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People and Families

The story of Northern New Mexico is in its people. As this site develops, we will add such stories to acquaint residents and visitors with the Heritage Area's incredible cultural heritage.

A major project funded by the National Heritage Area, resulted in the production of a documentary film, Land, Water, People, Time, produced by filmmakers David Lindblom, Cynthia Jeanette Gomez, and Daniel Valerio.

The film has been shown in numerous film festivals and has garnered critical acclaim for its stories of northern New Mexicans, for its cinematography, and for its music by Ronald Roybal. A trailer for the film can be found here


Welcome to some short profiles featuring contemporary artists of greatly varying disciplines connected by the shared experience of place and time — namely, Northern New Mexico, right now. Living on the shores of both youth and years, the artists featured here traverse a half-century at their widest point of chronological separation. But the channel narrows considerably when talent is the only measure of concern, and each is a contender of equal creative fortitude.

Whether translated through glass, embroidery, dance, weaving or paint, or undertaken as an act of social consciousness, the work of these well-celebrated artists is representative of the region’s fi¬nest creative talents. It reflects the diversity of cultural perspective and creative vision that has sustained so many of our art traditions for generations and has supported the trations into newer, more contemporary forms in recent years.

Larry Bell - Sculptor
For more than five decades, Chicago-born, San Fernando Valley–raised and longtime Taos resident contemporary sculptor Larry Bell has been exploring the relationships between various material surfaces and their respective manners of reflecting, transmitting and absorbing light.

From the “California minimalism” approach by which he produced his earliest and best known works — coated-glass cubes with appropriately simple titles such as Cube 15 — to later pieces (such as The Iceberg and Its Shadow, which consisted of 56 individual panels and was too large to ever be assembled in a single location) and recent, more generously indulged endeavors that include mirrors, chrome, aluminum-and silicon monoxide-brushed polyester film, Mylar sculptural forms and considerably sized installations of same shaped standing units of opaque gray and transparent glass panels (Standing Walls), Bell has been chasing and catching light with remarkable success for quite some time. “I love surfaces,” the artist explained when asked to comment on his relationships with his materials of choice. “I am not a conceptualist. I like the way things feel; I like the feeling of seeing. I like the weight of the light on my works. It completes them.”

While studying at Chouinard Art Institute, where he was enrolled from 1957 to 1959 because of its affiliation with Disney and his intention to become an animator for Disney Studios, Bell became acquainted with several artists who were also interested in working with alternative materials associated with the just beginning- to-prosper aerospace industry of southern California. Along with Billy Al Bengston, Robert Irwin and Ken Price (who also later found an artistic home in New Mexico), Bell laid the foundation for what would eventually become known as the Light and Space and Finish Fetish schools. The terms were not enthusiastically received by the artists themselves, but they nonetheless reflected the importance of the expanding design aesthetics under way at the time and that continued due largely to the collective pushing away of long-accepted, genre-specfic norms.

Bell, who if granted the wish to collaborate with any artist from any time in history would chose writer H.G. Wells, because “I liked the way he thought,” cites cartoonist Rowland Emett, creator of the beloved Punch character among his early inspirations. Bell’s work has been included in exhibits at the fabled Huysman and Ferus galleries in Los Angeles, New York’s PACE and Museum of Modern Art, the Albuquerque Museum and, most recently, at Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas. In addition to his work space in Taos, where visitors are welcome, Bell keeps a studio in Venice, California, where, it has been reported, his Mylar Light Knots hang overhead and sway in the gentle, ocean breezes, reflecting the light just so. And why Taos? Because “I can control my distractions here.”
Larry Bell can be reached at

Monica Sosaya Halford – Colcha Embroider and Retable Painter
For the past 36 years, Santa Fe native Monica Sosaya Halford has been showing her bright, colorful colchas (fabric coverlets embroidered with the colcha stitch) and elegant retablos
(religious devotional paintings, usually on wood or tin panels) at Santa Fe’s annual Spanish Market, organized by the Spanish Colonial Arts Society. As the recipient of numerous awards, including the market’s prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award, she is among an elite collective of artists to be recognized not only for her beautiful creations but also for her efforts in preserving the centuries-old, endangered art forms of Santa Fe’s Spanish colonial heritage.

Yet even with coveted awards and honors, Halford does not see herself as a single force but rather as “one grain of sand among many, like the Egyptians believed,” each one supported by another. Halford descends from one of the city’s original families, tracing her ancestors’ Santa Fe residency back to 1598. “My father owned land in the area [near the acequia] and built several of the houses on the block,” she remembers fondly. “So the street became [known as] Sosaya Lane.”

Halford, a Santa Fe High School graduate who “always liked to draw from the second grade on” and whose work over time has “expanded into a larger field, which now includes reredos (reverse glass etchings) and painting on leather, tin and gourds,” muses on the healing power of her art in this way: “When I [make] a retablo, I want it to comfort the person [who is going to have it], to have a meaning to them.”
Monica Sosoya Halford can be reached at

Nakotah LaRance - Dancer
As is true with all contemporary Native American art and performance, dance has its share of shining stars, and new ones are rising all the time. Among the brightest, with one of the most recognizable names in the Indian dance universe, is seven-time world champion hoop dancer Nakotah LaRance, whose first steps through the hoop at just 5 years of age were under the guidance of seven-time world titlist Derrick Suwaima Davis.

