Taos is a small town with a big heart. It is also a big destination for creative types of every genre. Combine heart and art, and you get the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation (HWF) of New Mexico, nestled on 15 acres at the end of a long driveway on Los Pandos Road and minutes from the historic district.

Founded by Wurlitzer in 1954, the charitable and educational organization has dedicated itself to “support [of] the artist and the creative process” by offering multiple artists’ residencies as well as annual scholarship awards to promising art students from Taos County schools. It is believed to be one of the oldest such programs in the U.S., yet, in many regards, remains as obscure as the foundation’s namesake herself. 

The legacy of Wurlitzer’s immersion in the Taos art scene — and her particular fondness for modern, Hispanic, and indigenous Pueblo artists — has not only shaped the futures of so many artists but allowed the patroness to amass a collection of fine art that has been almost entirely out of the public eye.

That changes this weekend when 203 Fine Art unveils its collaborative exhibition with HWF: “Discovered Gems: Artwork from the Helene Wurlitzer Collection.”

The opening reception at 203, located at 1335 Gusdorf Road, Suite I, is scheduled for Saturday (Nov. 27) from 4-6 p.m. Works from 19 artists, including Emil Bisttram, Lawrence Calcagno, Earl Stroh, Ila McAfee, Barbara Harmon, Louis Ribak, and Native American artists Kai-Sa and Gerald Nailor, Sr. are to be featured.

“We are releasing these works from the collection as part of a fundraising effort focused on infrastructure repairs to the campus,” including Wurlitzer’s hacienda and the 11 casitas in which the artists reside, explained Nic Knight, executive director of HWF. “Most of the pieces have been in storage — rarely used or seen — and were selected by our art committee for this sale.”

“The artwork in this exhibition ranges from photography to paintings, both abstract and representational, portraiture, and Indigenous art,” said 203 Fine Art owner, Eric Andrews, further noting, “A highlight to the collection includes ten rare early photographs of northern New Mexico and Taos Pueblo by Ansel Adams, which will be previewed for the first time and offered for sale later, through Sotheby’s American Art sale in the spring of 2022.”

“We’re inviting the public to discover this unique collection, along with the importance of HWF [as they] reach out to the community for potential donors interested in supporting the foundation’s mission,” Andrews continued.

Wurlitzer was born into a culturally enlightened family but her personal commitment to philanthropy blossomed with her marriage to Howard of musical instrument renown and their life in Ohio. Her sponsorship of Eduardo Rael, a Taoseño who was studying voice at the Cincinnati College of Music, was instrumental in her move here after Howard’s death. In subsequent years she frequently entertained Robert Roy, Stroh, Bisttram and their wives, among others, offering financial and professional support to the artists.

Since its inception, HWF has extended that support to musicians, photographers, writers and painters who are fortunate enough to be accepted into the residency program. The campus’ casitas are dedicated to a particular study: those for musicians boast grand pianos; art casitas have generous studio space, for example.

“Discovered Gems” can be viewed until Jan. 31, 2022, and is a rare opportunity to acquire significant yet attractively priced works by the premier mid-century artists with whom Wurlitzer came to recognize as friends. Perhaps equally important is your chance with your purchase to help keep alive the philanthropic paradigm established by this most accomplished, and most obscure, Taos legend.

Visit 203fineart.com for more information and to view the exhibit’s catalogue. Or visit wurlitzerfoundation.org to learn more about this extraordinary Taoseña and the ongoing commitment to her vision.

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