Real life meets art at Chamber of Commerce


The work of two New Mexico artists with a knack for capturing everyday life — simple, sometimes raw, uniquely beautiful ― grace the walls of the Socorro County Chamber of Commerce for the month of February.

The photography of Rick Carver and the contributors to his book, “A Year or So in the Life of New Mexico,” coupled with Cathleen Steele-Johnson’s pastel and colored pencil drawings remind the viewer of the power of images in our own back yard.

Real Life Images of New Mexico

Part of Carver’s interest in photography may be rooted in an early brush with greatness.

“I grew up in Carmel (Calif.) When I was a junior in high school I was Ansel Adams’ gardener. Worked for a summer; the smell of chemicals was everywhere in the house,” said Carver with a grin.

But it wasn’t until years later that Carver started mixing his own chemicals.

“I really got involved with photography in the ’80s. I saw a photograph of a butterfly covered with dew-drops, and I said to myself, ‘I gotta learn how to do that,’” he said. “It’s the world’s greatest hobby.”

Carver, who describes himself as a photojournalist and human rights activist, multi-purposed his book. Its pages reveal life here in all its complexities. Poverty, substance abuse and its aftermath are part of the fabric of life in the Land of Enchantment as much as crimson sunsets and windswept buttes.

It was also a democratic venture. Professional and amateur photographers were welcome to contribute, and any image was fair game.

“There were no restrictions on subject matter,” said Carver, “Just those of good taste.”

As further evidence to Carver’s social awareness, the book’s dedication is to Tonye R. Crooks, who battled breast cancer.

Carver’s portion of the exhibit features several images near and dear to Socorro residents. It’s a small sample, meant to whet your appetite for this book, with over 400 black and white and color photographs.

Cowboys at the Socorro County rodeo are given an almost mythic appearance. In one, Carver’s use of a grainy effect gives a sense of looking back through time to a long-ago rider and his bronco. In another, a slow shutter speed creates an impressionistic portrait of a man and his horse as one speeding body with the air around them ― a slipstream. He uses a Canon camera and the deft touch of occasional Photoshop to maximum effect.

There are also images shot by contributors of our much beloved cranes and bosque, and sleek vintage propeller aircraft, captured in that perfect moment of butter-yellow New Mexican sunlight.

“The aircraft photos were done by Mike Rice, a retired Air Force general. The plane’s part of his collection,” he said.

“A Year or So in the Life of New Mexico” can be found in bookstores, but Carver would like people to purchase it via Esperanza Shelter, an non-profit organization assisting survivors of domestic violence and their families. A purchase through the shelter will underwrite his costs and the majority of the profits support the safety and well-being of women and children. The book’s cost is $50.00 plus $5.00 shipping. Checks should be made out to Esperanza Shelter and mailed to P.O. Box 5701, Santa Fe, NM, 87052. Credit card orders can be made by calling Peggy Luplow at 505-660-7409.

Cathy Steele-Johnson Makes a Life of Art

“I drew as a little kid,” said Cathy Steele-Johnson, a Lemitar resident. “I wasn’t sure about how it looked when I started, but I loved doing it.”

Steele-Johnson doesn’t need to worry. Her finely detailed colored pencil and pastel renderings of everyday items like a child’s beloved stuffed rabbit hang on the wall with portraits of Native warriors, and images of the cowboy life.

“I always found myself drawn to Indian life and Indian people,” said Johnson who lived on the Tulalip reservation in Washington state from 2000 to 2005.

A native of the state of Washington, Steele-Johnson moved from the Snoqualmie Falls area to New Mexico two years ago with her husband, J.D. Johnson, a New Mexico native. Her husband supports and participates in her artistic endeavors, hand-making picture frames, and was at the Chamber of Commerce helping to hang pictures.

Her early life as an artist took a slight detour in adulthood, like the creative aspirations of many women.

“I didn’t draw for years,” she said. “I had a family and five kids. I got divorced, moved and took care of them and the household. Some days, I was just too tired for anything else.”

She also made art on a tight budget and appreciates the financial constraints some would-be artists face. She offers the suggestion of places like dollar stores to stock up on supplies.

But if you think she wasn’t creatively active while raising a family, you’d be wrong. During that time, she tried her hand at a number of arts and crafts, while also working as a house-framer. Jewelry making, doll making, lamp shade painting, sewing and candle-making all provided an outlet for her creative bent, as well as a source of family income and feathering for her own nest.

She also has some advice for other women juggling family, work and home.

“Just pick up a pencil, even for a few minutes. Try different things, eventually you’ll find what you like,” opined Steele-Johnson.

In the 1990s she returned to drawing, taking up pen and pastel again. There was commissioned portraiture, which she still does on a limited basis.

“I can work off any photo,” she said. “But I like the freedom of my other work, pictures of my own choosing.”

To view or purchase Steele-Johnson’s other work, or to commission a portrait, call 425-218-2709.


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