Lifetime Achievement Award

Thom "Tex" Wheeler

Charles R. Strong Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award 2022

Thom "Tex" Wheeler

Thom Tex Wheeler makes art that springs from a joy of living and an unflinching optimism.

Thom was born in Alice Texas in 1946. After serving as a sergeant in the US Army Medical Corp from 1969-1971 he attended Sam Houston University and graduated in 1975.

His art career began in Houston Texas as a sculptor of monumental works of stone, wood and metal. He was commissioned by designers and architects across the United States to create large-scale sculptures that adorned restaurants, hotels, offices, private homes and yachts. The size of these pieces allowed him more canvas to interpret the feelings his clients wanted to convey. His work embodied the exuberance of the oil boom in his native Texas.

In 1985 Thom left the big city for Taos, New Mexico. His sculpture and painting turned to a very distinct New Mexican theme. He creates aluminum, bronze and copper wall sculptures that resemble giant pieces of jewelry, embellished with semi-precious stone.

John Suazo

Charles R. Strong Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award 2021

John Suazo

The recipient of the Charles R. Strong Life Time Achievement Award this year is the sculptor John Suazo, of Taos Pueblo. A spiritual man, Suazo says, “I believe all things possess life and spirits that communicate, even stone that has witnessed so many things in its lifetime from its beginning to transformations brought about by wind and rain. . . ”

A lot of his work also involves stories that he heard from his grandparents and elders. He believes that there is a spiritual quality to Native work that makes people want to connect with it. A former student of Chiricahua Apache sculptor Allan Houser, Suazo works in a variety of stones. His work is exhibited in galleries and museums across the country and internationally.

Photo by Norlynne Coar

Gendron Jenson

Charles R. Strong Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award 2019

Gendron Jensen (1939-2019)

Born in 1939 in River Falls, Wisconsin, by 1965 Gendron Jenson was fully engaged with relics gathering examples from lake shores surrounding the property of Benedictine abbey in Southern Wisconsin where he worked in the abbey printshop. Gendron who is self-taught in drawing has never stopped. Ann Landi, in Vasari 21, May 21, 2015 states “He works in graphite on seven-foot sheets of paper producing meticulous renderings of the intricate infrastructure of wildlife.”

Gendron moved to Northern New Mexico in 1987 and married Christine Taylor Patten, an artist in Santa Fe. Gendron Jensen has worked with the Tamarind Institute, UNM, to produce lithographs of from his drawings. “Why bones? … For me, beyond the physical fact of death, bones are portals, thresholded estuaries unto exaltation. The bones seem to verily sing, they hum with resonant mystery,” states Gendron Jensen.

Anita Rodriguez

Charles R. Strong Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award 2018

Anita Rodriguez

“I paint with words and write stories with images, not because I chose art, but because art chose me.”

Photos by Michelle Magdalena

The Taos Fall Arts Festival is deeply honored and pleased to announce Anita Rodriguez has been chosen by the Board of Directors as this year’s recipient of the Charles R. Strong Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award. Her work will be displayed in a special section of the 2018 Festival, “Beyond the Horizon/Mas Alla Del Horizonte” September 21-30 in the historic Guadalupe Parish Gym. She will receive her award at the opening public reception 5:00-7:00pm on Friday, September 21. The Award is supported in part by the Charles R. Strong Fund at the Taos Community Foundation.

Anita Rodriguez was raised on Taos Plaza where her father, Alfredo Antonio Rodriguez (better known as “Skeezix”) owned a drugstore. Her mother, Grace Graham King, was from Texas and came to Taos for art study with Walter Ufer, a member of the Taos Society of Artists. In her late 20”s Anita resurrected the technology of the enjrarradora, or traditional female adobe finisher and she became the first licensed female contractor in northern New Mexico. During 25 years of professional practice she brought the enjarradora’s techniques up to code and made them standard practice in the earth-building industry.

At age 45 Anita retired from contracting and started painting full-time. Her work mirrors the stories, landscapes and traditions of her beloved New Mexico and her second country, Mexico, where she lived for 15 years. “I started out as an abstract expressionist” says Anita. “But I ended up looking for a visual vernacular that transcends class and culture, that has plenty of intellectual chew-toys for those so inclined, but that is accessible to the people I grew up with.” Many of her characters are skeletons, a Mexican influence, but her paintings celebrate life – dancing, making love, driving low riders, praying and eating. Her work is shown at Magpie, Optimysm and Studio 107b. At 75 Anita wrote Coyota in The Kitchen, a book illustrated with her paintings and the recipient of many awards. An outspoken activist, Anita has never been afraid to speak her mind and take a stand. She says, “I am not a liberal or a progressive – I am a revolutionary.”