TAOS, N.M. (AP) — Art studios are everywhere — hidden in backyards, at the end of narrow dirt driveways and tucked behind the adobe storefronts that line the historic main street.
This northern New Mexico mountain town has long been known for attracting painters, photographers, sculptors and writers, so it’s no wonder Gus Foster was sitting on a gold mine of sorts.
An artist himself, Foster has spent the last four decades collecting the work of contemporary artists who flocked to Taos from Los Angeles, New York and elsewhere. Now, he’s giving the collection to the Harwood Museum of Art.
It’s considered one of the foremost collections of contemporary art in the Southwest. The more than 340 works include pieces from famous sculptors Ken Price and Larry Bell as well as Ron Cooper and Ron Davis.
“It puts us on the map,” museum director Susan Longhenry said of Foster’s gift. “This is the place to come see and experience the art colony of Taos, and we are now in a much better position to share that.”
The museum is already well known for its collection of work by the Taos Society of Artists, a collaborative that jumpstarted the community’s reputation for being a well of creativity during the early 1900s. It’s also known for its collection of post-World War II abstract art that was the product of the Taos Moderns.
What the Harwood was missing was art from the wave of artists who discovered the community in the 1970s and later.
A former museum curator and avid collector, Foster realized the gap in the Harwood’s collection and began keeping his eye out as he visited his friends’ studios throughout Taos.
“When I saw something that worked and if it was in my means to be able to get it, I added it to my collection,” he said.
But it was no art shopping trip. There were trades, and Foster remembers getting some of the works as gifts from his good friends Price and Bell. He said the value of the collection “really transcends dollars.”
Included in the collection is Price’s “Death Shrine I,” a Mexican folk-inspired funerary alter that is framed by a white picket fence and a pair of candelabras. There is also one of Bell’s newest “Light Knot” works, a sculpture of cut and folded Mylar film that reflects light and moves with the slightest breeze.
For Foster, it came down to having the foresight to recognize what would someday be valuable to the museum in helping explain the evolution of art in Taos. As time passes, he said, art can disappear or become so expensive a museum would be unable to afford it.
Having a place where people can see the work of local artists is invaluable, said Happy Price, the widow of Ken Price, whose work is currently on exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Drawing Center in New York. Despite her husband’s prominence, she said the museums in New Mexico have not collected his work.
“Finally,” she said. “I think this will be an amazing gift, an amazing resource. Maybe this will inspire the museums of New Mexico and Arizona to pay more attention to Southwest artists.”
That has been the mission of the Harwood in recent years.
“What other art museum should be collecting the work of these artists except the Harwood,” Longhenry said. “These artists moved here because they were inspired by this very unique place.”
The museum is planning an exhibition featuring a portion of the Foster collection next summer. Before that can happen, each piece must be cataloged and transferred to the museum.
The walls and ceilings of Foster’s home are still covered with art.
“It’s a big undertaking. No good deed goes unpunished,” he said jokingly of the tedious task.