Artistic discoveries in Pilar

By R. Scott Gerdes
Posted 9/11/08

There’s a special bond between the people in a small community and their environment, maybe because they are more reliant on the earth — and therefore sincerely grateful — for food and recreational opportunities than those surrounded by …

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Artistic discoveries in Pilar


There’s a special bond between the people in a small community and their environment, maybe because they are more reliant on the earth — and therefore sincerely grateful — for food and recreational opportunities than those surrounded by concrete and steel. And in Pilar, there’s an added bond between its artists and the visitors who come to the annual Pilar Studio Tour, maybe because the artists’ reliance on the landscape, the wildlife and the close-knit population for inspiration shines so brightly.

This year’s 12th Annual Pilar Studio Tour takes place Saturday and Sunday (Sept. 13-14), from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. along the main road and meandering side streets of the peaceful stretch of Orilla Verde following the banks of the brawny Río Grande.

This year’s list of participating artists includes painters Barry Dinowitz, Bill Binger, Anita Bauer and Stephen Kilborn. Potters and ceramic artists are comprised of Kilborn, 14-year-old Ginger Kehoe (who also creates a variety of hand-painted accessories), Tony Butler, Charlotte Champerlin, Sheena Cameron and Mary Witkop. The Pilar jewelers are Mary Lou Palaski and Cameron. Joseph Ciaglia will present his digital, panoramic photographs of New Mexico and the Southwest. The woodworkers in the tour are Jerry Sánchez and Terry “Solar Dude” Wolff. Sculptor Arthur E. Gledhill will exhibit his fascination with shape, color and movements. And in addition to her semi-abstract acrylic paintings, Bauer offers silk paintings, scarves, wall hangings and wearable art.

The tour has reached out to artists living just outside of Pilar in the nearby environs such as Carson (abstract artists Marsha St. John and J. Mehaffey, and Dinowitz and Wolff ) and Rinconada (Gary Fey, batik artist) who will bring their works to the village. This is the first year that the Pilar group has reached beyond the river’s banks and over the volcanic cliffs to invite neighboring artists into the tour. Some of the artists will be showing at the nearby Río Grande Visitor’s Center.

“Harmonious” and “diverse” are words Fey used to describe his sense of the tour. He  hasn’t participating in many off-site venues, but feels the Pilar Studio Tour is a “real plus” due to the low number of participating artists.

“People can do the tour in one day,” Fey stated. “It’s an easy tour for visitors. There are so many positives and it’s great for people who might be suffering from art-tour fatigue. I’m upbeat about it.”

Kilborn has been a regular exhibitor on the tour, the only time he opens up his painting studio. He has a gallery in Taos, too, but being located on the road from Santa Fe to Taos has “always been a help” to his exposure.

“All of the other artists are open by appointment only, so it is a special chance to see them,” he added. “People can see my pottery any day, but this is a unique opportunity to see my painting studio.”

Attendance has been steady over the years, Kilborn said, even when it went on just a few days after 9/11. “September is just such a wonderful time in Pilar,” he expressed. “A time that people just like to get out and see the village, which only has about 100 people.” 

Artists began to trickle into Pilar in the early 1970s. A rough estimate suggests that there are about 20 artists living in the area these days. The size of the village provides for an intimate tour with a concentration of studios within walking distance from each other. That allows for visitors to talk directly with the artists and you never know when the mood may strike one of them to pick up a brush or a carving tool for an impromptu demonstration.

When the main road from Santa Fe to Taos was on the other side of the Río Grande from where it is today, Pilar was the last trading post before Taos for wagons and travelers on horseback. One can still see the scars from the old roads. The quiet village was granted to Spanish settlers in 1795 by Fernando Chacón, military governor of the state from 1794-1805. Before the settlers, Jicarilla Apaches were prominent in the area. Settlers saw not only the quaint beauty there, but noted the plentiful water and good farming opportunities.

Pilar, however, was not the village’s original name — it was Cieneguilla (“small marsh”). The name was changed to Pilar when a post office was incorporated around 1918  to keep the name short, a common practice throughout the state in those days.

One story goes that Pilar was the name of the first postmaster’s daughter. Pilar (Spanish for “pillar”) is derived from Nuestra Señora del Pilar (Our Lady of the Pilar), which was given to a witnessed appearance of Mary at an old Roman pillar in Spain. Nuestra Señora del Pilar’s shrine in Zaragoza is one the chief sanctuaries in Spain. Another legend says the name comes from a male American Indian from the area, Pilar Vigil.

Every artist has donated artwork to be given away in a drawing. Tickets are available at each stop. For a bite to eat, the café-style restaurant the Pilar Yacht Club will be open serving classic American fare, and New Mexican and vegetarian dishes.

Artist brochures and maps are available at the Visitor’s Center, the Pilar Yacht Club and at the individual stops. Signs and balloons will also be visible at each location.

It can’t be easy for a small community to compete in the art world with Santa Fe and Taos so close by, especially in these uncertain economic times. And even though Pilar is very visible from NM 68, how many cars just whizz on by? The tour is a chance to get people to slow down and hopefully take the turn onto NM 570.


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