Celebratory yet somber ribbon cutting

April 3, 2024


Photo by Scott Gerdes
Cutting the ribbon in the center are, from left, UNM-Taos Chair of Fine Arts, Film and Digital Media Sarah Stolar and Taos Arts Council Administrator Pam Morris.

Not only do murals beautify, they can also tell the story of a community, and express cultural identity and history. Murals can transform public spaces and individual lives. Murals can help strengthen relationships within and between communities. 

The striking and extensive Historical Women of Taos mural that graces Río Grande Hall, for example, will forever remind us of—as they appear in the mural from left to right—María Rosa Villalpando (c. 1725-1830), the ancestral matriarch of several prominent Taos families and one of the legendary women of the Old Santa Fe Trail; Cleofas Martinez Jaramillo (1878-1956), a historic preservationist of Northern New Mexico’s Spanish culture; Helene Wurlitzer (1874–1963) the philanthropist who started a pivotal artist residency in Taos; and DeAnna Autumn Leaf Suazo (1992-2021), a gifted Taos Pueblo and Diné contemporary artist. All of whom are the esteemed spirits who express Taos’s historical and cultural identity, inspire creativity and wonder, and represent the diversity of our community.

Collaboration between UNM-Taos and the Taos Arts Council (TAC) resulted in a mural that celebrates Taos women as well as the diversity of the community—Chair of Fine Arts, Film and Digital Media Sarah Stolar and muralist Jenny Roesel Ustick’s vision. The women featured were selected by the citizens of Taos and Taos Pueblo in the spring of 2022. 

UNM-Taos held a mural ribbon-cutting ceremony during Women's History Month on a blustery March 29 afternoon. In attendance were Chancellor Mary Gutiérrez; Dean of Instruction Randi Archuleta; Chair of Fine Arts, Film and Digital Media Sarah Stolar, and other UNM-Taos staff; Taos Pueblo Tribal leaders Gov. Fred Romero and Councilman Gilbert Suazo; the family of DeAnna Autumn Leaf Suazo; members of the TAC; and other elected officials and dignitaries including New Mexico State Sen. Roberto “Bobby” Gonzales. 

The ceremony began indoors with a welcome from Chancellor Gutiérrez, followed by the Land Acknowledgement from Dean Archuleta who added, “Sarah’s heart and soul went into this project.” Stolar then shared the biographies of Ustick, an internationally recognized muralist, and the women’s faces who adorn it. 

Against the wind, attendees lined up in front of the mural to witness Stolar and TAC Administrator Pam Morris officially cut the red ribbon with oversized scissors. A reception back inside Río Grande Hall followed the ceremony. 

“I really enjoyed working on the mural project with Sarah and I love how it all turned out,” Morris shared. “The dedication was such a moving tribute and I was honored being a part of it.” 

With enthusiastic backing from Chancellor Gutierrez and Dean Archuleta, Stolar reached out to the TAC, which generously funded the mural's creation. 

“We are grateful that TAC was included in this project,” TAC Board Member Jules Epstein said. 

The painting of the mural began on May 3, 2023, and was completed later that month. Ustick and a group of four painters took just over two weeks to finish the project, which included several community paint days where 15 volunteers contributed. 

Ustick was unable to attend the ceremony but relayed to Stolar, “This mural is one [Jenny] is most proud of.” 

During the celebratory yet somber occasion, Taos Pueblo Gov. Romero fondly remembered DeAnna Autumn Leaf Suazo in his address: 

“DeAnna was my neighbor ... may her memory continue through her beautiful art and this wonderful mural.” 

Taos Pueblo Councilman Suazo is DeAnna’s uncle. “I appreciate that she’s been recognized this way,” he said. “Women are integral in the lives of our people.” 

Additional supporters include the Town of Taos Historic Preservation Commission; Matthew Thomas, executive director, The Paseo Project; Estevan Rael-Galvez, Ph.D., executive director and project investigator, Native Bound-Unbound; Herbert Foster, former development director, Rocky Mountain Youth Corps; Hall Frost, assistant archivist, Palace of the Governors Photo Archive; Nic Knight, executive director, The Helene Wurlitzer Foundation of New Mexico; and Dr. Michelle Lanteri, curator of collections and exhibitions, Millicent Rogers Museum.