Artistic talent spans generations in the Mesilla Valley
By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — For the Love of Art Month is officially over for 2010, but every day is prime time for art lovers and artists in this region, where art seems to be in our DNA.
I’ve lived here long enough, now, to know several generations of artists from the same families.
As it happened, this February was an especially vivid reminder of our gifted residents.
I had a chance to catch up with Carolyn Bunch, whose portraits of Borderland women have established a distinctive style and influenced generations of artists who were lucky enough to have her as a teacher, first in regional schools and in later years in her studio classes in the galleries she ran with her husband, Henry Bunch.
She’s also the mom of Tony Pennock, whose water tank murals have set another style trend, maybe even qualifying our region as the imaginative historic water tank mural capital of the world.
Tony’s kids are also helping to carry on the tradition. His son Myles, 22, recently helped Tony complete his latest mural near the site of the old Las Cruces landfill.
And there’s a multigenerational performing arts dynasty or two in the works, too. Tony Award-winning playwright and filmmakaer Mark Medoff and his wife Stephanie have some talented kids and grandkids who have shown up in stage and screen roles. Their daughter, opera singer Jessica Medoff Bunchman, continues to win awards and rave reviews from the likes of the New York Times. She’s based in New York and tours in a cabaret act she created with her pianist husband Michael Bunchman.
Also a hit in the Big Apple is nationally renowned concert pianist Jeremy Denk, who may have gotten some of his dramatic flair from his dad, Joe Denk, a frequent star in local theatrical productions.
The multitalented Divens, singer-songwriter-musician-playwrght- artist Bob, his brothers, physician-author Ben and photographer Jack, all grew up in Las Cruces with the late, great William Diven, a teacher and author whose winning credits included a singing triumph on the “Ted Mack Original Amateur Hour,” in its day a kind of precursor of “American Idol.”
Sometimes the artistic talent manifests itself in new ways. Playwright, educator and Alma d’arte/Court Youth Center cofounder Irene Oliver-Lewis grew up with talented fashion designer mom Cecilia and dad Fred Oliver, nationally known for his furniture and architectural skills.
And they’re related to a whole clan of talented primos y primas (cousins) that includes national award-winning writer Denise Chávez, artists Fred Chilton and Beverly Chávez-Floyd.
There are enough visual, performing and literary artists to festoon every branch of a very creative tree … or maybe a grove or small forest.
I keep meaning to do a chart, in fact, like one I attempted some years ago while visiting the New Mexico home base, in San Patricio, of the Hurd-Wyeth tribe, which includes famed artists Andrew, Jamie and Henriette Wyeth and Peter and Michael Hurd … and many other talented primos.
When the Doña Ana Arts Council’s CAP (Career Art Path) kids exhibit the creations each summer, I always seem to find some familiar names and faces, like the kids of Olin Calk, the sculptor-educator who created our city’s signature giant roadrunner.
And there’s lots more young talent burgeoning in the creative groves: poets, painters, novelists, playwrights, dancers, singers, musicians, actors, multimedia artists …
Is it the water or the DNA or some magical high desert creative alchemy?
Spring is prime time to check out new talent at exhibits and performances, from NMSU to local schools, theaters and galleries.
Go exploring. You might discover the latest talent in a fecund family, or the beginning of a whole new creative dynasty.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; (575) 541-5450