Oil Painter Inspired by New Mexico Residency

Weinman sketching Fort Union. June 2019.

For acclaimed oil painter Melissa Weinman, a chance meeting near the Oldest House Indian Shop led to her newest opportunity to immerse herself in art and place as the 2019 National Parks Foundation Artist in Residence at Fort Union National Monument. 

“When I went into San Miguel I fell in love with the place,” Weinman said. “But you can’t just set up an easel on the sidewalk and paint in Santa Fe. I wrote to San Miguel Chapel for permission to paint on their premises. They said, ‘Sure, we’d love to have you. You can even paint the inside.’ I was standing in the back parking lot of San Miguel painting when I met Rick.”

Rick Smith, owner of the Oldest House Indian Shop, noticed Weinman painting near the shop on several occasions and struck up a conversation. Weinman said they spoke often about the artists throughout history who have traveled to New Mexico and to the national parks and the art they made. “He was giving me nudges along the way and sharing the context and the perspective of art in New Mexico.”

Then Smith told her about his niece Tanya Ortega, founder of the National Parks Arts Foundation, and about the foundation’s Artist in Residence program that arranges one-month residencies in national parks offered to artists from around the world.

Weinman, who lives near Tacoma, Wash., was intrigued by a residency in New Mexico, a state with friends she often visits. She applied and was awarded the Fort Union residency. “If not for Rick, I wouldn’t be doing this,” she said.

Weinman’s residency at Fort Union National Monument began Oct. 2, 2019, and will continue through Oct. 30, 2019.  She will present a plein air painting demonstration on Oct. 19 at 11 a.m. at the park, discussing the practice of “Using Diminishing Intervals to Create Space” as she demonstrates this in her work live. She also will present her work titled “To Make a Space” at Gallery 140, 140 Bridge St., Las Vegas, N.M., on Oct. 25 at 7 p.m.

“National Parks have always welcomed artistic interpretations in support of land advocacy,” Lorenzo Vigil, superintendent of Fort Union National Monument, said in a news release. “We are pleased to host artists who communicate complex and contemporary issues through their chosen medium.”

The monument in northeastern New Mexico sits off Interstate 25 just past Watrous, about 28 miles north of Las Vegas.  It was the largest frontier military post and supply center of the southwest from 1862 to 1891. It also was the hub of commerce, national defense, and migration at the final stretch of the Santa Fe Trail. The richly evocative remnants of a post-civil war era adobe fort standing stark against the prairie became a National Monument in 1954.

“The ruins stand like sentinels on the prairie, vertical in contrast to the horizontal land,” Weinman described. Originally from southwest Minnesota, she grew up on a prairie like this with its immense sea of land and big sky. 

Along with the prairie, Weinman will have many other environments to explore during her residency. She looks to paint the nearby Mora River Valley with its diving swallows, a dried lakebed and the sky’s storm clouds advancing on the fort. “The sky is incredibly dramatic,” she said after a visit in June.  “And I was very aware of bird sounds, so I might have to incorporate them in some way. Part of the vibe there is the birds, antelope, elk. I even saw a hawk catch a snake.”

She’s also hoping for a little weather. “A snow scene would be incredible to paint,” she said.

Weinman is a plein air painter, meaning she takes her easel and oils outdoors in all conditions to paint. “It’s a different kind of painting,” she said “The scene is constantly changing, the shadows, the light, the weather all affect the scene. And plein air painting is like hunting, you have to find the right place and the right time (to capture the scene you want).”

Weinman began showing her work, which ranges from portraits to landscapes to still-life paintings, at galleries in Santa Fe in 2016 and is currently shown in Santa Fe at Masterpiece Gallery. She has been showing professionally since 1983. 

Weinman is a member of Oil Painters of America, and presently teaches in her studio in Ruston, Wash. She began teaching at the college level in 1981 and was chair of the University of Puget Sound Art Department from 2002-2004. She holds an MFA in two-dimensional media from the University of Southern California and a bachelor’s degree in creative visuals arts and Chinese studies from Bowdoin College in Maine.

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