Fa­mous Be­len­ites spear­head art space project

Judy Chicago, hus­band moved to city in 1996


The fu­ture of art in Be­len is near, and two fa­mous Be­len­ites — in­ter­na­tion­ally known fem­i­nist artist Judy Chicago and her hus­band, pho­tog­ra­pher Don­ald Wood­man — are at­ten­tively work­ing to make the Through the Flower Art Space a re­al­ity.

What was ini­tially thought could be a “mu­seum,” the TTF Art Space at 107 Becker Ave., is sched­uled to open in July — the week­end of Chicago’s 80th birth­day. It’s the lat­est ven­ture for the two fa­mous artists, who have made the Hub City their home since pur­chas­ing the his­toric Be­len Ho­tel in 1993.

“We be­lieve you don’t have to live in New York, Los An­ge­les, Chicago or even Santa Fe to have ac­cess to art,” Chicago said. “I think what’s re­ally im­por­tant to mov­ing for­ward is the out­pour­ing of com­mu­nity sup­port. We’re go­ing to need on­go­ing sup­port from the com­mu­nity in or­der to sus­tain it and grow.”

A mu­seum, Chicago and Wood­man ex­plained, has to be ac­cred­ited by the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Mu­se­ums. For them, they have to meet cer­tain re­quire­ments, and the TTF Art Space isn’t big enough to be called a mu­seum.

The idea of a mu­seum be­gan when Be­len Mayor Jerah Cor­dova and Coun­cilor Ron­nie Tor­res ap­proached Chicago and Wood­man about the idea around six months ago. They agreed, say­ing they wanted to give back and hoped to con­trib­ute to the eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment of the city and bring back some of that “neigh­borly feel” of the area.

After what Chicago char­ac­ter­izes as the “brouhaha” sur­round­ing the con­tro­versy when a fi­nan­cial part­ner­ship was pro­posed to the city, they pulled the of­fer. But rec­og­niz­ing the com­mu­nity sup­port for the project, the TTF board de­cided to go it alone, and set up a GoFundMe ac­count, which to date, has raised more than $16,600, in­clud­ing Cor­dova’s year­long salary of $10,000.

A space for lo­cal artists

The Through the Flower Art Space’s first year will be an ex­hi­bi­tion on the Be­len Ho­tel and about Chicago and Wood­man’s life, art and work.

“After that, Paula Castillo will be­come the cu­ra­tor of the space and will or­ga­nize exhibitions and pro­grams for New Mex­ico artists,” Chicago said. “We want to in­tro­duce the com­mu­nity to what’s go­ing to go on there, so we will have three in­tro­duc­tory pro­grams lead­ing up to the grand open­ing.”

The first event will be a Through the Flower yard sale in March, where

peo­ple can buy a va­ri­ety of of­fice fur­ni­ture and equip­ment while sup­port­ers and staff dis­cuss the plans for the Art Space. The sec­ond event, Fri­day Night Fam­ily Arts Gath­er­ing, will take place in April, when Castillo will lead a dis­cus­sion and cre­ative prac­tice for teenagers and their par­ents. The third event, Dis­play­ing Thank­ful­ness, will be held in May at Kelly Cross’s stu­dio on Becker Av­enue. This is a Mother’s Day work­shop for chil­dren, who will paint a plate to com­mem­o­rate the im­por­tant women in their lives. “We’re pro­vid­ing all the ma­te­ri­als and Kelly is pro­vid­ing the space,” Chicago said.

“It’s not about open­ing the Through the Flower Art Space; we don’t have to have ev­ery­thing here. We can part­ner with other venues where it can fit best. We’re want­ing to share the pro­gram­ing at dif­fer­ent places,” Wood­man said.

The fundrais­ing ef­fort was also in full swing Satur­day, when Cor­dova, Tor­res and Jaramillo Vine­yards hosted A Night with Judy Chicago and Don­ald Wood­man at Jaramillo Vine­yard Tast­ing Room and Cen­tral Par­lour.

