The Promised Land
This body of work was made during an artist residency at the Museum of Friends in Southern Colorado, where the Wahatoyas (breasts of the earth) are the twin peaks that dominate the skyline. They have long been sacred to the Native Americans and held myths of promised lands. This project builds a portrait of a region that has attracted many groups over the years looking for a new beginning.
There has been a constant flux of migration since the first settlers but the body of work would be curated to demonstrate the four distinctive waves. Many Hispanic and European pioneers first came during the gold and silver rushes, with the promise of work, land and a better life for their families. A lot of people stayed and set up as homesteaders and ranchers.
Later, in the late 19th and early 20th century, people were brought from all over the world to work in the coalmines of Walsenburg. I met and interviewed now elderly people who had grown up in the mining camps. In the 60’s several artist and hippy communes of were founded in the rural part of the county. The counterculture children were attracted by the unspoiled beauty and isolation of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and San Luis valley. One community, Libre, still survives and many people from now defunct communities stayed in the area, giving an otherwise conservative county an alternative vibe.
In an election year I found people more disillusioned than ever with the status quo, with both the more-radical-than-thou left and the über-libertarian right determined to reject the system and cling on to the once promised freedom of the wild west. The final and most recent group to migrate to the area are retirees from Texas and California, enjoying the lower cost of living, temperate climate and outdoor pursuits of the nearby ski resorts. They offer a marked contrast to the now mostly poor descendents of the miners and residents of the main town. The population has dropped dramatically in recent years due to unemployment and recession. It is also the most aging county in the State and has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates. Despite the downturn in fortunes the people who remain are steadfast in their love for their land and still hopeful about its future.