LaRance, for whom the hoop dance represents “the beauty of the world … balance … and Mother Earth,” excelled at the art form, to understate things just a bit, and was soon winning virtually every competition he entered. Through Davis’ instruction, LaRance refined his technique. His dance skills were plain to see, but something else was equally apparent: LaRance possessed a Creator-given gift, one that explained his ability to soar effortlessly through the air, with a dozen or more hoops in various degrees of possession, some aloft and some encircling him, and then land surefootedly as if he had been standing motionless the entire time. To no one’s surprise,LaRance, a resident of Ohkay Owingeh (formerly San Juan) Pueblo, who is of Hopi, Navajo, Tewa and Assiniboine descent, was soon discovered by a talent scout for Cirque de Soleil. In a quick and much deserved sweep of fate and reward, young LaRance was sought out by the world-renowned circus and became one of its premier dancers. This in turn inspired his 2004 appearance on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, where he was billed as “The Most Interesting Person in Arizona.” Several acting engagements were soon to follow, most memorably in Three Wise Guys (USA Network), Not Like Everyone Else: The True Story of Brandi Blackbear (Lifetime), and Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (HBO).

Earlier this year, LaRance equaled his former mentor, taking his seventh title as world champion at the Heard Museum’s 25th World Hoop Dance Competitions in Phoenix, Arizona. It seems things have come full circle there.
Nakotah LaRance can be reached at

Robb Rael - Painter
It’s no big surprise to learn that Santa Fe painter Robb Rael has always been creative. “I used to draw and paint on anything in front of me — skateboards, school desks, tennis shoes, sketchbooks,” he recently related. As is the case with most members of multigenerational art families, his earliest creative leanings were nurtured from the start, and he is well acquainted with the covenants of tradition. Drawing heavily from iconic Hispanic symbology as well as from contemporary social and cultural influences, he finds that his work “appeals to young people as well as to a much older audience.”

Also of no surprise, given his family’s long history in the arts, is Rael’s commitment to keep contemporary Hispanic art times relevant and moving forward while simultaneously observing the time-honored principles of cultural heritage at the center of Santa Fe’s art universe. “I have volunteered for the Contemporary Hispanic Market since before I was an exhibiting artist,” he explains. “In 2006 I took over my mother’s position as public relations manager of the Hispanic Market, which I held until 2014. My mother, Judy Ortiz, is an oil painter and the longest showing artist in the Contemporary Hispanic Market. I would help her with shows when I was young, before I could enter myself. I’ve been around art since I can remember. To be an inspiration to future generations is the legacy I would like to leave.”

During a visit to the artist’s booth at 2015’s Contemporary Hispanic Market, Rael agreed that the word “fluid” was a good descriptive choice for his work, which he feels has become “more thought out and developed” over the course of his career. Executed primarily in gouache, an opaque, water-based medium that lends itself well to the artist’s fun and vibrant signature
style, Rael’s canvases have been well received and are collected both locally and nationally. His accolades are many, including commissions as selected poster artist for the Santa Fe WineFestival in 2006, Zozobra in 2009 and 2010 and Contemporary Hispanic Market in 2006 and 2010, as well as inclusion in the National Hispanic Cultural Center’s exhibition “Where I’m From: Three Emerging Artists”, which he considers among the milestones of his career.

Musing on the possibility of collaboration with any artist of his choosing, Rael exclaims, “Da Vinci, Dalí, Michelangelo, Picasso! But I would probably have to choose Jimi Hendrix — that way we could jam!”
Robb Rael can be reached at

Roger Montoya – Multidisciplinary Artist and Artistic Director of Moving Arts Española
When Velarde-based artist Roger Montoya gets creative, great things happen. Case in point: Moving Arts Española, a nonprofit, after-school arts program he founded that is “committed to providing the children and youth of the Española Valley with vibrant activities in the arts, culture and agriculture” in an effort to improve health and wellness, facilitate creative expression and reinforce a “sense of connection to local culture and traditions.”

Guided by a philosophy that supports “access to superior arts education” and residing in a spacious, even-big-enough-to-dance-in, former bingo hall next to Ohkay Owingeh Casino, the program is off to a fruitful start.

“There’s a sacredness to the land here that is the undercurrent of our culture,” Montoya said in a recent conversation. “This is a culturally relevant and richly dynamic place, and it’s important to create opportunities for young people to find and nurture those connections. Success is achieved through opportunity.”

Also the co-founder of La Tierra Montessori School for the Arts and Sciences, which opened in 2012, Montoya is unwaveringly dedicated to providing quality education incorporating the creative arts as a fundamental part of every childhood in Northern New Mexico. “I guess I knew art was my calling by the time I was five or six years old,” says Montoya of his earliest artistic inclinations. “It was clear to my parents that I was creative, and they supported me from a very early age.”

Following his scholarship at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center, an apprenticeship with the Paul Taylor Dance Company and a successful run as a dancer with the Parsons Dance Company, Montoya set his sights on learning to work with acrylics and oils. A self-taught landscape painter, he has long been a familiar presence at the Spanish Colonial Arts Society’s Contemporary Hispanic Market, where many of his vibrant and inviting canvases have begun their journey to collections around the globe. At 2015’s July Spanish Market, Montoya’s booth was filled to near capacity with indisputable evidence of his prolific hand: more than 75 individual paintings. Nearly as impressive was the number of people waiting their turn to get a glimpse of the artist’s work. Thankfully, we got in just in time to hear him say, “It’s part of our DNA, the capacity and drive to create. Life is my canvas.”
Roger Montoya can be reached at