Barb Jaramillo, owner of Jaramillo Vine­yards, is more than will­ing to sup­port the TTF Art Space, say­ing it’s a gift to the com­mu­nity.

“It’s a no-brainer,” Jaramillo said. “We just knew that if Be­len wasn’t smart enough to take the deal, some­one else would. That’s why we de­cided to sup­port this and move this for­ward.

“Judy and Don­ald are well known enough to bring tourism to Be­len,” she said. “We need to pub­li­cize it on bill­boards and through­out the state.”

Cor­dova said he’s thrilled to be able to help the Art Space, say­ing that about 25 to 30 peo­ple planned this week­end’s event.

Tor­res, a long­time friend of Chicago and Wood­man, said it was Cor­dova’s idea for the fundrais­ing event, which grew with com­mu­nity sup­port.

“Jerah has spear­headed this and it’s grown and grown, and we’re very ex­cited,” Tor­res said. “We want to show that we have some­one of that cal­iber, some­one who was rec­og­nized as Time Mag­a­zine’s 100 Most In­flu­en­tial Peo­ple, here in our com­mu­nity.”

Tor­res said when he and Cor­dova first ap­proached Chicago about the idea of a mu­seum, she was hum­bled, won­der­ing if any­one would come see it.

“After she thought about it for a while, she came back and agreed,” Tor­res said.

“We are grate­ful to the com­mu­nity,” Chicago said. “It’s just been won­der­ful to see all these peo­ple come to­gether to help.”

La­bor of love

Be­fore the Through the Flower Art Space can open, they have to re­place the roof, ren­o­vate the in­te­rior to make way for exhibitions and pro­gram­ming, and con­struct a gift shop, where vis­i­tors can buy prod­ucts, in­clud­ing T-shirts, posters, soaps, books and more.

The cou­ple, who have been mar­ried 33 years, bought the Be­len Ho­tel on Becker Av­enue 26 years ago. They moved in after three years of ren­o­va­tion and restora­tion to the build­ing that sits on the Na­tional Reg­is­ter of His­toric Places.

Chicago and Wood­man had been rent­ing a house on Canyon Road in Santa Fe from a long-time friend and pa­tron as Chicago was work­ing on a project. While work­ing and liv­ing there, the hous­ing mar­ket boomed in The City Dif­fer­ent and the friend wanted to sell.

It was then that Wood­man sug­gested they buy a home, which Chicago never had, hav­ing rented her en­tire life.

“We had done a lot of work at the house in Santa Fe, and I was tired of build­ing stu­dios and dark­rooms,” Wood­man said. “Judy didn’t care, but I wanted a place of our own.”

“It was a typ­i­cal New Mex­ico story,” Chicago said. “First I came for three weeks, then I stayed for three months, then I was liv­ing here but all my stuff was in Cal­i­for­nia.”

As they looked for the per­fect lo­ca­tion, it had to be some­what close to the air­port be­cause they travel around the world for their work. When they found the Be­len Ho­tel, they fell in love with the build­ing and the com­mu­nity.

“It was — it is a beau­ti­ful build­ing, and it has what artists like — space,” Chicago said. “It also had this cen­tral stair­case, which was di­vided as a his-and­her space. It was kind of per­fect. But I told Don­ald, ‘I’m not mov­ing in un­til (the ren­o­va­tion) was done.’ That was the smartest thing I ever did be­cause he told me it would take year.”

Wood­man went to ev­ery bank in the state seek­ing a loan to re­store the build­ing, and were able to get fund­ing through the Na­tional Trust for His­toric Preser­va­tion. Be­fore start­ing work on the build­ing, Chicago and Wood­man in­vited the com­mu­nity in to see the land­mark.

“That’s when we found out how much the build­ing meant to peo­ple here,” Chicago said. “That was re­ally nice.”

The project was long and ar­du­ous, hav­ing to re­place a leaky roof, fix­ing the rot­ted floor­boards and plas­ter walls, just to start. Wood­man, along with a few lo­cals, worked day in and day out on the build­ing.

