Rancho Milagro, May/June Cover Story, 2013
Taos patrons Ed and Trudy Healy unveil their collection of Jim Wagner’s art and other cultural treasures.
Taos has had several major art patrons in the last century, most notably Mabel Dodge Luhan, Elizabeth Harwood, Millicent Rogers and Helene Wurlitzer. These “art angels” had the vision to recognize unusual talents, the means and the will to help artists financially at critical points in their careers. And with an unusually strong sense of community, a sense that Taos itself was a special –but at times fragile – source of inspiration, they created and supported institutions that otherwise could not have thrived in this historically impoverished valley.
Today, Ed and Trudy Healy must be added to the company of these legendary patrons of Taos Art History. Personally and through the Healy Foundation, they have for the past 25 years made numerous major gifts to institutions ranging from the Harwood and Millicent Rogers Museums to struggling theatre companies and first-time film makers. They’ve funded the rebuilding of ancient local acequias and major water projects on Native American reservations in the region.
Individual artists have been of special importance to them. A few have been Taos-based artists with international reputations (Larry Bell and Ron Cooper, among them), but most have been young artists whose careers began in this little town and, with the help of the Healy’s, have grown to prominent status in the region and the nation. Jonathan Warm Day Coming of Taos Pueblo has long been a favorite. Sculpture by Lawrence Dilka and Joel Lage dots their Arroyo Hondo home. They championed the late Bill Gersh, the “outlaw” artist with the soul of a poet and the heart of a lion, and have collected widely in traditional arts of the region, including WPA furniture, Navajo textiles and Plains Indian beadwork, along with paintings and drawings by early Taos artists.
But at the heart of their collection is the work of Jim Wagner – paintings, furniture, sculpture, jewelry, drawings, prints, everything that has poured from the fertile imagination of this key figure in Taos art of the last half century. “I’ve known Jim since I was a teenager, underage but playing guitar and singing in the 1960s at the old El Patio restaurant,” says Trudy Valerio Healy who was raised in Ranchos de Taos. “He was always there to cheer me on. Much later, after years as a cowgirl on ranches in northeast New Mexico, I came back and opened my own gallery, Milagro de Taos, and Jim was the first artist to support me there. Then I met Ed, who’d been buying Jim’s work from me. I closed the gallery, moved in with him and he asked me, ‘What do you want to do next?’ I knew immediately – produce a book on Jim, and we did, Jim Wagner: An American Artist, which came out nearly 20 years ago. Oh, and we continued to buy Jim’s work. I’ll bet we have a thousand pieces.”
Also featured will be historically important pieces of W.P.A. furniture created in Taos in the 1930s and early 1940s, along with Navajo textiles and paintings and drawings from the Healy’s collection of work by the early Taos artists. “The gallery is going to be filled with surprises,” Trudy says. “We’ll have regular salons with local characters and people of interest – cowboys and Indians and storytellers of all kinds. What I want people to experience is the real Taos, all those things that have made it such an intriguing and compelling and quirky and wonderful place. We’ve lost some of that in recent years. You don’t find much of it on the plaza anymore. That’s where you go now to buy a tee shirt or a tomahawk made in China. But if you come over to Bent Street, you’ll find the good stuff, the authentic Taos.”
‘Authentic’ could be Trudy’s middle name. Her great-grandfather was Jose de Gracia Gonzales, the famed mid-19th century santero who painted the lovely altars at the Las Trampas church, which is named after him, as well as reredos in numerous other old adobe churches in the region. In a special tribute to Trudy and to her favorite artist, the Harwood Museum is mounting a major exhibition, “Jim Wagner: Trudy’s House,” which opens May 18 and will be on view until early September. The show will feature work from throughout Wagner’s career, installed to recreate the manner in which it’s displayed in the Healy home.
So between the Harwood show and The Rancho Milagro Collection, it promises to be an exciting time in town, filled with the exuberance, color and charm of two Taos originals: Jim Wagner and benefactors, Ed and Trudy Valerio Healy. – Stephen Parks
The Rancho Milagro Collection, located at 127 Bent Street, will open with a gala reception May 4, 2013. For information, call 575-758-3733.
“I started coming to Taos in the 1980s,” says Ed Healy, who is from a legendary Western family that built the Hoover Dam, had a 3 million acre ranch in Nevada, founded a major Los Angeles law firm, and supported art museums from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. “I was immediately drawn to Jim’s art, which I thought was as compelling as any art I’d seen in the world. It captured the spirit of Taos, the freedom I found here. There’s no restraint in Jim’s art, no pretense. His art reminds me of a Robert Frost poem. Frost would start with simple, everyday images in a pristine environment, and in a few lines the images would become universal and profound. That’s what Jim does.”
Wagner has been a model for many of his fellow Taos artists, among them R.C. Gorman, the famed Navajo artist who died a few years ago. “Jim has always had a playful side in his art,” Gorman once said, “but his work has a world-wide sophistication, a universal appeal. Many artists go to school for their whole lives and they can’t draw like that. They paint photographically, which is easy. What Jim does is something you are born with.”
As an outlet for their vast collection, the Healy’s have decided to open The Rancho Milagro Collection, a new gallery on Bent Street that will showcase Wagner’s art, new and old, along with a selection of work by other artists and classic furnishings of the region. “We donated a ton of material to the museums and we still have storage lockers filled with art,” Trudy says. “It belongs in peoples’ homes, it deserves to be seen and lived with. And we want to create a gallery that really reflects what is so great and distinctive about northern New Mexico. There’s a style of living here, a sense of history, a culture that combines Indians and Hispanics, cowboys and Indians, saints and sinners. When you step into the gallery we want you to see and feel all of that, the stuff I’ve lived with and loved my whole life.”
A highlight of The Rancho Milagro Collection will be a room devoted to the paintings of Jonathan Warm Day Coming. “We’re setting it up with latias and sprigs of pinon and cedar to give it the sense of a special place at Taos Pueblo,” Trudy says. “Jonathan’s work is such a wonderful evocation of life at the Pueblo. We want to treat the paintings with the same reverence that he treats their traditional way of life.” Other areas in the gallery will be decorated with examples of the furniture Wagner created in the 1980s, pieces that combined the influence of the centuries-old Hispanic styles with his bright paintings of local flora and fauna. So influential were Wagner’s furniture designs that he is widely credited as the “Godfather of Santa Fe Style.” His work was displayed at Bloomingdale‘s in New York City and collected by Hollywood celebrities.