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Calabacillas Arroyo Flood Control Artwork/Fossils and Art Poster


Artist's Statement

Those who worked on this arroyo project wanted the artificial fossils to stimulate curiosity about our history.  Yet in producing those, we often found ourselves doing research that seemed open ended, with no definitive answers in sight.  All was well. Accordingly, each illustration in the sign is sub-titled by a question.  I add supporting information and facts here or there where I can, but honestly no definitive answers are yet in sight.  All is still well.

Michael G. Wallace
Albuquerque New Mexico
October, 2009

Plate Period
Artist’s comments

Precambrian

WHY
Scientists are sorting out some things about the age, composition, and extent of an expanding universe. That’s complemented by an acceleration of scientific knowledge about our blue planet. But the WHY is still missing. At least we can all experience our own lives unfolding (if not expanding), perhaps like a plant from a seed. This image is the seed of all of the resulting plates. To suggest the unfolding of our history in these paintings was my goal to complement the arroyo walking experience.

Paleozoic and Mesozoic

HOW
New Mexico is full of clues about how life began and evolved. We had placed a number of fossils in the arroyo to touch on the topic of evolution, such as the transition from fish to amphibian. I’m drawn to the fact that many permutations of the same basic life themes are recorded by fossils: plant and animal, herbivore and carnivore, predator and prey, swimmer, flyer, crawler, runner. Whatever the geologic period, it all seems to be there.

Cenozoic, Paleo Indian

WHEN
There are still questions about why so many North American mammals thrived for millions of years, and then went extinct, including camels, horses, mastodons, rhinos, and of course the saber tooth tiger. Was the arrival of mankind a coincidence or a partial cause of these extinctions?  I don’t know, so I drew an ambiguous picture. For all one knows, those could be two domesticated saber-tooths with their human masters. Just a thought.

Pre Contact

WHO
The Pueblo people, the Navajo, the Apache, the Ute and the Comanche were among the primary human inhabitants of New Mexico prior to European contact. The Pueblo people were among the only tribal nations in North America to favor permanent towns. The migrations of the Navajo and Apache to the area are interpreted to be somewhat more recent, and it’s interesting to me that a Navajo can converse with an Athabascan from the Pacific Northwest, and the Comanche had language similarities to Aztecs. I imagined a happy pueblo scene, perhaps before or after a dance, which now occupies the same space as the previous plates covered.

Spanish Colonial

WHERE
Esteban, a black Christianized slave, originally reared in a Muslim village in West Africa, had to be one of the most remarkable explorers of all time. Through a talent with new languages, along with charm, luck and fortitude, Esteban survived a shipwreck on the Texas coast, and led a path on foot through the pre-Contact Indian civilizations, passing safely through the Comanche, Pueblo, Apache, and Navajo lands that now lie within and around New Mexico and making it back to colonial Mexico (New Spain).
Along with Fray Marcos, Esteban led a second expedition to learn more about the New Mexico lands and the fabled Seven Cities of Gold that were rumored to be nearby. They spent some time at the Zuni Pueblo, and there, Esteban’s luck ran out. Fray Marcos escaped back to Mexico and his false reporting inspired a subsequent expedition by the conquistador Coronado. Why was Esteban killed?  I don’t know, but I imagine that the entire enterprise was extremely risky, with exceptional opportunities for misunderstandings.

Territorial

WHAT
An Anglo man rides into a pastoral New Mexico valley on a steel horse. He charms the women, and steals the mariachi hat as if it were a brass ring, losing his gun and falling into an abyss in the process. Something about parity I think.

Modern

WHETHER
Nuclear developments are among the defining features of the modern period in New Mexico. I tried a black and white style to reflect the dominant media of the 20th century and I was curious to see whether that motif also created some tension in the artwork. The lead balloon does double duty, representing the obvious, as well as the first atomic bomb. The riders are a self-conscious Robert Oppenheimer and General Leslie Groves, architects of the Manhattan Project. The balloon and the bomb have several other things in common, but that’s for the viewer to work out. The striped pueblo clown is doing his job, using humor to protect us all from annihilation. The Jello box is part of the story of the Manhattan Project. Meanwhile life goes on and all the other themes and interactions continue to unfold.

Future

IF
I forget whose idea it was to have baby feet, but I remember faking that impression at the arroyo by pressing the sides of my fists into the fresh wet shotcrete. I had little kids at the time and I was ready to use their feet, but children weren’t allowed on the construction site. My (mostly) grown children still remind me about all the stuff (bicycles, computer keyboards, tools) from our home that I ruined by impressing them into the caustic shotcrete.

 

REFERENCE IMAGE SOURCES FOR CALABACILLAS ARROYO POSTER 2009

A few items in the image sets from Michael Wallace are adapted from the following sources:

1. Adapted from Maynard Dixon, 1923, The Wise Men

 

 

 

2. Adapted from Verrocchio, 1479, Colleoni Monument

3. Adapted from Maynard Dixon, 1902, Navajo Gamblers

4. Adapted from Estella Loretto, Sandia Pueblo Casino

 

 

5. Adapted from http://www.lanl.gov/orgs/pa/newbulletin/images/Oppie_Grover.jpg

 

 

 

6. Adapted from http://www.anaerobicendurance.com/uploads/crossfitendurance/
image/aboriginespearwoomera.jpg

 

ARROYO AKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Special thanks to Staff Artists: Michael Certo, Tim Mullane, Adriana Acevedo. Volunteer Artists: Sue Orchant, Kathy Gaither, Andrea Carvey, Lucia De La Torre, Ms. Ray, Kari Montros, the 1998 elementary school classes of the teachers Ogawa, Keck, Todd, Cowan, Peterson, Sloan, McGill, Winters, Addington, Fernandez, Espinosa, Murray, Stouffle, Rael, Ruckman, Chapman, and Gabaldon, of the following Albuquerque Public Schools: Comanche, Zia, Navajo, Sierra Vista, Inez, Lew Wallace, and Eugene Field. Contract Fabricators: W. Kreysler and Associates, and the student interns and staff of Opp Art Inc.

We are also grateful to the following curators and experts who have lent their review and other support in this effort: John Grassham and Deborah Slaney of the Albuquerque Museum, Spencer Lucas of the New Mexico Museum of Natural History, James Wadell and Sam Bono of the then-named National Atomic Museum, Roberto Molina-Garza and Ms. Baton, both of UNM at the time of this project.

The Art Director also thanks the AMAFCA staff, board of directors, and management, including past and current Executive Engineers Larry Blair and John Kelly. Also for this poster iteration I was fortunate to work with an interdisciplinary team including AMAFCA and City of Albuquerque staff.

It has been a singular honor to support AMAFCA on this project.
Michael Wallace, Art Director