ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — “The New Mexico Connection” spans Lee Marmon’s classic photographs as well as the pop-meets-petroglyphs paintings of Neal Ambrose-Smith.
Located at the African American Performing Arts Center and Exhibition Hall at Expo New Mexico, the exhibit gathers 68 pieces from the Bernalillo County Public Art Collection.
The show features works from 33 local artists recently purchased by the county and includes photographs, collages, paintings, prints, mixed-media and drawings from such artists as Ann Dunbar, Catalina Delgado-Trunk, Holly Roberts, Celeste LaForme, Reg Loving, Karsten Creightney and Tom Ross.
Dunbar’s “How Much Is that Doggie in the Window” shadow box incorporates the found objects fans sometimes leave hanging from her doorknob.
“I have always been a collector and I hate to throw things away,” she said. “Each little object has meaning. When you combine things together, you can create a new story.”
“Doggie” features a paint-by-numbers canine portrait framed by curlers, marbles, playing cards, dice and spools of thread, all splashed in teal tones.
“I look through boxes of junk to collect the colors,” Dunbar said. “Then it just evolves from there.”
Ambrose-Smith (Flathead/Salish) chose Batman as the dominant image for his monotype “Act Like a Baby, Stop Snoring” in a humorous commentary on identity issues.
“I’m Native American, so I identify with people who struggle with their identity,” the Corrales artist said. “Then I reworked that expression where somebody got hit – there’d be a giant explosion like ‘pop’ or ‘sock’ or ‘bam.'”
As a consultant with the Joan Mitchell Foundation, Ambrose-Smith flies frequently to artist studios across the country, helping them archive their work.
As a result, he’s a frequent reader of SkyMall magazine, purveyors of such items as scented T-shirts and litter robots.
“It sells the most amazing products that we don’t need, but they make it sound exciting,” he explained. He lifted both the “stop snoring” and “act like a baby” phrases from catalog headlines. A star-shaped thought bubble reads “Pow Wow.”
“Basically, he’s just an Indian who woke up on the wrong side of the bed in the wrong regalia, so it’s ‘pow-wow,'” he explained.
Marmon’s signature photograph “White Man’s Moccasins” (1954) was made when he was delivering groceries in his 1930 Model A while working at the Laguna Pueblo Trading Post. He spotted tribal elder Jeff Sousea, the 85-year-old caretaker of the Laguna mission.
“That day I had the camera with me and I was parked at the Laguna Plaza,” Marmon said. “I saw old man Jeff sitting in the sun. He said, ‘No picture.'”
Marmon completed his deliveries and returned.
“I went back over to him and gave him a cigar and he said, ‘OK.’ I don’t even think he smoked.”
The print shows Sousea in a traditional headband, dripping in turquoise and coral, his feet clad in a well-worn pair of Keds high-tops. That contrast of traditional and western wear encapsulates the great cultural collision ignited as both the railroads and tourists roared through Indian Country.
Marmon has sold more than 20,000 posters of the image since 1983.
Today the photographer still lives at Laguna. His camera captured women hanging laundry and plastering walls. He never posed them for artificial portraits.
Marmon would go on to shoot a collection of New Mexican pottery for the Nixon White House and win a Lifetime Achievement Award from Santa Fe’s Southwestern Association for Indian Arts.
In 2009, he boxed his archives of 90,000 negatives for preservation at the University of New Mexico.