Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Las Vegas, New Mexico Pioneer Woman

So far I have intended this blog to be my version of responsible, well referenced, (pseudo-) academic research oriented, "just-the-facts, ma'am, just-the-facts" writing. Today I am going to change all that and plunge into an argument with some folks from a decade and a half ago. I will have the advantage in this pursuit in that the other side will be limited to points made in a newspaper article kindly provided to me by a librarian - the cream of humankind. All the rebuttals to my arguments will have to be made by you, my readers. Both of you.

But first, the statue.
This information was gleaned from an article in the Thursday June 8, 1995 "The New Mexican," a Santa Fe daily newspaper. The article was written by H.L. Lovato. The sculpture was created by architect/sculptor Burke Rutherford as part of a deal made with New Mexico Highlands University, which is located in Las Vegas, NM. The arrangement seems to have gone something like this. Students at Highland would help cast their statue from 825 pounds of bronze, purchased by the university for $1,407 (a steal at today’s prices) and would also create a second casting from materials paid for by Rutherford. The students spent over 730 hours creating the Las Vegas casting. Whether or not the second casting was also done by students is not clear.

Here is the controversy, or as the newspaper headline put it, “Sculpture sows discontent.” (A little journalistic joke - the statue is sowing grain or something. Get it?) Jean Hinkie, an area resident, is quoted as saying “It doesn’t really represent the history of this area of New Mexico. It is not complete until a Hispanic and an American Indian woman are placed with their counterpart.” Hmmmm. Seems to me (a male) that it is not really “complete” until it has some men in it, all pioneers were not women, you know, and my faithful friend Gabe is throwing in “And dogs, there should be lots of dogs.” But we digress. Put another way, a work of art can never really tell the whole story of anything. Well, abstract art, maybe, but what is the story there? Whooops. Digressing again.

Even more perturbed than Hinke seemed to be Anselmo Arellano. Arellano is an educator and fairly prolific author of New Mexico Hispanic related books and articles and, I am happy to relate, not the Anselmo Arellano who shows up in “Find-a-Grave. At that time (1995) he was an oral history teacher at Highlands University. He said, (as only an oral historian can), “The female pioneers of Las Vegas were Hispanic. The Anglos did not arrive until after the Santa Fe Trail passed through the area.” He goes on to state that, with this in mind, the sculptured figure was dressed all wrong, that she should be wearing “t├ípalos or rebozos” and not in a bonnet or calico dress as featured on the statue.

A university spokesperson, Benita Budd, further muddied the waters by explaining, “It was not intended to represent Anglo women, nor was there any effort to represent any ethnic group.” Spoken like a true bureaucrat.

From my perspective we (I’m assuming that all you will agree with me) can pretty quickly dispense with the “no ethic group” sentiment. The woman sculpted was an Anglo, ‘cause, . . . if she looks like an Anglo and dresses like and Anglo, then she pretty much IS an Anglo. More to the point (at least my point) is, does a New Mexico Pioneer have to be Hispanic?

I am one of those who despairs sometimes about the WASPization of American History. Our history, as presented by movies and T.V. and even school textbooks could easily lead one to the conviction that all the Western expansion was done by folks who looked like, say, Ronald Regan. And it was not like that. On the other hand I was looking at a drawing of a US Cavalry soldier recently by the great Western artist Frederick Remington and the guy was black. The drawing was not labeled “Buffalo Soldier”, just “Soldier.” And it worked for me just fine. So it is with the Pioneer Woman.

Recently I found this picture of a pioneer woman and it could have been the same one that Rutherford and the students created.

My bottom line is that the artist willing to spend the time and effort involved with getting a bunch of 20 somethings to make a statue was, in all likelihood, an Anglo. Not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth, the University accepted the work.

Now whether the statue its self is a great work of art is another issue that I probably will never take up.

Another casting of the statue, perhaps Rutherford’s, is located at Pioneer Park in Worland, Wyoming.