Friday in the atelier: "Starting a New Ristra" by Kirk Richards

I was born in New Mexico, and although my father’s job transferred our family to Texas when I was only two years old I still feel a firm connection to that state.

This connection is partly due to family – my father’s parents and his sisters lived there. My father retired to New Mexico, and lives in the same town as my aunt and some cousins – the same town where I was born. (I’ll bet you can’t guess what town! Here’s a hint – think “UFO.”)

Yes, I was born in Roswell NM, and in the ‘70’s and ‘80s it considered itself a ranching town – it didn’t identify itself with UFOs until the early ‘90s. I myself still don't associate it with the Roswell crash - which didn't happen in Roswell anyway.

It was our family tradition to travel there twice a year, during summer and Christmas. I love New Mexico even now, and love the look and feel of the New Mexico badlands. There is something about standing in the middle of a seemingly endless dry prairie, feeling like I was the tallest thing within eyesight except for a distant purple mountain. There is an awe that sneaks over me when the loudest thing I can hear is my own heartbeat; and the next loudest the chirp of a distant meadowlark.

In late summer, and throughout the fall, New Mexico harvests its number one food crop – chile peppers. People bring the chiles home and cure them by stringing them together with needle and twine to create a “Ristra.” The ristra is usually hung by the front door, outside in the dry air so that it can grow a beautiful dark red as it ripens. Chile ristras have always been a sign of the approaching holidays for me, a sign of Thanksgiving and Christmas and family. As the weather turns colder and damp, the ristras are moved indoors and prepared for storage, or allowed to hang indoors perhaps until Christmas.

This cropped detail of the painting by living master Kirk Richards is called “Starting a new Ristra” and it is very evocative of New Mexico. (Click the picture to see it in full from Mr. Richards web page.) The pink adobe walls, the chiles, and the Spanish style blouse all fit together in a way that makes me feel like I’m with my relatives again. When I see this painting I’m reminded of the beginning of fall and chilly nights. Soon luminarias, paper bags that glow with lighted candles, will start lining sidewalks in time for Christmas.

Richards, who lives in Amarillo Texas, created another painting that evokes the feeling of New Mexico to me, “Blue Corn”. As a living master, Mr. Richards maintains his own web site where you can view or purchase his works and also read his extremely impressive biography.

I would like to point out that Kirk Richards was trained by Richard Lack, who also trained Stephen Gjertson – whose work “The Recorder Lesson” I’ve already profiled. Therefore Kirk Richards shows the influences of an unbroken line of tutoring from the master Jean-Léon Gérôme to William Paxton then to Ives Gammell who tutored Richard lack.

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