Artesians can be patrons of the arts just like the residents of large metropolitan areas like Houston.
Article originally published in Focus on Artesia 2020 Summer edition.