Barb Hinnenkamp - New Mexico Series

For the past fourteen years, I have lived in the small village of Cochiti Lake in New Mexico. It is located on the Cochiti Pueblo reservation between the Rio Grande river and the Jemez mountains. This place has nurtured my spiritual need to find connection with the world and my place in it. For ten years, it was Tetilla peak that reappeared continually in my paintings...always presiding visually from my kitchen window reminding me of the potential to heal and restore. My acquaintance with Cochiti Pueblo and the neighboring San Felipe allowed me to appreciate their links to this place. The oven where bread is baked and clay pots fired and the chilies strung in long strands and hung in mass across the outside walls of their adobes.

I am increasingly connected with this land of mesas and valleys. There are early mornings of clouds threading the roots of the mesas wrapping them in soft white gauze which rises in rose tinted steam through the sunlight. The land is still alive here and the magic is visual and palpable. The scent of Juniper envelopes me with the first rain of summer, lizard returns in the spring, crow accompanies all the seasons, coyote yodels to the ever present moon and presiding over all this is the comfort of silence.

The painting connects with place.

Barb Hinnenkamp - Jan, 2007

Life is so short, we must move very slowly - ancient Thai saying

Gussie Fauntleroy

At certain times of the year, mist from the Rio Grande swirls up around the base of Tetilla Peak, momentarily making portions of the mountain disappear and reappear, shifting its mood, veiling its singular shape.

Healing is like that - giving tantalizing glimpses of promise, then seeming to retreat. And then, sometime later, returning again in new contours and hues. Behind the obscuring mist is a quiet solidity that eventually reveals itself, as the enduring Tetilla reveals herself, daily, in the frame of Barbara Hinnenkamp's east kitchen window.

Healing is at the core of Barbara's art and her life. In her occupation as a nurse, she offers solace, compassion, small comforts, and practical assistance to those whose bodies are healing and those whose final transition she will witness. At home, in her studio at Cochiti Lake, New Mexico, she paints images that for her have become personal icons of transformation: the mother-shaped mountain, the earth-formed outdoor oven, and clusters of brilliant red chiles that remind the artist of the surviving spirit of life in the midst of pain.

Barbara's work has moved through it own transformation in recent years. After years of representational painting, followed by colorful, non-representational work inspired by the cultureĀ of her former husband's home country of Mexico, the first painting leading to her current work emerged during a time of personal upheaval. Its subject is a small tilted hut, perched on the edge of the world, barely hanging on. Beneath the hut, inside the round planet are animated, colorful forms. They are infinite possibilities, but are out of reach, for the moment, to the inhabitant of the hut.

Soon after Barbara moved from Denver to Cochiti Lake, the small huts sprouted legs and started moving, often by the light of the moon. Ladders appeared, as passageways to dreams and to the future. Gold and silver leaf suggested treasure hidden deep underground, in the realm of the soul. A silent wind seemed to constantly sweep across edges of the thatched-roof hut or the top of the mountain, speaking of movement and change.

The image of red chiles emerged one day as the artist drove through a pueblo where she'd been working as public health nurse. She had passed by the same house many times, but on this day its earth-colored adobe face was covered with rows of deep red chiles, shimmering like jewels in the sun. In her work with the Pueblo people, Barbara had witnessed, up close, a strong, persevering spirit in those whose ancestral past and present life have been burdened by another culture's encroachment. Like the brightly painted homes of the impoverished in Mexico, the chiles speak of ways we enliven the surface of our lives when times are hard.

The first chiles Barbara painted are flecked with gold leaf - the sparkle of the spirit - and their crimson color bleeds to the bottom of the painting. When you bleed, you heal, the artist says. The painful but cleansing scarlet stream marks the first step toward new life.

The images of Tetilla Peak are another expression of healing. Always there, the mountain is solid, unmoving, and serene, yet perpetually changing its appearance in the shifting seasons and the play of light, cloud, snow, mist, and rain. For the artist, Tetilla is symbolic of an ever-deepening connection with a place that has become her home - with the gentle, feminine expansiveness of the land and a restful feeling of sanctuary she has found here.

The paintings are contemplative, offering a quiet radiance and wonder that unfold in subtle unveilings, as the viewer continues to observe. Just as the artist herself watches the wind through tall, shimmering grasslands along the road to her home. And just as day after day she observes the comforting, distinctive silhouette of Tetilla in the east. Taking time to slow down and see, the gifts of change and timelessness are reveled.

"This is really what rests my heart," she says, "to simply behold these things."

Gussie Fauntleroy is a Colorado based writer who contributes regularly to national and regional publications on art, architecture, and design. She is the author of three books on visual artists.

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