By Brian Nixon, Special to ASSIST News Service
SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO (ANS – September 27, 2016) — I like surprises. And surprised I was as I walked into Blue Rain Gallery to see artist, Jim Vogel’s, newest exhibit, Ludlow: Labor, Liberty, and Loss . The surprise didn’t come from the excellence of Vogel’s work. No. I’ve admired Vogel’s art for years — a combination of mannerism (large, distinctive human features) mixed with swirling, colorful composition — aka Luis Jimenez, one of Vogel’s influences while growing up in Roswell, New Mexico.
The surprise came when Jim Vogel, his wife, Christen, and noted photographer and videographer, Eric Swanson, were standing next to me and my wife, Melanie, taking pictures and preparing for a video shoot — all in commemoration of the new exhibit and Vogel’s recent award from Governor Susanna Martinez.
I didn’t expect to see the artist, just his artwork. But the meeting turned into greater admiration for the man and his paintings.
Seeing that Melanie and I were talking with Denise Phetteplace — Director of Business at Blue Rain Gallery, Jim was kind enough to walk over and speak with us. I told Mr. Vogel that our family has respected his work for years. And then I drew attention to one Vogel’s newer pieces that had just been hung on the wall, The Martyrs of Ludlow (Oil on antique Red Cross Stretcher, 21.5 x 71.5).
Vogel’s hazel eyes lit up, his tall frame showing interest in our attention to the painting.
“Do you know the story about the Ludlow Massacre,” he asked? I said, “Slightly. We learned about it on a drive up to Colorado, and seeing the road sign for the site we Google-d it to learn more .”
Honing in our curiosity, Vogel continued, summarizing the massacre with precise detail. Because I didn’t have a recorder or pen, Denise Phetteplace provided me with Vogel’s summary. His description went something like this: “On April 20, 1914 a combined force of Colorado national guardsmen and hired gunmen attacked the tent village of the striking coal miners and their families in Ludlow, Colorado. The soldiers initially used machine guns to randomly fire into the tents, causing most of the people to flee into the nearby arroyos for cover. Two women and eleven children sought refuge in a root cellar under one of the tents. Emboldened, the soldiers came into the tent village and proceeded to loot and set the tents on fire. Treated with paraffin for waterproofing, the tents were very flammable and soon the whole community was engulfed in flames. In the aftermath, the remains of the thirteen were discovered, still huddled together in the cellar under the ashes of the tent. The Red Cross was called in soon after to help and to investigate the incident. The Ludlow Massacre became the rallying cry for the striking coal miners and their continuing fight for laborers’ rights.”
Melanie and I were impressed with Vogel’s passion for the historical event and compassion for the people.
Vogel continued, telling us about the Red Cross stretcher he painted The Martyrs of Ludlow on. His enthusiasm followed the same trajectory of interest and insight: “My brother, Tom, found a Red Cross stretcher and gave it to my father. My father stored it in his garage. And after my father’s passing I was cleaning out the garage only to re-discover it. And then after visiting a museum in Trinidad, Colorado that featured the Ludlow Massacre, I had the idea of painting the piece in honor of the event. What’s interesting is that the museum had a similar stretcher to the one my father kept. So the stretcher I used for the painting is identical to the ones used in the coal camps of Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico at the turn of the previous century.”
Mr. Vogel turned to look at the painting. “As a matter of fact, I just finished the painting last night, and Blue Rain picked it up this morning, hanging it for the opening.”
And without missing a beat, Vogel continued, “To learn more about the event, I conducted research into the names of the people massacred that day. What I found helped me determine the ages and sex of each person killed.” Vogel recited many of the names of the people. Later, Ms. Phetteplace gave me a list: Frank P., Patricia V., Elvira V., Maria V., Lucy C., Eulalia V., Joe P., Rudolph V., Lucia P., Cloriva P., Rogerio P., Fedelina C., Onofrio C.
Vogel explained to Melanie and I that most of the people didn’t have their last name written down, just an initial. Vogel also stressed that many of the victims were children, immigrants from Italy and Greece. In all, two-dozen people were lost on the morning of April 20th, the day after Orthodox Easter. In addition to the fire victims, several men were shot and three guards and one militiaman were killed in the fighting.
Jim then asked about Melanie and I, an unexpected turn to our conversation, showing his amicable nature and interest in people. For some reason the conversation turned to Flamenco. Mr. Vogel let us know about a painting he did for The National Institute of Flamenco . As Flamenco fanatics, my wife, Melanie, and I, were interested in all he had to say. We then discussed the mandolin, an instrument I play and a frequent instrument in some of Vogel’s paintings; music is a reoccurring theme—either directly or indirectly—in many of Vogel’s works.
But as Jim was expanding our knowledge of the Ludlow Massacre and the beauty of Flamenco, photographer, Eric Swanson, was snapping shots of Vogel and prepping for a video shoot. In the midst of Vogel’s vivid descriptions, I remembered that he had just been bestowed the Governor’s Award For Excellence In The Arts, and that the ceremony was to take place in the evening (we ended up attending). Now it all made sense—the activity and excitement surrounding the exhibit at Blue Rain Gallery—was because Mr. Vogel was now in the same category as other luminary recipients of the award: Robert Redford, Georgia O’Keeffe, N. Scott Momaday, Tony Hillerman, and many others .
And though our time with Mr. Vogel was much appreciated, I knew he needed to be on to other things. I congratulated him and his wife, Christen, on the award and left.
To say the least, Mr. Vogel’s life matched his art — colorful, informative, descriptive, expressive, and, above all, brilliant. Vogel is worthy of his recent accolades; a man dedicated to his work and the world in which he lives, showing compassion for his fellow human beings and consideration for the lineage of artists that have walked the road with him — both contemporary and historical.
Surprises come in all shapes and sizes; and the surprise of the chance meeting with Jim Vogel was well worth the weight in information and inspiration.
For more information on Jim Vogel, please visit Blue Rain Gallery: http://www.blueraingallery.com/
To learn more about the recipients of this year’s Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, click here: http://nmarts.org/2016-governors-awards-for-excellence-in-the-arts.html
To learn more about the photography of Eric Swanson, click here: http://www.ericswanson.com/
Photo captions: 1) Jim Vogel in his studio, Dixon, New Mexico. (Photo by Eric Swanson (https://touchingtheshutter.com/2012/01/05/jim-vogel-studio-visit/). © Eric Swanson. 2) Glory Bound. Oil on Panel, 49 x 33. Tucson Museum of Art.. 3) ¡Olé!. Oil on Canvas panel with antique trunk frame, 22 3/4 x22. 4) Brian Nixon.
About the writer: Brian Nixon is a writer, musician, and minister. He’s a graduate of California State University, Stanislaus (BA) and is a Fellow at Oxford Graduate School (D.Phil.). To learn more, click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Nixon.
** You may republish this and any of our ANS stories with attribution to the ASSIST News Service (www.assistnews.net). Please tell your friends and colleagues that they too can receive a complimentary subscription to our news service by going to the above website and signing up there.