Nothing like the Artrain

By Don McAlavy: Local columnist

The Artrain came through Clovis in 1973. The Santa Fe and other railroads provided the six-car traveling exhibit at no charge.

It carried a cargo of “old masters,” contemporary and western art on loan from various institutes and galleries valued at more than $1 million.

The project started when the Michigan Council for the Arts prepared a train with paintings and other art objects to tour the state in 1971. In 1973, the Southwestern United States saw the tour go through Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Nevada and New Mexico. Only three cities in our state — Las Vegas, Belen, and Clovis — were privileged to have the Artrain.

Various state arts commissions made the Artrain possible by arranging the particulars for the tour.

The Artrain was especially exciting for school-age children, the primary targets for the Artrain’s message of education. Clovis leaders and local artists participated in the Artrain exhibits.

Cars 1 and 2 contained various film and slide programs depicting man’s efforts through the centuries to enrich the world through art. Car 3 was the gallery with examples of paintings, sculpture, ceramics, prints, weaving and jewelry. Car 4 was the “studio car” in which artists demonstrated work and techniques. Car 5 was the power-generator car, for emergency or stand-by operation. Car 6 was the caboose, used as an office and lounge for the train staff and visiting dignitaries.

The Artrain remained in each of the cities for five days. Clovis saw 5,885 people — a majority of them students — visit the exhibit. I even saw a few old cowboys crawl aboard to see the “pictures.”

At Clovis, Cannon Air Force Base and Eastern New Mexico University were represented in the opening ceremonies, as was the Santa Fe Railroad by New Mexico Division Superintendent J. K. Hastings.

I was a member of the Artrain committee for Clovis and master of ceremonies. I was also a member of the New Mexico Arts Commission, appointed by Gov. David Cargo in 1969. I was past chairman of the Clovis Cultural Affairs Commission and founder and president of the High Plains Historical Society.

Bette-Jane Goodwin of Clovis played a big role in the Artrain visit as president of the Clovis Cultural Affairs Commission, which sponsored the Artrain. She was also chairman of the Clovis-Portales Arts Council.

Jane Mabry, daughter of Clovis’ Thomas Mabry, former governor of New Mexico, was in all three cities as one of the dignitaries. She was past chairman of the New Mexico Arts Commission.

Of course the “old masters” oil paintings were the big attraction at the Artrain, but the Indian paintings, loaned by the Santa Fe Railroad, were to many of us the outstanding objects.

Paintings by E. L. Blumenschein, E. L. Couse and L. H. Sharp were on exhibit, among others. The Santa Fe Railroad, which founded Clovis in 1906-07, bought many of the paintings by the famous artists in New Mexico that depicted the life of New Mexico’s Indians. The Santa Fe even named some of its passenger trains after the Indians: Chief and Super Chief.

The railroad printed thousands of copies of these famous paintings and used them in advertising. Most of them were on the Santa Fe calendars. Today these copies in mint condition are collectibles and worth some money.

A carved hawk, a raven mask and a sculptured polar bear were some of the sculpture produced by American Indian artists, much to the delight of the kids. A jade statuette 24 inches tall caught the eye of everyone as did work from the Egyptian dynasty, 600 B.C.

I doubt we’ll ever see anything like the Artrain again.

Don McAlavy is Curry County’s historian. He can be contacted at: dmcalavy@telescopelab.com