BELEN—The fantastic thing about art is it can transport us to other times and places.
That’s the case with the upcoming exhibit, “Willard Page: Artist on the Southwest Road,” at the Belen Harvey House Museum.
The opening reception for the exhibit will be held from 2-4 p.m., Sunday, May 7, with a lecture and book signing by Carolyn O’Bagy Davis, who wrote, “Willard J. Page: Artist on the Southwest Road,” and who lent the Harvey House the nearly 100 paintings from her private collection.
Frances Zeller, the manager of the museum, said she wanted to have this exhibit because it’s of the era when the Harvey Houses were at their best and busiest.
“It was the golden time of train travel, and people were coming out to see the Southwest,” Zeller said. “Willard Page catered to those tourists, and many of the gift shops … sold his paintings. He was painting New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado scenes.”
Zeller said Page created the idea that tourists couldn’t buy a big painting because they couldn’t get it back home — especially if they were traveling by train. To help accommodate travelers, Page created “suitcase souvenirs,” which were little paintings — 3×3 or 4×3 inch, beautiful landscapes.
“He was really a master at his craft,” Zeller said. “We found price tags on the back of a couple of them for $1. It was the 1920 and ’30s, a much different time.”
Willard Page and his wife, Ethel, lived a very unconventional life. They traveled around in a homemade camper, as he painted and sold his artwork along the way.
“He had a quite successful career and did finally buy a home in Boulder, Colo.,” Zeller said. “It was a beautiful home, and is still there today.”
The museum manager said there are still people — called Fred Heads — who are passionate about the Harvey Houses and this art and antiques.
“They are so special,” Zeller said of the paintings. “They are so delicate and detailed and so fine. They are great mementos.”
While it’s unknown if Page ever made his way into Valencia County, there is one oil painting named, “Pueblo,” which is described as a “faint but extensive notes on verso in pencil describing Isleta Indian village.”
Davis, who is lending the Harvey House the paintings for a year, developed an interest in Fred Harvey, but when she saw the works of Willard Page, she became enamored.
“She stumbled over some paintings, and started collecting,” Zeller said. “You can still find his paintings for sale online, from $75 to $700.”
Zeller says while the Belen Harvey House Museum doesn’t host a lot of art exhibit’s anymore, this one fits perfectly with the museum’s mission — train travel, Harvey House history and New Mexico’s landscape.
“We feel to do an art exhibit, it has to be relevant with our theme and mission, and this definitely does,” she said, “and this will be up for one year, which is very rare for us to do.”
The exhibit will remain in the main room of the museum, and none of the paintings will be for sale.
“They’re not ours to sell, just ours to enjoy — for one year,” Zeller said. “I believe this exhibit will bring more visitors to Belen. It’s always our mission to get more visitors into the museum and to the city, but something like this is valid, it’s real, it’s important.”
The reception on Saturday, May 7, is sponsored by Mary Tanner, owner of Antiques & Bungalow Basics in Albuquerque, who helped pay to build the exhibit and the lighting. The soon-to-be opened Fred Harvey’s Whistle Stop Cafe will cater the event with refreshments and mini quiche.
The Belen Harvey House Museum asks for a $5 donation upon entrance.
Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.