[This the second of a two-part series. Read the moreno valley & me, part one here.]
When my friend Carol asked me to paint their view of Baldy from the Moreno Valley, it was not the seemingly obvious view from the meadow near the main cabin that I and others had so admired.
Rather it was a more private view known only to her family: The view from “The Rocks.” To give me a sense of the scene, Carol sent me several photos of the view, apologizing for their “poor quality.” “It’s hard to get a good picture up there.” One glance at her photos and I could see the challenge for a photographer and painter: the dark visually heavy diagonal wall of evergreens cutting through the lower half of the view made a sharp angular contrast against the almost ethereal distant vista.
Still, I thought I could work with at least a couple of her photos.
What would be ideal though would be for me to experience the view myself; to hike up there, smell the air, take in the aura and get a sense of place.
A few weeks later I drove from Santa Fe up to the Moreno Valley, and within a few moments of stepping out of my car, I was huffing after Carol through a cathedral-like park of huge old Ponderosas.
We turned into thicker woods, wildflowers dotting the piney forest floor despite the drought.
Eventually the grade became steeper and rocky, when finally, after a scramble the canopy opened up and we were on “The Rocks.”
Gazing north, I could immediately see why this has become a sacred place for her family. Across the red rock of the shelf and the shadowy band of evergreen and aspens lay the long, wide Moreno Valley, the flat blue shimmering mirror of Eagle Nest Lake, and rising above that, purple-blue late afternoon clouds gathering over Touch-Me-Not and Baldy. I could have sat there gazing all night.
Reluctantly we descended back down to the cabins, only to return twelve hours later to experience the light and color of morning. A cloud of white fog rose in a wide line over the lake, as Baldy and Touch-Me-Not appeared and disappeared among the clouds.
What a gift to get to experience this unique vantage on the valley, on those beloved mountains.
Over the course of many weeks, I created six oil painting from various photos of the view — the first three based on Carol’s photos, the second three based on my own. Here they are:
Moreno Valley Painting One ~ A Promise of Afternoon Rain
It’s that cloud that drew me into this one. I just loved the shape, sense of volume and presence of that cloud with its cool blue flat bottom, and the sense that it’s growing as heat and moisture build.
Moreno Valley Painting Two ~ Midday on the Overlook
Midday is a challenging time of day to capture with paint. Bright overhead sun washes out color and minimizes shadows, thereby reducing the contrast between and definition of shapes. Knowing this, I’m a little surprised I even tackled this painting based on a midday view from The Rocks. Yet I think the painting effectively conveys the feeling of the heat of the day.
Moreno Valley Painting Three ~ Another Beautiful Day Draws to a Close
The third painting captures early evening when the sun is sinking lower and lower, drawing the color from the shadows and it sinks down. You feel as though the heat of the day is being consumed with dark cloak of coolness. In this painting, too, you can really see the angled wall of dark trees. Squint your eyes and the painting become almost an abstraction of shadow and light.
Moreno Valley Painting Four ~ Evening Storm Breaks Over Baldy & Touch-Me-Not
Painting Four is the first of the paintings I did after visiting the location in person. Funny, but of all of the paintings in this series, it was for sure the most challenging for me. In this one I was trying to focus in a bit more on Baldy and Touch-Me-Not, as well as get some purple-grey drama going on in the sky. For the longest time I just couldn’t get the folds and colors of the mountains nor the clouds to look the way I wanted. I kept at it though, and finally — finally! — I was satisfied. Persistence paid off!
Moreno Valley Painting Five ~ Can You Just Smell the Rain
Painting Five is a particular favorite, because I just love the tree there on the left. And I really dig that big brooding cloud that you know is just waiting to dump some rain on the valley. I must say I think I really nailed the light in this one.
Moreno Valley Painting Six ~ Peaceful Summer Evening
When I came up with the title ‘Peaceful Summer Evening’ for this one, I was humming to myself that great Eagle’s tune Peaceful Easy Feeling** which for me was always the quintessential “days off” song during those gorgeous carefree summers working at Philmont.
This painting holds and stands for so very much of what floats in my dreams when I think of those magical New Mexico summer evenings of my youth: A view from an elevated rocky perch, which we clearly had to hike to. So as we’re standing here, our hearts are pounding a little bit from the hike, and we’re catching our breath just a wee bit. And as we breath in, we’re inhaling that unique and luscious fragrance of pine mixed with sage mixed with sunlight mixed with distant rain. We are surrounded by evergreen, but even more lovely, by aspen trees — and they’re catching the last light of day, such that their leaves are flickering bright shades of emerald and jade. And there is sky, of course. But New Mexico sky is just different from other skies. [If you know New Mexico then I know you know what I mean….]. And there are mountains, of course — but they aren’t just any mountains. For there’s Touch-Me-Not and there’s Baldy, and, well, they’re just more special to those of us who know and dream about them still…
And, well…. I just want to stand here for a long, long while, and drink in this peaceful summer evening…
Moreno Valley Painting Seven ~ Eric & Katie’s View
As I’ve mentioned earlier, I did these six paintings as studies for my friend Carol to consider for a potentially larger painting which would be the gift for her son and new daughter-in-law. When the sixth was completed, I sent them photos of all the paintings for their consideration.
A few weeks later the four of us had a conference call. WHOOT! They made me feel like a painting GODDESS in their ebullient praise and appreciation of my work. But…Hmmm….
Was there any chance I could do yet one more painting merging elements found in some of the studies? Could I somehow combine the expansiveness of painting number six, capture something of the rich and stormy sky in painting number four, and overall focus in on Baldy more?
[I had to chuckle (and groan slightly) that they particularly loved the sky in painting number four, because it was that damned sky that had caused me the most struggle of all the paintings!]
Of course I said I would see what I could do!
The truth is I was a little nervous about trying to create, essentially, by committee. But I love a good challenge, so to help me focus on this new goal, I packed up all of my paints and headed to a secluded cabin in Colorado where I could be free of interruptions for several days and just focus on painting.
This was the perfect prescription for my Muse and me. For the painting came together incredibly quickly and dang near effortlessly. [But then… of course… it had taken me six separate paintings to be able to create the seventh!]
In the end we — all of us! — were just thrilled with the result!
The whole family made me feel like a treasured guest and a rock star painter. I am touched and honored and grateful to have gotten to spend some time with them at their Moreno Valley home. And I’m further honored to have several of these paintings hanging in the homes of various of Carol’s family.
Three of the paintings remain, however, and are now finally available on my online shop. Limited edition prints of Peaceful Summer Evening will be available this autumn. If you think you might like a print, please shoot me a message; that will help me determine how many prints to make for this special edition.
Incidentally, there is an 8th painting of the Moreno Valley that I did during this series. Only rather than being a view from The Rocks, it’s from the valley itself, of an old adobe house that caught my eye. We’re looking north toward Eagle Nest, with late springtime/early summer clouds building. Hard to paint this without sinking into a reverie of what it must have been like to live in the valley when this homestead was molded from earth and straw. Surely there’s a window on the north side where, much like their neighbors, generations have gazed upon Touch-Me-Not and Baldy?
Moreno Valley Painting Eight ~ High Desert Homestead
** For my favorite alternative rendition of Peaceful Easy Feeling, check-out the beautiful late Kate Wolf singing it here. To discover my OTHER “quintessential day’s off song” join me for Tuesday Dawnings next week. 😉
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~ Dawn Chandler
Santa Fe , New Mexico