First person: Painting Portales’ history

CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo Dale Hamlett of Portales taught art at Eastern New Mexico University for 18 years and made a historical map of Portales during his time there.

Dale Hamlett of Portales turned his childhood dreams of becoming an artist into a reality. After studying art for several years in Chicago and Albuquerque, he brought his honed talent to Eastern New Mexico University to teach art. While at the college, he decided to make a historical map of Portales from the year 1909.

Artistic preference: These days I do transparent water color. It comes in a solid form, but when you put water with it, it makes it soluble. You take a brush and you can do anything you want with it with water. With watercolor, you start with a white paper and you add value to it from light to dark, and oil you go from dark to light so that’s the difference. I really like watercolor. It’s versatile, it dries fast and you can glaze with it layer on top of layer. I like it because you get more sparkle and excitement…with watercolor than anything other medium. Even though I’ve worked in many mediums, oil, acrylic, pastel, wash or any other medium, I always come back to watercolor. To me it’s more exciting and spontaneous.

Humble beginnings: I’ve done art ever since I was a kid in grade school. My mother was an artist and she worked in watercolor so she helped me some in the beginning. She worked in the art department in college even. She attended college for three years before she decided to get married like a lot of people do.

Natural models: When I’m actually doing the painting, I like to paint on location. In other words, I like to go outdoors, in the fresh air and sunshine, hear the birds sing and then you have a lot of material upon which to draw. You can move a tree and move things around if you want to.

Taking up residence: This fall it’ll be 40 years that I’ve lived here in Portales. I was born in northeast Missouri, my wife was born in northwest Missouri and we went to the same college. After college, I went to Chicago, which was about 300 miles away, to the American Academy of Art and the School of the Art Institute. We got married and we lived there for four and a half years. And if you know anything about Chicago, it’s called the windy city and it really is the windy city. I didn’t like the humidity. We lived just across the park from Lake Michigan. I had so much sinus trouble I thought I’d better get out of there. We thought we’d go somewhere in the southwest where it would be dry. We picked out several cities like San Diego, Phoenix and Albuquerque. First place that had an opening was Albuquerque. So we went there, brand new, never been there, got off the train in Belen and went to Albuquerque.

To teach and to do: I taught over here at Eastern for 18 years prior to my retirement. I taught art, painting, drawing, color, design, art history, figure drawing, everything I like to do. I felt very lucky. I had some health problems so decided to retire. Ever since then I’ve always painted. I enter exhibits all over the country from coast to coast, from north to south. Ever since my retirement, I’ve just enjoyed painting on my own, what I want to do. I didn’t feel compelled to do anything I didn’t want to do. I didn’t want to get connected with some gallery. If they like your work, they’ll start telling you what they want you to paint, and I didn’t want to do that. So maybe I’d be much richer if I’d done it that way, but I didn’t want to so I just painted what I wanted to paint since retirement.

Map it out: When I was over here at the university, it was suggested by someone, why not make a map of Portales and what year would I be doing that map? Well, a lot of things happened in 1909 so I decided to take 1909 as my starting point. There was a fellow I knew here in Portales, his name was Clint Fairley. He had a photographic memory. He could remember things, details. He was able to go around the square and tell me where all the stores where. In 1908, they put in a water tower, the first one in Portales. This fellow was a photographer and decided to climb up on top of it and take pictures and that was the basis for the map. I worked on it for 15 years anyhow, because it took a lot of research on my part, looking through newspapers and microfilm to reconstruct this map, this town of Portales.