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Taking the High Road: Art, Family and Legacy in Córdova, New Mexico

September, 2005 - September, 2006


A small New Mexican village situated on a stretch of Highway 76 takes center stage as the Museum of International Folk Art presents Taking the High Road: Art, Family and Legacy in Córdova, New Mexico, an exhibition celebrating the artists and the masterpieces of what is known as the Cordovan Tradition. The exhibition runs through September, 2006. (right: José Dolores López (1868-1937), Córdova, New Mexico, Nuestra Señora de La Luz / Our Lady of Light, 1933, aspen, 47 1/2 x 15 1/4 x 13 inches, On permanent loan from the U.S. Government to the Taylor Museum, Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. Made under the Public Works of Art Project. Photo by Blair Clark, Courtesy Museum of International Folk Art / DCA)

"It's usually not even on the map," remarked co-curator and award-winning Spanish Market artist José Floyd Lucero, referring to Córdova, the quiet town on the High Road to Taos. Running east from Española, the High Road winds through Chimayo, Córdova, Truchas, and Trampas before reaching Taos. It is there in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains where generations of Lucero's family have lived and created their unique art. Lucero, a woodcarver and Santero (carver of saints), is the great-grandson of José Dolores López and the godson and great nephew of George T. and Silvianita López.

It is generally believed that José Dolores López, known affectionately by family members and other artists as "Dolores", was the creator of the Córdova style that features intricate chip carving and delicate design work on unpainted wood. When he began his artistic career in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, López was known for his painted screen doors, frames, nichos, shelves, chairs, tables, and even mailboxes. Over time he developed the unpainted style, which defines his legacy today.

"Co-curating an exhibition with an artist who has deep connections to the highlighted works is a dream come true," says Tey Marianna Nunn, Curator of Contemporary Hispano and Latino collections. "The relationship between artist, curator, and community is extremely rewarding and can only serve to infuse any exhibition with spirit and beauty."

Common themes for the family of artists include crucifixes, santos, and various versions of "Our Lady of Light." One such masterpiece made by López will be featured in the exhibition. He made his version of "Our Lady" for the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) part of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal Programs. On loan to MOIFA specifically for the exhibit from the Taylor Museum of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, the piece has not been back to New Mexico since the New Deal.

Among the pieces featured in Taking the High Road are carved, unpainted works made from aspen and cedar. Many of the Córdova artists feel that revealing details in natural wood is more difficult to do compared to other traditional techniques such as painted bultos in New Mexico. As Gloria López Córdova, granddaughter of José Dolores López, states: "If I make a mistake on a face I'm carving, it can't be covered up. I have to throw it away and start over."

Lucero gathered objects from family members and private collectors, while Nunn selected works from the permanent collections of the museum and other institutions. Together, they compiled Taking the High Road, giving recognition to the extraordinary family of artists who have through generations, perpetuated, mastered and innovated upon the unique and acclaimed New Mexican artistic tradition. "In doing so, it is our hope that we can put Córdova, New Mexico, its artists and its legacy, back on the map," said Nunn. (left: Gloria López Córdova (b. 1942) Córdova, New Mexico, Cameraman, 1982, aspen, cedar, International Folk Art Foundation. Collection in the Museum of International Folk Art. Photo by Blair Clark, Courtesy Museum of International Folk Art / Department of Cultural Affairs)

Other artists featured include: George and Silvianita López, Rafael López, Ricardo and Benita López, Eurgencio and Orlinda López, Gloria López Córdova, Sabinita López Ortiz, Eluid Martínez, José Floyd Lucero, Larry López, Glenn López, Rafael López Córdova, Alex J. Ortiz, Lena Rae Córdova, Camille Ortiz, Marissa Martínez Gonzales, and Trina Martínez Page.

An opening reception was held on September 18, 2005 featuring live music from New Mexico group Mucho Corazón, and hosted by the Women's Board of the Museum of New Mexico.


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