Alibi V.27 No.23 • June 7-13, 2018 

Culture Shock

Pathways to the Past

New public art project honors and illuminates the history of Mountain Road

Al Parra
Old Town-raised adobe master Al Parra is depicted on one of the many banners going up along Mountain Road as part of History of the Neighborhood through the Eyes of Contemporary Artists
Courtesy of Al Parra and Friends of Mountain Road

Mountain Road has a unique pull—it's certainly not like every road cutting an east-west path across the city. Artist Juliana Coles enumerated a few of the reasons that she's loved the road for more than 20 years saying, “There is something here. You feel it when you drive down it. The way it is so thin, and how you have to drive 18 miles per hour. It has the old lights, old architecture. I travel a lot and I always can't wait to get back here. Mountain Road is one of the reasons this place feels like home.” Another artist, Julianna Kirwin, whose beautiful studio we sat outside of that afternoon added sagely, “What you sense is the history.”

This history, as evidenced through architecture and other features along the historic thoroughfare, has long captivated Kirwin, at least as long as she's been in her studio at the intersection of Eighth and Mountain. It's what spurred her to submit a proposal to the city to develop History of the Neighborhood through the Eyes of Contemporary Artists—a unique public arts project that unpacks the past through artworks sourced from local creatives with a story to tell.

“When I moved here I realized that there's so much history, but it's all hidden,” Kirwin said. “Like, it was called Mountain Road because they would go from the Old Town settlement up to get their wood in the mountains,” she explained gesturing toward the eastward course of the street. As she started investigating the history and tuning in more to her surroundings, she also started noticing the street's lampposts, complete with dowels—yet they were empty of banners.

Johnny Tapia
Artist Erin Currier created a striking collage centered on the image of Albuquerque boxing legend Johnny Tapia for a unique public art project going up on Mountain Road.
Courtesy of Blue Rain Gallery

According to her friends and colleagues, Kirwin has long been driven and self-directed. Illustrating just that, last August she wrote a proposal for the city's Art in Public Places program (also known as One Percent for the Arts) to commission works from local artists to print as banners and hang from Mountain Road's lampposts as a visual history that simultaneously works to beautify and honor the historic stretch.

More than 20 artists were selected to create pieces for the project. Among the works on display are mixed media pieces by students at Escuela del Sol Montessori School (facilitated through workshops by Coles), photographs of figures like adobe master Albert Parra, linocuts, acrylic and oil paintings, and portraits of the likes of iconic Burqueño Johnny Tapia. Another individual who figures prominently into History of the Neighborhood through the Eyes of Contemporary Artists is historian, poet and journalist Emma Moya.

Moya's family roots run deep in Albuquerque—traceable all the way back to 1598. She was a journalist for La Herencia, she wrote poetry, was an activist in the Chicano Movement and continues to be a historian of the area. Kirwin connected with her through happenstance. As Kirwin began her research, she relied heavily on the Emma Moya Collection at the library. One day, Kirwin stopped in at a local print shop, toting a photograph of Moya. “Oh,” the clerk said, gesturing to the photo, “she comes in here sometimes.” Kirwin left a note with the clerk and soon connected with Moya, who shared her boundless knowledge of Mountain Road, helping along the project and giving it greater depth.

Emma Moya
Georgette Endicott created a portrait of local historian, poet, journalist and activist Emma Moya
Courtesy of Georgette Endicott and Friends of Mountain Road

Among the works that will line the road is a portrait of Moya created by Georgette Endicott, who was inspired by conversations with Moya to paint her “as a young woman with her guitarra.” In loopy cursive paint like a halo over the painted figure are the words familia, historia and justicia. “She's been so important for this project,” Kirwin said. “Meeting her is one little jewel of this project that I never expected.”

Some artists, alternatively, chose to research and depict iconic businesses—either still in existence or long gone—that line the corridor. The well-loved Golden Crown Panaderia shows up in a piece by Andrew Fearnside, for example. Fearnside interviewed staff at the bakery and restaurant and learned of a favorite paddle cactus that had long stood outside the storefront. One recent—and particularly severe—winter killed the plant. In honor of that sweet reminiscence, Fearnside made a digital art piece of the cactus, which in his work fantastically sprouts pan dulce. Other places depicted include the old Sunshine Market, in the location where Cocina Azul now stands, represented charmingly by Ilene Weiss, or the American Lumber Company drawn by Amaris Feland Ketcham.

The banners were officially hung last week, and celebrated their opening on Friday, June 1. An informal stroll down the street will allow visitors a sense of the project. Kirwin and a number of the artists involved with the effort will also host a banner walk on Saturday, June 9 from noon to 4pm. Various “docents” and artists will be planted on corners along the stretch—that is, on Mountain between 5th and 12th Streets—to illumine process and the individual stories that were unpacked over the course of creating History of the Neighborhood through the Eyes of Contemporary Artists. At that time, Kirwin would like to invite anyone with stories to tell about Mountain Road to share them.

Places like this iconic street, and their rich history, “are so much a part of who we are and our identity,” Kirwin offered. “We, as artists, should connect with people. … I love learning about place and the special identity of place—the character, the food, the people. All of that feeds me as an artist, too.”

To experience the rich history of Mountain Road, simply take a walk. More information on participating artists and associated events can be found online at friendsofmountainroad.com.