What we saw at the Roundhouse
No need to feel uncertain about wandering into the Office of the Governor. It’s there — in The Governor’s Gallery on the 4th floor of the New Mexico State Capitol in Santa Fe — that you’ll find, in a gallery space behind the friendly receptionists, this small but thoroughly charming exhibit of landscape photographs by Eliot Porter and paintings by Sheldon Parsons. (On through April 13, 2018)
The exhibition is part of the city-wide centennial celebration of the 1917 founding of the New Mexico Museum of Art. It highlights the work of two artists whose representations of the state’s unique beauty have helped define New Mexico in the public imagination. Sheldon Parsons and Eliot Porter both came west and found themselves deeply inspired by the land, skies, and culture of New Mexico.
Sheldon Parsons (1866–1943) was on his way to San Francisco from New York in 1913 when a flare-up of tuberculosis side-tracked him to Santa Fe.
From 1895 to 1912 he had been a successful portrait artist in New York City painting, among others, President McKinley and Susan B. Anthony. But — seduced by the climate and the landscape — he settled in Santa Fe, gave up portraiture, changed his painting style, and dedicated the rest of his artistic life to capturing the New Mexico landscape.
Parsons artistry responded to the impact of the dry, pure air and naked landscape, and he became known for his depictions of the skies, mountains, and mellow adobe architecture of Northern New Mexico. He rendered the contours of the land with a soft brush and muted earth tones, only adding intense tones of red and yellow in his Fall scenes.
A generation after Parsons discovered the allure of Northern New Mexico, so too did Eliot Porter (1901- 1990). Having been an amateur photographer since childhood, he abandoned his Harvard medical degree and biochemistry career in 1938 — following a successful showing of his work at Alfred Stieglitz’ NYC gallery — to devote himself full-time to photography. Although he traveled extensively capturing the natural world on film, within a decade he, too, had moved to Santa Fe.
While he became known worldwide for his pioneering work in color nature photography, Porter’s black and white images of the New Mexico landscape and adobe structures, like Parsons’ paintings, capture the gentle grace of this high-desert land.
A Place Like No Other is a small exhibition, but there’s plenty more to see throughout the State Capitol Building, known locally as the Roundhouse. The New Mexico Capitol Art Collection — a permanent, public collection of works by contemporary artists of New Mexico — is displayed throughout the complex. The collection includes diverse mediums and styles, ranging from abstract expressionism to traditional carved santos, from furniture to fiber, from photography to found objects. It’s one of the most comprehensive collections of contemporary art in the region, featuring works by artists from Taos to Tucumcari and everywhere in between.
The circular and spacious design of the Roundhouse offers optimal and abundant wall space. The collection exists throughout the Capitol Complex main building, the Annex walkway, the North Annex, and on the grounds. The building is open Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
The Capitol building was designed to resemble the Zia Sun Symbol when viewed from above, with four entrance wings that protrude from the main cylindrical volume. Architecturally, the Roundhouse is a blend of New Mexico territorial style and neoclassical influences. Above each entrance is a stone carving of the State Seal of New Mexico. The building has four levels, one of which is below ground.
We covered only the 4th floor during this visit — but we shall return to continue exploring. With so many museums and art galleries in Santa Fe, we suspect most residents and very few visiting art pilgrims ever think of setting foot in the building. In fact, it’s well worth a visit. This is the State House after all — with the added attraction of an engaging and wide-ranging art collection on view throughout the corridors of government.