ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Back in the early days of the 19th century, back when transportation was by foot, horse, burro and cart, Albuquerque’s Mountain Road was a corridor leading from the Hispanic farms in the river valley to the Sandia Mountains.
“It was the only road up to the mountains where people could get wood for building, for heating and cooking,” said Julianna Kirwin, a printmaker and art teacher, whose home and studio is at Eighth and Mountain. “I have lived here for 10 years, but right from the start I noticed that the history of Mountain Road, which is so important to our city, was not evident anywhere.”
For years, Kirwin mulled over ways to correct that. Late last year she submitted to the City of Albuquerque Arts Board a proposal to display public art banners, depicting various aspects of Mountain Road’s history and culture, on lamp posts along the road. In January, the Arts Board gave the project unanimous approval.
“I think (the board) thought of it as a community-building project, one that would bring art and history together,” Kirwin said.
Kirwin solicited submissions from artists. More than 20 works of art – ranging from acrylic paintings and digital prints to black-and-white photographs and tile mosaics – were selected for the exhibit, titled “History of the Neighborhood through the Eyes of Contemporary Artists.” Images from the works are being transferred to heavy-vinyl banners that will be suspended from lamp posts between Fifth and 12th streets on Mountain Road.
The project – funded by the city, the Wells Park Neighborhood Association and some Mountain Road businesses – will be up for a year. But it’s getting its coming out party Saturday, when the public is encouraged to walk along Mountain Road to look at the banners.
Through the years, Mountain Road has seen more than a few layers of evolution, much of it confined to the section from Rio Grande Boulevard east to Fourth Street.
The establishment of the American Lumber Co. in the 12th Street area north of Mountain Road in 1903 changed the character of the area as did a post-World War I building boom that resulted in quiet residential streets and compact, one-story houses with modest front yards. Now, the road is best known as the northern border of Old Town and the home to museums, art studios, cafes and other small businesses.
“It’s a nice combination of residences and small, local businesses,” Kirwin said of the road today. “The scale of the buildings reflect a different time, when they were homes for people working at the (lumber) mill. And there are all the wonderful adobes. It still has original character. It’s so nice to have that recognized.”
Works in the installation include:
⋄ “Afternoon Walk,” a colorful acrylic painting by Alameda artist Dee Sanchez, which depicts women on Mountain Road back in the days when it was a vital connection between the valley and the mountains.
⋄ A black and white photograph of master adobe builder Albert Parra, who was raised in Old Town.
⋄ “Comida,” an acrylic by neighborhood resident Venae Warner, which pays homage to the foods grown in the backyards and prepared in the home kitchens of the Mountain Road community.
“The remains of acequias can be discovered here, so you can kind of see how it used to be farmland,” Kirwin said. “The road is narrow. It was a road people walked on or rode horses and burros on. It is very endearing in the way it winds around. It has kept a quality about it that is very specific to the character of this neighborhood.
“Sometimes we become so busy, we don’t notice what has come before us. But we can remember it, recall it. I think it is important to our self-esteem. It forms our identity.”