My how times flies. It was just in 1962 that Rena Rosequist, with her husband Ivan, opened The Mission Gallery on Kit Carson Road in a building that was once home to Taos Society of Artists co-founder Joseph Henry Sharp.
“It’s like, living in Taos: You never know how you got here,” Rosequist said Saturday (Sept. 22) at the opening for a show of watercolors by Stephen Quiller, one that also quietly noted the gallery’s 50th anniversary. “Nobody in Taos seems to know how they got here. I certainly don’t know how I came to have a 50th anniversary. I keep wondering, can that be right? 1962? Yes, that’s 50 years. And it actually was in June so it’s sliding into 51 years now.”
Over that time, Rosequist built a reputation on identifying and displaying quality works of art by some of the best-known painters and sculptors who lived and worked in Taos. Much of the works she has shown were by Taos Modernists such as Emil Bisttram, Andrew Dasburg, Earl Stroh, and, of course, many more.
The Mission Gallery now has the distinction of having outlasted virtually every art venue in Taos, which suggests maybe Rosequist knows something the others didn’t. She sums it up in one word: “Patience. I know that the word ‘Taos’ for me means learning patience. And if you don’t want to learn to be patient then don’t live in Taos. Or, if you’re not going to learn it then be prepared to have a helluva bad life.”
Still, galleries have come and gone here, many more closing in the last few years as a result in the economic downturn. What sort of advice might she have for someone considering getting their feet wet in the local art business?
Jokingly, she replies, “I would ask them what has brought them to such a sorry point in their life? And, then I would just ask them a few sensible questions like: Have you ever been in business before? Have you ever been in the art business before? What makes you want to do this? Start with simple things. You need walls, you need lights, you don’t need expensive furniture to begin. You don’t need to spend your first $30,000 on outfitting your place. You just need to get started hanging art on walls or sticking it on pedestals so people can get a good look at it. That’s what I would tell them. Start easy and ... have a good business plan. It doesn’t include spending all your money on the appearance. It’s gotta be in the nuts and bolts of having a gallery.”
Rosequist was born and raised in Hickory, N.C., noting in an article for Taos.org that “art was always a part of her life.” Her mother was one of six children, several of whom would go to explore some area of the arts.
This early interest, according to the article, led her to study art history at the Woman’s College of University of North Carolina. “There she met a forward-thinking art professor who presented a show, which included a newly recognized artist by the name of Jackson Pollock. The show caused quite a stir among the faculty and Rena personally experienced a pivotal moment in the Modern Art movement.”
Rosequist graduated with dual degrees in political science and English, which she brought to bear as part of her continued and vocal interest in local and national politics. She gained a measure of this political perspective during her studies at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, a progressive school that some labeled as radical leftist but which left its mark as a hotbed of up and coming artists, writers and thinkers.
It also honed her ability at selecting art and artists for her Taos gallery. Asked what her rule of thumb is in making these choices, she said it’s a process that has evolved. “They have to be people that I like. I don’t care how good a painter is, prima donnas, ego-maniacs, there are plenty of good painters out there, you don’t really have to deal with them. It’s part of why you like living in Taos. You like all the dramatic torment and that’s all right. And, I have to like their work. I like a lot of different kind of work. I’m not just a Modernist or traditionalist, it’s not just painting. Sometimes people say, ‘Is this a watercolor gallery?’ And I realize that most of the painters that I’m showing do watercolors. I do have oil painters, as well. And it’s not by any kind of choice, it just that happen to like what they do.”
Most business people pay close attention to the stock market and trends, something even art gallery owners delve into as part of their survival strategy. Does Rosequist keep track, even after 50 years? “No,” she says. “If it’s good, it’s gonna get bad; if it’s bad it’s gonna get good. That’s the infallible truth.”
Fifty years is a long time, but somehow it slid by in almost the wink of an eye for this truly remarkable woman of Taos. “It just takes off,” Rosequist said. “Everything just flies by. But, you kind of don’t think about things like that in Taos ... Now that I’ve got the first 50 years behind me, I’m going to try to figure out what I’m going to do the next 50 years.”
The Mission Gallery is located at 138 Kit Carson Road. Call (575) 758-2861.