The Sandia Mountain Wilderness (yes, federally designated) is roughly 60 square miles, with surrounding National Forest lands increasing this amount. This mountain range is not officially part of the Rocky Mountains, those end 50 miles north in the Sangre de Cristo range. In between the two ranges is little habitat designated as “high quality” for the big mammals – both predators and ungulates – that keep the natural balance intact.
Wildlands Network is aware of the weakness of this area that has Sangres to the north, Jemez mountains to the west and Sandias to the south.
So have been some individuals who have lived here for a long time, including Peter Callen, Mitch Johnson, Elise Vanarsdale, Gordon Darbro, Sandy Johnson, Laura Robbins and Michael Delongchamp. As the story is told, Mitch and Elise one day perched on the Sandias back northeast side observed how there was just one chunk of land left undeveloped by us humans. They saw that day the necessity to keep that area from development.
At the time of the hike sponsored by Las Placitas Association in October of ’07, Peter and Mitch and Gordon and Elise were attending public hearings to give testimony on why that area should not be opened to OHV usage. I don’t do justice to all the work they did. Laura Robbins at that time came up with her idea of starting a community art project to raise awareness on the issue. She had been devoting years to the craft of mosaic and creating many large mosaics with handmade clay, glass, and prefab tile for private clients. But a community-built mural would be an exciting way to educate others, too. Folks could learn about our area’s wildlife needs, reasons to hold off on big road projects and dense construction. Folks could also learn about mosaic.
We were both at Ann Pollard’s home for the monthly artist meeting February of ’08 when the sparkle came into her eyes as she told me of her idea. “Yeah, I’d be into helping, for sure,” I said, “Remember, I have done all those whole-school tile murals, right?” Yeah, she knew. And we started to meet and pool ideas about how to organize it. A timeline was drawn up and plans for volunteer feedback and celebration were sketched in. The May 31st meeting at Laura’s studio gathered around 20 folks who brought their drawings of life-size animals and took home bags of the high fire clay.
Also the talk focused on involving youth. Arrangements were set for me to go in to the local elementary that September to get student input. I pushed for panels that would reflect actual habitats.
Laura made many key contacts – with the Placitas Recycling Center that had the walls, with Roger Evans, cohort artist with architectural savvy for big installations, with many of her mosaic and wildlife artist enthusiast friends. And she wrote the first article and wrote the first grant. I added paragraphs. I took pictures. I bought sawhorses and a roll of fiberglass mesh and started having my own artist friends over to my backyard studio to make the many native animals out of clay over the summer. The first panel came together at Laura’s studio, and the big sign, and they were both installed in August that first summer. Artists who made animals on this panel: Barb Belknap, Cate Clark, Karl Hofmann, Laura Robbins, Judith Roderick … artists who laid it down: Daisy Kates, Eve Jones, Ann Arkin, Susan Lashbrook, Carole Vosburgh, Peter Callen, Laura … folks who installed it: Peter Callen, Daisy Kates, Bruce Schor, Gordon Darbro, Mitch Johnson, Geneva Boliek, CB Bryan, Steve and Linda Spaulding, Keiko Ohnuma, Cate Clark, Rick Kossow …
In August I experimented with hot glue to bind the pieces of 2 inch thick construction foam, then went to the web to research glues and ended up using Gorilla to bind the extra feet on the side and top to form the 9 foot by 6 and a half foot arched panel, the motif created by Roger. It was his idea to construct the mosaic off-site, then haul and bolt to the cinder block walls. I also went to the web to download photos of our Sandias, the view from the east and south of South Peak and the Sandia Mountain Natural History Center where I was a volunteer with the 5th grade hikes. I wanted the High Country Panel to look like that place – with Gambel Oak, Ponderosa Pine, limestone and red sandstone. Artists who created animal and plant tiles for this panel: Sarah Rose, Cirrelda Snider-Bryan, Erica Hoverter, Patricia Halloran, CB Bryan, JB Bryan, Geneva Boliek-Poling, Daniellen Anderson, Sandy Liakus, Doreen Goodlin, Keiko Ohnuma. Artists who plunked: Patricia, Erica, Cirrelda, Keiko, Sandy, Laura. Installed and grouted – a big group that’s credited elsewhere.
The web was the source for photos of grasslands plants that the elementary students would be creating for the 3rd habitat panel, a neat design made by Laura to show the native antelope elk, prairie dogs AND wild horses that all had either ancestral or modern day homes there. About 60 students and adults from Placitas Elementary made plant tiles, Patricia Halloran, Mitch Johnson, Laura Robbins, Sarah Rose, Riha Rothberg, Ricardo Guillermo, Joan Hellquist, Anne Greene and Cirrelda made the clay animals. The layout occurred with the help of Patricia Halloran, Laura, Joan, Riha, Rod and Fonda Kirchmeyer (who also constructed the panel), Lynae Maxim, Grayce Schor, Deb Pascuzzi, Julie McGaharan, Susie Sirl, Penny Vincent, Cirrelda and Keiko …
Last fall two of us, Keiko Ohnuma a wonderful writer and clay artist and I, spent over 100 hours writing a grant we thought we had a good chance of getting. You know the story of high hopes for grants – they crash into the ground. Anyway, the panel happening this season is being done by youth at three schools. It will depict a Riparian zone. The student whose schema drawing was my favorite is Isaiah Martinez:
The original plans for this panel have seen a lot of changes, two of them due to grant funding falling through!
I will continue to update the progress here, but also please visit pathwayswc.wordpress.com for more info.