the Historic Studios at Berrendo Road
A Brief “History” of the Historic Studios at Berrendo Road
The Roswell Artist-in-Residence Program was created by Don Anderson, who was drawn to the region because of its oil and gas potential. Anderson, who served in the Navy during the Second World War, moved from his hometown of Chicago to rural Roswell in 1946 to work in the oil refinery business with his brother, Robert O. Anderson. Newly married and starting a family, Don and Pat Anderson grew to love their new home on the southern high plains of southeast New Mexico. By the mid-1960s, Anderson was a highly successful oil executive and an accomplished painter. He had supported the Roswell Museum and Art Center for many years as a patron and as president of the board of trustees, when Anderson developed the idea of creating a residence program for contemporary visual artists. “I suppose it might have been in the early 1960s that I first had the idea…but at the time I didn’t know any artists,” he once explained. “Eventually I heard about the Skowhegan School of Art in Maine, and its summer artist-in-residence program.” Anderson contacted the Skowhegan program and asked if the director could recommend “artists who might benefit from a year of studio time and a place to live in the Southwest.”
The original site of the Artist-in-Residence compound that Don envisioned was created from a forty-acre farm on Berrendo Road which Anderson and his brother purchased in the late 1940’s. The old farmhouse served as an artist’s residence, and two barns were rehabilitated as a printmaking studio and wood shop. Between 1967 and 1975, Anderson expanded the compound to six houses and nine studios organized around two courtyards. Anderson purchased most of the buildings as surplus from Walker Air Force Base, which was decommissioned in 1967. One of the houses served as the home of the compound’s director; the other five housed grant recipients. Surrounded by fields in every direction, the Artist-in-Residence Compound was first nicknamed “Hippie Corners” by local ranchers who were suspect of the artist community. The artists referred to it simply as “the compound.”
In the small town of Roswell, there was little excitement over the evolving contemporary art world of the 1960s and 1970s. Donald Anderson had undertaken the creation of an artist-in-residence program with the hope it would create an artist community and a dialogue about art in Roswell. Anderson, through his business connections in New York and his association with the Skowhegan School of Art in Skowhegan, Maine, developed contacts with contemporary artists in New York City. He invited young contemporary abstract painter David Reed and accomplished realist artist Willard Midgette, who were both involved in the contemporary New York art scene in the late 1960s and 1970s, to paint at the Artist-in-Residence Compound. During their stay in Roswell, these younger New York artists urged Anderson to invite Milton Resnick, one of the most significant abstract expressionist painters of the period, and his wife, Pat Pasloff. Resnick (AIR 1970- 1971), who was a contemporary of Willem DeKooning, Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, and Franz Kline, brought his knowledge of the contemporary art world to Roswell.
Painter Milton Resnick had been a founding member of the Abstract Expressionist forum called The Club, and counted as close friends Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollack. Resnick wrote, “Pat [Passlof] and I came to Roswell in a broken-down Citroen. The landscape was a dream, the sky a great circle, the bump on the horizon a mountain. In all that strangeness we painted. . . . My spirit was calm. Now years later I wish I could tell you that that dream lasted forever. Ann McGarrell, historian of the RAiR Program, wrote, “The grant had enabled Resnick to triumph, after many years of struggle, over the terrible irony of being a fine painter who couldn’t afford the paints he needed to do his work.”
While the RAiR Program was host to many artists fresh out of graduate school, it also welcomed those in mid-career. Painter Robert Colescott (b.1925-2009), whose work can be found in the collections of the Metropolitan and Whitney museums, came to the program in 1987.
The Roswell “Historic” Artist-in-Residence Compound in Roswell, New Mexico was listed on the State Register of Historic Places in 2017. The historic compound is exceptionally significant to contemporary art in Roswell and throughout New Mexico, and the program was instrumental in the development of artists from across the country. In the late 1960s, when only a handful of artist-in-residence programs existed in the United States, the RAiR Program offered some of the most generous benefits of any artist-in-residence program, including a year-long residency and living and materials stipends. From the start, the program was highly competitive, attracting unknown artists and artists with national reputations. Don Anderson, between 1967 and 1975, conceived of the idea of an artist-in-residence program, built the compound of artist studios and residences and, with the help of some of the first resident artists, shaped RAiR program, which served artists at the Berrendo Road Compound until 2007. Bill Midgette (RAiR 1969-1970) helped Anderson organize the program, establish professional business practices, and make contacts with artists. In 1971, the program instituted its first competitive application process. In 2007, the RAiR Program relocated to its new quarters.
Throughout its 40-year history the grant at the historic site of the Artist-in-Residence Program fostered the career of many unknown (and some known) artists who went on to achieve great success and recognition in the art world. Luis Jimenez, Stuart Arends, Eddie Dominguez, Robert Colescott, Diane Marsh, Milton Resnick, Bill Midgette, David Reed, Wook-Kyung Choi, Michael Aakhus, Ted Kuykendall, Scott Green, Pat Passlof, Phillis Ideal, Alison Saar, James McGarrell, Rachel Hayes, and Eric Sall are just a few of the notables who have been part of the “gift of time”. Their works appear in public and private collections throughout the nation and globally. - Written by Diane Marsh, Director of The Studios at Berrendo Road