By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — The trend started from the first month of 2011 and continued to the end of the year. There was a sense of a passing of the guard in our cultural community, with losses of leaders in history, music, literature and the visual arts.
First to leave us, on Jan. 2, was Donna R. Eichstaedt, 72. The historian and educator was a leader of the Mesilla Valley Historical Society. She taught at Illinois State University and Lincoln College in Normal, where she served as the dean before moving to Las Cruces in 1992. Here, she taught history at UTEP and Doña Ana Community College.
She inspired Las Crucens neighbors Chuck Miles and Felix Pfaeffle to collaborate on “Once Enemies, Now Friends” after they met here and discovered they had been within shooting distance of one another on opposite sides of German front lines in 1944. She wrote about a legendary New Mexican hotel in her book, “Silver City’s Bear Mountain Lodge: The Untold Story.”
Versatile Donna was also an avid flamenco dancer and supporter of the NMSU dance program.
Two beloved Las Cruces-based poets, Beatlick Joe Speer and Wayne Crawford, both diagnosed with pancreatic cancer within a few months of one another, shared their final journeys with poetic blog entries in 2011.
With his longtime companion Pamela Hirst, Las Cruces-based poet Speer, 62, who died Jan. 25, traveled throughout the U.S., publishing “Beatlick News,” a print and online poetry journal. The final copies of his “Kameleon” magazines, published early in the ’70s and ’80s, will become part of the complete and permanent Beatlick Joe Speer library and archive at NMSU, curated by Laurence Creider. In his last weeks, he supervised the compilation of his writings, “Backpack Trekker: A 60s Flashback,” now available on Amazon.com.
“I’m not upset,” Speer told me a week before his death. “It’s not really for me to decide when I come and go. Those decisions are made by some other forces and it’s out of my control. You never know how long you have, how many miles you’re going to log on this road trip. When you’re ripe, they pluck you.”
Wayne Crawford, who died March 12 at age 64, was a creative force in the local poetry scene, after he “retired” to Las Cruces in 2000, following a life-long career as an educator. He developed open mics and the online journal “Lunarosity,” gathered and distributed lists of literary events, created the concept of an annual Las Cruces Poetry Day and hosted readings and co-edited “Sin Fronteras.” With his partner, award-winning musician and composer Randy Granger, he established an informal artists’ salon and nurtured a poetry community that welcomed NMSU students and poetry lovers of all ages. He worked with local organizations — from Branigan Library and the executive board of Doña Ana Arts Council to For the Love of Arts Month coordinators — to share his love of poetry with others.
Las Cruces Community Theatre’s guiding light Art Haggerton, who died Oct. 3 at age 65, produced, directed and performed in scores of theatrical productions and taught for four decades, ending his career at White Sands Middle School.
“Art was a wonderful mentor, director and friend and I was always in awe of his talents and enthusiasm for the theater. Art could do it all: sing, dance, act, direct, choreograph, construct sets, build props — and he did it all with an effortless grace and style. Art will be missed dearly, but will be remembered for years to come for the great works of entertainment that he gifted to all of us over the past 45 years," said Janet Mazdra, who worked in several productions with him.
It was a very good day, if you had the chance to visit her sunny Las Cruces studio and share the vivid paintings and enthusiasm of Susan Connelly, who died Nov. 2 at age 74. She was a well-known designer and boutique owner in Santa Fe where her shop, The Sign of the Pampered Maiden, sold the City Different’s first mini dresses. In 1992, she moved here and was finally able to devote time to her first love: making art. She had shows in several leading regional galleries and her paintings are in private and corporate collections in the United States, Mexico and Europe.
“I paint because, for the life of me, I really cannot think of anything I would rather do,” she said.
A Southwest cultural icon and the father of personal and regional musical families, Oscar Butler, died Nov. 27 at age 94. The music maestro arrived in Las Cruces in 1953, joined string quartets and created a chorale ensemble and was a central figure in the development of what is now New Mexico’s largest symphony orchestra, the Las Cruces Symphony Orchestra at NMSU. He was cellist in the orchestra and also founded the New Horizons Symphony, which gave amateur musicians of all ages a chance to learn music and perform. Butler was still conducting and encouraging budding and professional musicians in his ninth and final decade.
Anyone who spent any time at the city’s museums would know the face of H. Edward Hunsburger, who died Nov. 28 at age 64. He was a familiar fixture on the Downtown Mall, helping out at the Branigan Cultural Center, Las Cruces Museum of Art and the Railroad Museum.
The native New Yorker, novelist and world traveler had a rich, productive life in the arts himself before moving here in 2002. He attended art school in Florida, was a researcher at Esquire Magazine, and served on the board of Mystery Writers of America. He wrote several books, including a book in the Nick Carter series, “Crossfire,” and “Death Signs,” and short fiction published in Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.
Though very different, all these artists had something in common: talents that they shared generously with others and an unselfish desire to help inspire and nurture other artists. We’ll miss them, but they left something wonderful behind as they worked to create the unique sense of camaraderie and cooperation that distinguishes the Las Cruces arts community today.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; (575) 541-5450. To share comments, go to www.lcsun-news.com and click on Blogzone and Las Cruces Style.