A friend said he was among people who admired him, doing a thing he loved to do when the end came.
Taos artist George Chacón died of an apparent massive heart attack Saturday night (April 1) after his performance at the opening night for a poetry event at SOMOS.
Chacón’s performance celebrating National Poetry Month in Taos was even live-streamed on Facebook right before he collapsed. Despite resuscitation efforts by EMTs called to the scene, Chacón passed away shortly before 9 p.m. “He died drumming, surrounded by people who love him. He finished drumming. Put his head on his conga. And died,” said local educator Daniel Escalante, who was at the scene.
“Many people stayed, and offered help and aid and prayer for Beverly Chacón, his wife,” Veronica Golos, event organizer, said in an email message later that night. Beverly Chacón was performing at her husband’s side that evening, playing a rainstick.
Chacón, 63, was born in Saguache, Colorado on the Mexican holiday, Dia de los Muertos, the third child of seven children. “As a young man fresh out of high school, I went to New York City to discover and explore the world of art which had always excited me,” he wrote in his online biography (georgechaconart.com). “While in NYC, I worked with the Boys Athletic League. After this exciting and enriching experience I went on to study at Colorado State University and Western Washington University.
“Culturally,” he said, "the traditions and the international connections that make Taos, New Mexico an important art center was enormously appealing to me as an artist. As my wife Beverly and I had maternal and paternal roots in the area we felt that it was also the place we wanted to raise a family, so we moved to Taos in 1983 to pursue our dreams.”
Known for his humility and dedication to preserving Hispanic cultural roots and identity, Chacón found most of his inspiration within the core of his family. “I enjoy the woven fabric of life’s mysteries and have observed them through the privilege of raising three daughters (Regina, Amber and Sonja),” he continued. “I know undoubtedly that luck and honest hard work has been the key to my happiness in life and being a parent and husband is the wellspring of my creative flow.”
At one time, Chacón was instrumental in bringing together emerging and veteran Hispanic artists for a series of exhibits and workshops under the banner of the Hispanic Arts Council of Taos, located in the Taos County Economic Development Corporation site off Salazar Road. After a few years, though, he was forced to give it up for lack of participation.
He also was commissioned to do a portion of a series of murals at Taos Town Hall depicting scenes from Taos history including the first meeting of Spanish conquistadors and members of Taos Pueblo.
“An honor of special pride includes the participation in the restoration of the altar screen in the Holy Trinity Church in Arroyo Seco in 1997 and 1998,” he wrote. “I was taken through the meticulous process of museum restoration under the guidance of Claire Muzenrider, chief conservator of the Museums of New Mexico."
Chacón worked at his art all the time. Visitors were often invited into his home studio to see his latest canvases and works-in-progress. His paintings featured expressionistic landscapes, historical subjects, portraits and animal subjects rendered in a unique style all his own. His murals can be seen all over the county. Most people are familiar with the iconic mural, titled “The Santero,” which graces the wall of Cabot Plaza Mall near Taos Plaza; but he also painted the inside of the bandshell in Kit Carson Park, which features a multicultural variety of dancers and singers, and some of the buildings in the Taos Ski Valley base area.
“My art career has presented me with many honors which include the publication of my mural ‘El Santero,’ on the cover of Travel magazine, Colliers Encyclopedia year book for 1992, National Geographic’s 'Destinations Special Publication' in 2001 among others. My Taos Ski Valley mural at the base of the mountain was published in The New York Times.”
George and Beverly Chacón began hosting the annual Day of the Dead celebrations at The Taos Inn in 1989, not just for their festive commemoration of honoring those who have passed on but because they also fell upon George’s birthday. But, over the years, the occasion began to weigh heavily on their minds. So, in 2016, the Chacón’s decided not to do it any more, handing over the reins to local artist Anita Rodríguez. “What happened this year is that Bev and I lost too many people close to us,” he told Tempo magazine last October, “and we couldn’t do it. We’re going to try to have a low key celebration at home, of Days of the Dead, and another year on earth.”
Over the years, Chacón also made a name for himself as a musician, performing Latin and Afro-Cuban style congas at a variety of events and venues, including sitting in with popular bands such as Los Lobos at the Taos Solar Music Festival among others.
Aside from all his accomplishments, every story, every connection to Chacón always circles back to his family. They were the source of his pride and inspiration. His daughters, who now live in Colorado, have returned to Taos to be with their mother. “He was such a lovely man,” his daughter Sonja said through tears. “We are so honored to be able to call him our dad.”
Their folks had missed being near them so much that recently they put their house on the market with plans of moving to Colorado. When asked what she will miss most about her dad, Sonja said, “His mischievous smile,” to which she added, “He was so kind, so generous. He took care of all of us. It was great to know him as a dad, but even more as a man.”
Ever the poet, Chacón wrote this haiku on the day he died:
Sparks of dew, glistens
In the morning light, to a
New rhythm and dance
Funeral service will take place Friday (April 7), 10 a.m., at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, 205 Don Fernando Street in Taos. A memorial and reception will follow, location to be announced.