Barbara McCauley and her husband, Alvaro Cardona-Hine, were planning a move to New Mexico from Minnesota. While their lives there were wonderful, their children were grown and they wanted to try making it as full time artists. They believed New Mexico was the place to do that. Alvaro wanted to move to Santa Fe, and while looking at real estate, they found a beautiful house to buy in Dixon, a small art village in the Rio Grande river valley. But they’d been to Truchas several times before and, when Barbara came back, this time with a thought to living in New Mexico, she knew it was where she had to be. Truchas resonated with her on a soul level. As Agnes De Mille said, “No trumpets sound when the important decisions of our life are made. Destiny is made known silently.” And this felt like destiny to Barbara. Alvaro acquiesced and they rented a small house for six weeks as they looked for places to buy. That was 23 years ago.
Barbara is an accomplished writer and painter. At the time of their move to New Mexico, however, she hadn’t painted for 30 years. She was concentrating on writing instead. Not too long after her arrival in Truchas she began to draw with several artist friends. She found drawing to be somewhat stultifying, though, burdening her with too much detail. Soon she left the pencils behind and once again picked up her brushes. The painter was back.
Life was challenging in these Spanish Land Grant villages in 1987 and there were times when Barbara wondered if they’d made a mistake coming here. She recalls one incident when a local turned his car directly into hers on purpose and she questioned whether or not they were even safe. Anglos were definitely not welcomed back then. Adding to the challenges was the fact that they were quickly going through their funds and they would need to figure out a way to earn a living in this remote village high in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
They’d purchased an old adobe house and, once they’d finished restoring it and adding on, they fixed up the adobe garage at the front of the property, creating their own gallery. They opened with high hopes but no sales. Barbara considered turning the gallery into a B&B but that would take more construction and more resources. Then the 4th of July holiday arrived and people started buying. During that one weekend they sold seven paintings and they were once again feeling some financial flow.
Over these couple of decades in Truchas Barbara has found having their own gallery an enriching experience. Both she and Alvaro have done well financially, being widely collected throughout the world. But at least as important to her has been the connection she has been able to make with the many diverse people who have come to visit and buy the paintings. As Barbara puts it, “A work of art is a gift, a gift to its maker and then, when someone sees it, falls in love with it and receives it, a gift to them. That action completes the creative process.”
I’ve written before in this blog about Barbara and Alvaro, among a few others, being trailblazers for the rest of us who followed. They came to Truchas before it was “discovered”, before it was fashionable and cool, before it was an art village. They created artful lives for themselves here that made it much easier for the rest of us to envision the same for ourselves. They did the hard work and paved the way. Through their kindness to the local people and their respect for the culture, they helped other Anglos be welcomed.
I want to share a poem from one of Barbara’s books of poetry, The Darkness That Was There All Along:
Light From the Whole Summer
Something in my face has changed
the way the trees each autumn
visible and final
before they withdraw into themselves
curled, sleeping animals.
My hair flames white at the edges
As if the light inside
Has filled me up and I glow
Light spilling out
Even to my fingertips.
This aging is a story
We only half believe
Who says it’s terrible?
It’s a gathering
A wave come to fullness
That rushes back again to the sea.
When I look back at the shore
The footsteps are already gone.
The sea breathes
Failure is no longer endless.
Other books by Barbara include:
Finding the Balance, poems
12 Weeks to Better Vision, non-fiction
Drug-Related Diseases, non-fiction
Small Mercies, memoir
You can see Barbara’s paintings at the Cardona-Hine Fine Art Gallery.