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Cultural growth: ‘Painting Santa Fe’ tracks city’s transformation to center for the arts

Santa Fe is the City Different for a reason.

It was a colonial capital.

It was also a trade capital during the time of El Camino Real.

Its latest iteration is an arts capital.

And the journey started more than 100 years ago.

Michael Kamins’ latest documentary for New Mexico PBS takes a look at how the seeds were planted more than 100 years ago for the city.

The hourlong documentary, “Painting Santa Fe,” will air at 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 4, on KNME Channel 5.1. It will repeat at 8:30 p.m. Dec. 8 and 7 p.m. Dec. 28.

“We kind of have this modern interpretation of Santa Fe when we go there,” Kamis says in an interview at the PBS studios. “You are overwhelmed by the history and how it is a marketplace. I was really interested in what got it going on the path it’s on today. How did it happen? There is a sense of place in Santa Fe, and the city has had many different lives.”

The documentary focuses on the founding of the Santa Fe Arts Colony. It tells the fascinating history of Santa Fe’s transformation from an adobe village to a world-renowned center for the arts.

Kamins and Nedra Matteucci served as the executive producers.

The film celebrates the history, culturally diverse artists, institutions and patrons of this unique place and chapter in American art.

Kamins researched the city’s history and delved into the strong cultural identity and artistic legacy.

Some of the artists featured are Carlos Vierra, Robert Henri, Gerald Cassidy, Olive Rush, Los Cincos Pintores, John Sloan, Randall Davey and more.

Kamins was able to connect with families of Santa Fe artists Fremont Ellis, Carlos Vierra, Will Shuster and Oliver La Farge.

“The families shared stuff that has never been seen,” Kamins says. “There’s Carlos’ letter to his sister telling her that the place is filled with nothing but mud huts.”

Kamins says the documentary encompasses about the first two decades of the Santa Fe arts colony.

“From 1904, when Carlos Vierra arrives, to the early 1930s, in this span, we see the arrival of artists, many seeking a cure for tuberculosis,” Kamins says. “These early years include the arrival of (Edgar Lee) Hewett, and the plans to find an economic engine for the economically depressed Santa Fe.”

Before Hewett arrived in 1907, Santa Fe’s economy was drying out.

The days of trading were gone, and hope that the Santa Fe railroad would bring jobs didn’t come to fruition. Those jobs went north to Las Vegas, N.M., and south to Albuquerque

“Edgar Lee Hewett became a force in transforming the city,” he says. “This visionary, a cultural entrepreneur, is a very important part of this story. At the heart of the story is art. We often think about art as being as transformative experience for an individual. Yet here, art was essential in the transformation of an entire city.”

Kamins says the film gets into the meeting of Hewett and Henri in San Diego, where the vision for the New Mexico Museum of Art came from.

“The museum attracts numerous artists, along with being a foundation for the growing artist colony,” he says.

The later part of the documentary features an in-depth look into the artists themselves, such as Los Cinco Pintores, who flipped the arts scene on its head.

“These five artists were visionary,” Kamins says. “They took what everyone thought about art and created something entirely new.”