The best things to come out of New Mexico coalesce from the roiling cauldron of cultures, histories and sheer love of place this state provokes. Even when green chile doesn't enter the mix. Scope these three exceptional books for a taste of the wide-ranging art that owes its existence to this unusual place.
Josef Díaz, ed. • Museum of New Mexico Press • $34.95 • hardcover
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Man of action, man of spirit or man of the mind? When it comes to Bernardo Miera y Pacheco, the 18th-century Spanish-born polymath, we don’t have to choose. A soldier and member of the Spanish Royal Corps of Engineers who arrived in “New Spain” by 1741 and Santa Fe by 1755—he was a contemporary of Benjamin Franklin—Miera also proved himself an accomplished religious artist. His work anticipates the retablos and bultos now considered hallmarks of New Mexico arts, and an elaborate altar screen he carved from volcanic stone remains in service at the Cristo Rey Parish on Canyon Road in Santa Fe. Yet Miera’s most celebrated role is that of mapmaker. His detailed, intelligent maps incorporated ethnographic details observed by Miera himself; their accuracy and beauty made them practical works of enduring art. Miera’s cartography, says Dennis Reinhartz in one of this volume’s five bookish essays, “was a reflection of his complexity.” Fans of New Mexico history will take pleasure in the new scholarship on display here almost as much as they’ll love poring over the visual feast of map details, wooden panels adorned with oil-painted saints and figures carved in the round.
Nick DePascal • West End Press • $12.95 • paperback
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Any fans of precise yet forthright language on your holiday list? Maybe a reader who loves sharp humor laced with trenchant sadness, but whose attention span is, you know, limited? UNM instructor Nick DePascal’s debut collection of poetry meditates on the consolations and complications of marriage, revels in the hypocritical ironies of corporate-speak and keeps each thoughtful missive pleasingly, perfectly succinct. He’ll break your heart with “52 Horses” (“Horses are smart,/ they understand faces, they can/ smell fear and the blood/ in your heart”) and reassemble it—albeit crookedly—with “Spring in an Old House” (“The woods are an open field./ This is the stupid math of loving/ another human being”). Winner of the first-ever West End Poetry Prize, DePascal is by turns brainy, surreal, elegiac and playful.
Carolyn Kastner, ed. • University of Texas Press • $55 • hardcover
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What’s so nuevo mexicano about a painter, illustrator, theatrical set designer, archaeologist and writer who was born in Mexico City in 1904 and spent a good portion of his life in New York City and Mexico? As people like to say here in the Land of Enchantment: It’s all about who you know. Miguel Covarrubias was friends with fellow modernist Georgia O’Keeffe, who he met in 1929 at the Taos home of arts patron Mabel Dodge Luhan. Recognizable today for his clean-lined caricatures of movie stars and politicians that appeared on the pages of Vogue, Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, Covarrubias was also an influential scholar who popularized the cultures and arts of the Americas, especially the ancient pre-Columbian civilization of the Olmecs. And damn, he’s cool. His artwork remains stylish and appealing, accessible to those of us without art degrees but radiating skill. This lushly illustrated monograph enriched with four essays accompanies an exhibition of Covarrubias’ varied output at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum (217 Johnson St., Santa Fe) running through Jan. 18, 2015. The perfect gift just might be a copy of this art book and a day trip to the museum, where admission’s only six bucks for New Mexico residents.