A lot of love went into this art exhibit.
Then again, almost everything Lonnie Anderson does for Valentine’s Day is about love.
Lots of love.
Love that spreads across the sky in stars that spell out his wife’s name, Anne, last year’s big gesture, created with the help of the planetarium folks at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science.
Love that circles the globe in photos of random folks in more than 65 countries who held signs that read “I Love Anne” sent at Anderson’s request.
Love that is written in an e.e. cummings poem with 6,500 pebbles, in a giant piñata and paper flowers taller than their South Valley house, in a working carousel in their yard, in a throne fit for a queen.
For the past 26 years, Anderson’s unique expressions of devotion to Anne Bolger Witherspoon, his wife of 20 of those years, have put to shame those who opt for a perfunctory drugstore rose and, he hopes, inspired other would-be romantics to think outside the box of chocolates for Valentine’s Day.
None of his fanciful feats, featured in this column and in media around the world, cost more than the price of a bouquet of roses and a fancy dinner out, and that’s because Anderson is very resourceful and very persuasive, able to enlist others in his endeavors in the name of love.
This year’s Valentine’s Day project was a greater challenge than ever because of COVID-19 restrictions, yet more than ever it seemed important to spread love in such unlovable times.
“With all the hate and division out there, it felt we needed to put love out into the universe,” he said. “Even if nobody saw it.”
Anderson decided to create an art show featuring some of his most notable Valentine’s Day creations from years past, pieces of which he has stored in his garage.
“But every gallery said, no, that’s not art,” he said.
Eventually, art folks with the city of Albuquerque decided they loved the idea and offered the use of the gallery at the South Broadway Cultural Center.
“But I needed help,” he said. “I was literally in the garage putting back together giant piñatas and flowers and needed someone to step in to curate the show.”
He knew the perfect person – his 17-year-old daughter, Hawthorn Bolger Witherspoon.
“My daughter has helped me with every Valentine’s Day project since she was 1 and dressed up as Cupid,” Anderson said.
Hawthorn, a junior at Bosque School, is far more than daddy’s little helper these days. She interned at the Albuquerque Museum, learning about curating exhibits from director Andrew Connors. Two of her photos are part of an exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. She helped write and illustrate a book called “South Valley” with Albuquerque poet Jimmy Santiago Baca. She’s taking classes on art history and museum studies at the University of New Mexico and Central New Mexico Community College.
And she knows people.
She’s also apparently inherited her father’s art of persuasion, convincing nationally known street artists Shepard Fairey, Daniel Johnston, Ron English, Coco 144 and Albert Rosales to loan their art to the exhibit.
“I was lucky enough to work with some of them, and I was preparing to do a video essay of Johnston before his death,” she said.
The exhibit, aptly titled “Love,” opened Feb. 2.
“Hawthorn really is the brains behind this exhibit,” Anderson said. “I think the artists appreciated that.”
The artists also liked the idea that their work would be seen by a community that may not otherwise get to see it beyond the pages of a book or a mural in a larger city, he said.
Perhaps the most poignant item in the exhibit is a poem written by famed Albuquerque author Rudolfo Anaya and sent unexpectedly to Anderson last April.
By then Anaya, 82, was in failing health. He died June 28. The poem, titled “Valentines Day 2020” and typed on his familiar stationary with the cartoon image of a scholarly owl, is likely the last piece he wrote and has never been publicly released until now.
“We didn’t know at the time how sick he was,” Anderson said. “But until the very end of his life he was writing about love, how complicated love is.”
Among the lines:
“I love like a coyote chasing a jackrabbit across the mesa
I love you like the rattlesnake that almost bit me”
That’s pretty complicated.
Anaya had participated in Anderson’s Valentine’s Day extravaganza in 2017 as one of nine poets asked to recite a love poem to Anne in a private reading.
A year later, Hawthorn, then 13, was asked to photograph a couple of photos of a pear tree in Anaya’s front yard in northwest Albuquerque. The photos are used in a video that accompanies Anaya’s portrait at the Smithsonian to explain the shadows that fall across Anaya’s face as captured by artist Gaspar Enriquez.
And what of Anne? Before the show’s opening, Hawthorn and Anderson surprised her with a private showing of this exhibit of love put out into the universe for her, for everybody to see.
She loved it.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Reach Joline at 730-2793, firstname.lastname@example.org, Facebook or @jolinegkg on Twitter.