Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

Tucumcari has makings for artist colony


December 2, 2014


QCS Managing Editor

Because I write stuff for a living, point cameras at things, play a musical instrument and doodle, I sometimes allow myself the delusion that I’m an artist of some kind.

Then I look at my immediate surroundings.

I see Levi Mericle, a young guy who writes poetry that hits you like a big fist to the jaw.

I marvel at the work of Doug Quarles, who single-handedly made Tucumcari a city of murals that impeccably evoke the people, wildlife and history of eastern New Mexico. Doug, I hope you’re making it in Tucson, but you can come back any time.

I marvel at the work of Bill Curry, whose depictions of horses, cattle, cowboys and trains on canvas and in bronze capture a way of life that has defied time in northeast New Mexico.

Mark Lake’s handcrafted pottery is often as serviceable as it is wonderful to see. Jim Keith is a world-class farrier who makes art with hot iron. Rick Haymaker experiments with melody lines and harmonies from all over the world on many string instruments but can also orchestrate electronics to enhance the power of Levi Mericle’s poetry read aloud.

These pros humble my artistic pretensions, but I know I’m not alone in appreciating the work they do, and that encourages me. Those who appreciate serious art will travel to experience it, especially when there are other appealing attractions close by.

Hamilton, Montana, is a little town about the size of Tucumcari in the Rocky Mountains. The closest city is about 50 miles away. That’s Missoula, which, to be fair, houses the University of Montana. Hamilton has become an artist colony, home to writers, painters, sculptors and the rest, and a destination for art connoisseurs.

Why? Here’s my guess:

It’s nestled in a valley surrounded by mountain peaks and lots of open space. Light play on the

Rockies is spectacular and changes by the hour.

Hamilton is surrounded by ranches and the lifestyle is laid back, lots of hard ranch work to be sure, but without the rush and scurry of larger cities, even Missoula.

Now consider Tucumcari. It sits in the middle of mesa country, 83 miles from Clovis, the closest larger city. It’s surrounded by ranches set in the spectacle of light play on the mesas and the cliffs of the Caprock.

Tucumcari also boasts a strip of living history along old Route 66 and is building on its railroad history at its restored train depot. We have two popular recreational lakes within 35 miles. Mesalands Community College hosts an annual iron pour, a silversmithing program and a bronze foundry.

An artist colony in Tucumcari would be one more prestigious attraction in a town for which hospitality and tourists are already an economic foundation.

My message to professional artists is this: When enough career artists work in one scenic place, especially one that straddles Interstate 40 on its path from California to North Carolina, it soon becomes a matter of “If you craft it, they will come.”

Steve Hansen is the managing editor at the Quay County Sun. He can be reached at [email protected]


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