Mesas and Mountains and Wide-Open Spaces, Oh My!

“The Rock of Acoma, New Mexico” (1902, watercolor and pencil, 14 1/4 x 20 3/4 in.) by Thomas Moran (1837–1926)

“Asking an artist to share their favorite painting spots is like asking a fisherman to reveal his choice fishin’ holes,” says New Mexico artist Barbara Coleman. “I, for one, prefer to paint in solitude, far from city street corners and the direct gaze of onlookers.

“If you visit, you should know that the high desert landscape of northern New Mexico is fierce. The cliffs, mesas, and canyons have lost their frills; only the hardiest plants and trees survive. It’s an architectural landscape devoid of soft, green rolling hills and sfumato — the melting atmospheric perspective of rainier places. Ghost Ranch and its delicately hued cliffs and canyons are wild and irresistible. It’s a sparse terrain; dry arroyos trace the paths of summer flash floods, and the wind whispers through sage and bounces off cliff faces. The play of shadows among the rocks is a never-ending source of inspiration. The challenge at Ghost Ranch, and its surrounds, is to not fall into the trap of becoming a scenery painter. This place requires focus.

“At the Orilla Verde Recreation Area, the Rio Grande provides a kaleidoscope of sparkling reflections of the coyote willows and cottonwoods that line the river. The water babbles and sometimes roars around angular boulders that tumbled into the water long ago. Being near the river and breathing in negative ions released from the flowing, sometimes agitated water, brings feelings of peace, awe, even euphoria.  

“These places are like old friends. I settle when I’m there, finding my rhythm and peace. And sometimes, when I have relinquished my chatter and trusted my vision, a good painting will result.”

Mary King Longfellow’s sketch of the Santa Fe landscape with low adobe buildings on adobe-colored hills and a mountain range in background.

Niece of the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Mary King Longfellow (1852-1945) took up watercolor at an early age. She studied at the Museum of Fine Arts School of Drawing and Painting in 1878, and in 1884 to 1889 took watercolor lessons with Ross Sterling Turner, a Boston painter of the American Impressionist movement. 

Mary King Longfellow’s sketch of San Miguel Chapel in Santa Fe. At left is a rough outline sketch of a donkey.

Often painted en plein air, Longfellow’s work reflected the principles of two fashionable art movements of the late 19th century, Impressionism and Realism. Although she made her home in Portland, Maine, she loved to travel. She made several extended trips to Europe as well as trips to Mexico and the southeastern United States. She documented each excursion through diary entries, sketches, and watercolors.

Make your own mark on the Land of Enchantment at the Plein Air Convention & Expo in Santa Fe, New Mexico — May 17-21, 2022.

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Kelly Kane
PleinAir Magazine and American Watercolor Weekly Editor-in-Chief With more than 20 years experience in art publishing, Kelly Kane has served previously as Editor-in-Chief of Watercolor Artist magazine and Content Director for The Artist’s Magazine, Drawing, Acrylic Artist, and Pastel Journal. She has interviewed many of the preeminent artists of our time and written numerous articles about painting, drawing, art education and art history. She is now the Editor-in-Chief of PleinAir Magazine and the American Watercolor Weekly newsletter. Click here to send her an email.


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