“It was a team ef­fort,” Wood­man said of the project. “It was me, Trinne Mas­careña and Char­lie Barela. Ev­ery­one told me Trinne was the best ma­son around and it took me six months to con­vince him to come and work with me.”

Un­for­tu­nately, Mas­careña died in 1995, a year be­fore the ho­tel was com­pleted. Wood­man suc­cess­fully nom­i­nated Mas­careña for a state preser­va­tion award, posthu­mously, hon­or­ing his work on the Be­len Ho­tel.

Chicago and Wood­man made an in­stant con­nec­tion with their neigh­bors and the com­mu­nity, in­clud­ing the late Sugar and Eva Glidewell, own­ers of Sugar Bowl Lanes and Eva’s Gro­cery.

“Eva was great; she ruled life with an iron fist,” Chicago re­mem­bers. “When the bar got too noisy next door, Eva would go over and start yelling. I re­mem­ber she was al­ways try­ing to feed us.”

When the cou­ple moved in, the area was a lot more ac­tive with thriv­ing busi­nesses and peo­ple com­ing and go­ing. More times than not when Chicago and Wood­man had com­pany, they would walk down the street to get huevos rancheros from Femia’s restau­rant.

“We’ve watched the neigh­bor­hood die out through the years,” Wood­man said.

“It was re­ally sad be­cause it was very lively,” Chicago said. “We even had a Through the Flower bowl­ing league.”

Giv­ing back

In the years that fol­lowed, Chicago and Wood­man have con­tin­ued to sup­port the com­mu­nity and art in Be­len and Va­len­cia County. When UNMVa­len­cia moved to Tomé, its li­brary was empty. The cou­ple, through the New Mex­ico Woman’s Cul­tural Cor­ri­dor, a pro­gram of Through the Flower, has do­nated more than 2,100 books to the li­brary by and about women and women’s achieve­ments, in­clud­ing about Chicago’s “Din­ner Party.” Con­tri­bu­tions to the col­lec­tion is on­go­ing.

Through the Flower also pro­vided Chicago’s “Birth Project,” which is a va­ri­ety of nee­dle and tex­tile tech­niques, to the Al­bu­querque Mu­seum of Art and His­tory.

“The New Mex­ico Woman’s Cul­tural Cor­ri­dor ties to­gether sites across New Mex­ico, and we’re go­ing to res­ur­rect that,” Chicago says.

Not only have Chicago and Wood­man worked to pre­serve the Be­len Ho­tel, they’ve in­vested in the com­mu­nity, held a va­ri­ety of free pro­gram­ing and exhibitions at the Through the Flower build­ing in Be­len be­gin­ning about 15 years ago. Along with teach­ing lo­cal artists how to show their work pro­fes­sion­ally, they’ve also hired a num­ber of lo­cal res­i­dents for a num­ber of em­ploy­ment and in­tern­ship op­por­tu­ni­ties.

“We’ve tried to be good cit­i­zens of Be­len,” Chicago said.

Chicago’s ef­forts were also rec­og­nized in 2011 when then-Gov. Su­sanna Martinez awarded her with one of seven Gover­nor’s Award for Ex­cel­lence in the Arts for mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary arts.

Chicago’s Through the Flower, a non-profit arts or­ga­ni­za­tion es­tab­lished in 1978, is com­mit­ted to coun­ter­ing the era­sure of women’s achieve­ments though art by pro­vid­ing ed­u­ca­tional re­sources and artis­tic op­por­tu­ni­ties.

“We are grate­ful to the com­mu­nity,” said Judy Chicago. “It’s just been won­der­ful to see all these peo­ple come to­gether to help.”


In­ter­na­tion­ally known fem­i­nist artist Judy Chicago and her hus­band, pho­tog­ra­pher Don­ald Wood­man, who have lived in the Hub City since 1996, are mov­ing for­ward with the Through the Flower Art Space.

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