The Tao of Taos

Wally Harper is an art addict. Harper, who has lived in Central Florida since 1976 and currently works for the Multilmedia Group at Disney, has invested his savings in his habit for over 25 years. But after a friend introduced him to the artistic community of Taos, N. M., his addiction took a turn for the Southwest.

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"Southwest Artists: The Taos Six" is a selection of paintings and sculptures from Harper's extensive private collection. Each seeks to capture the brilliant light and magnificent rustic beauty which has made Taos a haven for artists and avant-garde intellectuals for almost a century, including artist Georgia O'Keeffe, photographer Ansel Adams and writer D.H. Lawrence.

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The colony originated in 1898, when Ernest Blumenschein and Bert Phillips stopped at Taos to fix a broken wagon wheel. Enthralled by the area, by 1915 they had helped form the Taos Society of Artists with four like-minded souls. The group disbanded in 1927, but their legacy echoes in the works of the Taos Six. Ron Barsano, Robert Daughters, Rod Goebel, Walt Gonske, Julian Robles and Ray Vinella united in 1972, sharing the belief that realism in Western art was slipping to the level of dime-store reproductions. They believed that by exhibiting their works together they would achieve far greater recognition than they could as individuals.

Taos' scenic splendor is featured in many of the paintings. Daughter's "Dusk in Monument Valley" depicts rock formations washed in the orangish glow of sunset. The emphasis on brushwork echoes Van Gogh, which is even more apparent in his "La Loma Chapel," which utilizes black outlining and intense blues and greens. William Scott Jennings' "Return from the Hunt" uses the Sangre de Cristo mountains as a distant backdrop for two Native American riders crossing a windswept, sagebrush plain. The quiet, muted tones evoke a reverence for the natural grandeur and dwarfs the human element. This theme is paralleled in Vinella's "Under New Mexico Skies," where the sun-bleached adobe buildings seem insignificant compared to the limitless blue sky stretching across the canvas. Especially poignant is Donald Crowley's "Pride of the Hopi," which has a startling photographic realism, from the shimmer of sunlight on the woman's hair to her intricate turquoise jewelry.

Harper admits that collecting art is addictive. However, he is not satisfied to simply own original works. "The true joy of collecting comes from the ability to share with others," says Harper -- a goal realized through this celebration of the spirit and history of Taos.

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