Perhaps the greatest drawback in living far from the glittering East Coast intelligentsia is that it often means being ignored or forgotten. For some strange reason, critics (literary, theater, art, music) don’t realize that the United States is a huge country with thousands of incredibly talented people, many of whom are far superior in capability and production to Northeastern counterparts.
Worst off is the artist, musician or writer who chooses to make a home in the wilds of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Utah, or West Texas. There is no more perfect example of this than New Mexico artist and my dear friend, Michael Hurd.
I doubt if anyone has ever had an artistic pedigree like Michael's. His grandfather was the legendary artist and illustrator, N.C. Wyeth. For the uninitiated, N.C. Wyeth gave us such treasures as the book illustrations for Ernie Pile, James Fennimore Cooper and other literary legends. He gave us knights in shining armor, Robin Hood, pirates, fairies, Redcoats, heroes. He also gave us the modern day image of Santa Claus!
Even more importantly for this tale, as a young man he roamed the Southwest desert drinking in colors, sunsets, characters, landscapes, and people. The result was a magnificent collection of cowboys, soldiers, settlers, Indians, and the Wild West of legend.
N. C. Wyeth presented the world with two other important treasures: his daughter Henrietta and his son Andrew. Henrietta became famous for her flowers and her portraits of children, including the sister in law of one of my best friends and an extraordinary painting of her own son, Michael.
Henrietta married New Mexico native Peter Hurd and moved to the ‘Wild West’ with him, settling in San Patricio, New Mexico. There she quietly made a beautiful home for herself and for her family.
Peter Hurd became such a character of artistic legend that presidents and kings sought his work, much of which is still on display in San Patricio. There are stories about how Peter Hurd and another Lincoln County legend, the late Republican Congressman Joe Skeen, would ride horses into saloons and ride them across the bar if dared!
He was an unusual man who could literally walk with kings and not lose the common touch. He could ride, drink, spit, and rope with cowboys without losing his nobility. Michael possesses the same ability, knowing how to make anyone around him, from President to tourist, feel comfortable and worthy.
If Michael was living back East he would be considered one of the leading water-colorists in the nation. Because he chooses to live in New Mexico and paint the landscape he loves, his work is constantly overlooked as critics ogle his Eastern relatives.
Maybe I'm prejudiced about Michael and his work because we're friends and have enjoyed many hours of conversation, some of it serious, much of it nonsensical. He puts his love of nature, science, and observations of the natural world into his art. We share the same questionable taste in literature, much of it bordering on speculative science.
There are those of us who, with all the prejudice of friendship, feel he is the finest artist his family has ever produced. A writer (okay, me) once described that his work, “is as smooth and refreshing as a good New Mexico margarita.” The line resulted in much ribbing from Michael’s friends, but what the heck – when Michael is concerned, never give a sucker an even break!
So many world-class artists are so full of themselves even they can’t stand being around themselves for more than ten minutes. Not Michael. He loves to laugh. He is humble, mischievous, with a twinkle in his eye and a book in hand. He's a very quiet man, most comfortable keeping his own council when he's not playing the role of Casanova, in which he excels. Strangely enough there are times when this very out-going man is actually quite shy.
There are people who have a sense of humor and then there are people who are truly gifted with a sense of humor that goes above and beyond the call of duty. The only attribute greater than his gift as an artist is Michael’s sense of the absurd. He's a master practical joker, making full use of the telephone as a tool for mayhem and mischief.
Maybe the nicest thing about Michael Hurd is his love of animals. I don’t think even he knows how many stray dogs he has rescued off the side of the road. His unassuming little adobe house is surrounded by a high white-washed cement block wall, inside of which are numerous dogs. I must admit my late poodle Clancy had a huge crush on his magnificent German shepherd Chacho.
Along with the Hurd-La Rinconada Gallery, Michael operates several guest houses and rentals including one right in the Hurd Gallery. Naturally it is full of incredible art. The last time I was there, I saw one of my favorite paintings from him – a large oil of a man standing outside a Porsche parked along a LA off-ramp. It's part of his ‘Interstate’ series.
The San Patricio gallery sells a full price range of renderings of Wyeth-Hurd art, from greeting cards to priceless Andrew Wyeth originals. If you want to catch one of Michael’s watercolors there, you need to act fast before they find their way to Santa Fe and other spots of civilization. And every Christmas it displays the legendary Santa Clause painting by his grandfather, whose illustrations are also featured.
Recent archaeological discoveries put seasonal hunter/gatherers in San Patricio and the Hondo Valley at least four thousand years ago, if not before. I bet someday, someone is going to come up with a Clovis point and then all archaeological hell is going to break lose. Michael has a conquistador’s helmet his dad found on the banks of the Rio Hondo. His little adobe house still has bullet holes from shoot-outs during the Lincoln County War! The Hurd family of artists has chronicled this ancient spirit of the Hondo Valley. No matter how things will change, we will always have their treasures to remind us of how things once were.
For years now, Michael has been struggling to find the time to just kick back, take his camper, and roam I-10 painting. Along the way he stops and makes friends with the old-time locals who add a special dimension to that specific painting or water color.
One recent addition to his portfolio is a large canvas detailing those incredibly weird rock formations just outside of Wilcox, Arizona heading toward Benson and Tombstone.
The first time I ever saw Michael was at White Sands National Monument. It is a favorite location for Michael. Since moving to New Mexico, I’ve also come to enjoy this unique national treasure. Over the past few years, Michael has been doing a series of water-colors and paintings there at White Sands. For some strange reason, I seem to see only the early product and rarely the final piece. What I have seen is breath-taking. The great thing about Michael is he doesn’t mind well intentioned comments, like where he should put a dead scratch and sniff road kill skunk!
I can just imagine what Michael is going to say when he reads this, but a man like him deserves good things. Kind and giving, he's one of the truly good guys. An artist’s real nature eventually comes through in their work. This is definitely true of Michael Hurd. Through him and his art, we see beauty, kindness, and gentleness, along with a certain vulnerability. These are all traits that make a great artist.