A beautiful sunny New Mexico, day and my day to explore the Fine Arts Gallery in Mescalero, on the Mescalero Apache Reservation, whose sign had been tantalizing me for such a long time. What fascinating treasures would I find there.
The Tribal Government Complex was an excellent guide in helping me to locate the gallery, which is in the Apache Empowerment Complex at 148 Cottonwood Drive,
just off Hwy 70. The complex is large and encompasses many of the educational divisions for the Apache Tribe, as well as their Library and Tribal Offices. After going through the middle doors of the building I came to the receptionist who instructed me to go along the corridors where I was greeted by one of the artists involved in the gallery, Jordan Night Hawk. I found more than a gallery. I found a whole world that I am excited to share with others.
The Fine Arts Gallery is part of an educational system set up by the Mescalero Apache Council Tribal members for the exclusive purpose of helping their people stay up-to-date in the world today, while at the same time carrying on their traditions. There is a vast array of educational and community programs available to them through the Empowerment Complex, of which the Art Program and Fine Arts Gallery is just a small portion. The Fine Arts Gallery itself is the off-shoot of a non-profit Art School Program started in 2004 by John Shendo, Jr., Larry Shay, Joseph Geronimo and Butch Blayer for the sole purpose of maintaining and preserving the Mescalero Apache culture, language and heritage. Their goal is to get more young people involved in the Apache culture and arts aspect of the program in order to preserve the long proud legacy of the community. As part of accomplishing that goal, they would hope, and strongly recommend, that anyone coming to use the art facility would please learn the Apache language as they advance through their efforts.
The staff of the Art Program consists of a Program Leader, Larry Shay and his part time volunteer assistant, Edgar Daklugie. Jordan, who guided me, assists him in many ways to keep the program going, as it is via volunteer only for time and teaching to keep the classroom and gallery open and accessible.
It is from a tiny room at the back of the Empowerment Complex that the school offers it’s small supply of resources, such as paints, paper, canvas, pens, pencils, brushes, stone sculpture tools and supplies, etc., to anyone in the tribe who would like to come and play in art. Almost all supplies are donated. It is an amazing offer to any tribe member interested in art. A place to create and the resources to create with, all for free. Who could ask for more? Whether you want to create for a life career or just want to play in art, you are welcome. Plus, there is always the possibility of exhibiting your artwork at the Fine Arts Gallery.
The school has helped to foster some of the best artists in our community today with their talents being presented at The Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort & Casino, Regional Art Contests such as Alamogordo and Roswell, in addition to various county programs and community fairs. Two artists who have taken advantage of the facilities space in the past are Philbert Choneska, Sr. and Monte Morgan, whose work has recently been procured by the Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort & Casino.
Yet it remains a little know treasure to even its own community.
The gallery is open to the public 7 days a week through the help of the volunteers. The finished work is comparable to the best you can find anywhere. What is so special about it though is that it is all based on heritage pieces. That is, it is pure Apache Cultural artwork, done with the true heart and sole of the Apache people, by the Apache and on the Apache homelands. Which, for those who understand the concept of energy, means the true Apache Spirit goes with everything in it. You get the people, the land and the Spirit all in one. It is a very special place and gift, to them and to us. I encourage Western Art enthusiasts in particular to take advantage of visiting this very special gallery.
They also supply some of the artwork for the Besh Din De Graphics print shop, also located in the Complex. It’s owner, Randy Bell, is the Coordinator for The Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort & Casino. He and his wife, Shawn, own this onsite design and graphic business, which is a full production shop producing custom t-shirts, caps, and imprinted items of all types. They can be contacted at 505-464-1176 in order to speak with either one of them or their staff, Rico Rodriguez or Shawn Keene.
As the Art Program and Fine Arts Gallery are all run and operated on a volunteer basis and supplies are by donations, they welcome fellow artists, tribal and non-tribal members, who may wish to donate their time to speak to the students or even teach one or more classes. Donated materials are always welcome. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact Larry Shay, 505-464-4494, Fine Arts Gallery, Apache Empowerment Complex, 148 Cottonwood Drive, (just off Hwy 70), Mescalero, NM. The main phone number for the Apache Empowerment Complex is 505-464-4500.
By Dawn M. Cheney