Know Your Neighbor: Gail Wendorf

By Kathy Córdova
For The Taos News
Posted 4/18/18

Gail Wendorf lived and exhibited in Europe for many years. However, her most recent chosen home base is along Highway 518 in Talpa.

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Know Your Neighbor: Gail Wendorf


Gail Wendorf lived and exhibited in Europe for many years. However, her most recent chosen home base is along Highway 518 in Talpa. Unknown to herself and others, Wendorf's journey to restoring a home that's more than 200 years old began during her childhood.

"My dad, the late Fred Wendorf, was an archeologist. He actually helped found Fort Burgwin which later became the Taos campus of SMU (Southern Methodist University). When he and my mom (the late Nancy Wendorf) divorced, I visited Dad during many years' time," explained Wendorf.

The Talpa resident grew up with five siblings, but the then-Texas resident loved her time in the Taos area.

During one of these visits, she took a walk with the wife of a man who visited Fort Burgin, specifically to speak with Fred Wendorf. The woman told Wendorf that she knew artist Georgia O'Keeffe.

At the time, the youngster didn't know about O'Keeffe, but the famous artist came alive to her when her father said he knew O'Keeffe as a "nice, friendly, sweet old lady."

The visitor conveyed the vision of O'Keeffe: "What I saw of her work inspired me," said the woman. She added, "You can see art in a lump of clay."

Wendorf knew that she wanted to do that. In fact, she was 12 at the time, but clearly recognized the vision of O'Keeffe. According to Wendorf, the meaning of O'Keeffe's work continues to stay with her today.

Wendorf studied art history at Southern Methodist University. In 1975-76, she learned about studio art at the University of California-Irvine. With a desire to combine her interests in archeology, painting and drawing, she transferred to the University of California in Los Angeles to create a unique degree program and earn a degree in archeological illustration. Wendorf used the credentials to work as an on-site archeological illustrator all over the world.

Wendorf's resume, catalogs and artist's statement reveal a treasure of her shows, galleries and exhibitions around the world. In 1993, she produced her first solo show at the R.B. Ravens Gallery in Taos.

In 1996, she did so again in conjunction with the Artists' Foundation of West Australia in Fremantle, Australia with the theme "Paintings of Multicultural Dance Ritual." Wendorf, a former ballet dancer, enjoyed the blending of her two artistic interests.

Her work in the United Sates over a period of years focuses on three states: California, New Mexico and Texas. California galleries include: Arroyo Craftsmen's in South Pasadena; Centennial Art Competition finalist in Pasadena; and Forecast Galleries in Santa Monica.

Her New Mexico work indicates a strong presence in the local art scene, including Impressionists of Taos, Stables Art Gallery group show, Taos Today and Taos V.F.D. collection. In addition, the Taos participation follows: Quincentennial Juried Show, R.B. Ravens Gallery (additional work) and Taos Spring Arts Festival.

From 2000 to 2007 and again in 2013, Wendorf exhibited a series of work for various shows with the theme, "Waltz Across Texas," featuring historic dance halls of Texas. The collection resulted from three years' worth of research, drawing, interviewing and art creation plus 75,000 miles of driving from Wendorf's then-home in Ribera, New Mexico to many parts of Texas.

In between, she also lived in Scotland during the autumn where she painted landscapes and took a break from "Waltz Across Texas." A catalog of the show exhibits Wendorf's ability to capture color, people, light scenes and emotion from the Texas of old

Clubs, cabarets, halls, stores and warehouses all provided backdrops for the 146 oil on canvas and oil on board images that comprise the series. Also in Texas, Wendorf participated in a show at the Texas Sate Capitol in the offices of then-Texas First Lady Laura Bush.

"This show helped me make peace with Texas. I found a place where I could be passionate about art," the artist related. She also exhibited at the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Fort Worth, the Buddy Holly Center in Lubbock and an ongoing Early American Art Forms show in Paris, Texas.

From 2008 to 2017, Wendorf exhibited in Scotland, England and France. The credits for these shows and Wendorf's associated charitable work remains quite numerous. A catalog from her European work illustrates the artist's shift from largely landscapes to human subjects.

In between all Wendorf's work and travels, she always returns to the Taos area, oftentimes to Fort Burgwin.

"Taos has always been my go-to place. For this reason, I was enchanted with an old abandoned dwelling I saw in Talpa. It needed work, and after I purchased it two years ago, I decided I wanted to restore it, not rebuild it. I wanted to honor the integrity of the building. This required the services of a Turkish architect based in Santa Fe who convinced me to restore the flat roofs used in old buildings. I had to take a year off from the project because I had a show in Scotland. When I returned, I stripped the building down to blood floors and put it back together. I replaced the roof and changed the pitch to parapet. There was no plumbing and the wiring had to be replaced. I stripped latex paint off the walls. There's much planning and many local regulations that enter a project of this magnitude. I'm doing a lot of the work, but not entirely by myself. I must credit the many friends who have assisted me along the way," explained Wendorf.

The house consist of 30-inch adobe walls in some of the five rooms of the house. The grounds include an outbuilding and an old forge which will eventually serve as Wendorf's studio. In the future, nearby residents and the Taos Historical Society plans to stabilize and protect an old torreon ( a fortress-like structure used for protection during raids) situated near Wendorf's home.

The artist views her combined interest of dance, archeology, painting and eventually living on the Talpa ridge in her restored adobe home as her living, breathing sculpture. Her restoration project consumes her time and energy at present. "I'm content to come home," Wendorf said.


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