We All Tell Our Stories, Sometimes in Sculpture

Note from Story Chip: It has been pretty quiet here for a while, but the reason is quite exciting as Story Chip prepares to launch a new addition to the web. This post will tease our expansion, but keep the details for later.

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Sallie Chisum Roberts

Stories arrive in many forms. Graphics, music as well as the words that are most frequently the subject of this blog. The city of Artesia in southeastern New Mexico spent a decade and millions of dollars to remind us that sculpture and three dimensional representations can tell some powerful stories with very little help. Main Street features a series of bronze sculptures that tell the story of Artesia's founding and development from Sallie Chisum to men who work the oil rigs of the Permian Basin.

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Sallie and friends

Sallie Chisum did not really start the town that is now known as Artesia, but her influence on the town's growth traces to before her selection as the first postmistress. Her former home, one block from Chisum Avenue, was added to the National Register of Historic Places and is about ten blocks from her statue on Main Street. The statue captures the “First Lady of Artesia” in a moment sharing a book with children.

Artesia's sculpture is the work of Robert Sommers, who also did the Roswell, New Mexico sculpture of Sallie's more famous uncle, John Chisum (yes, the John Wayne film). The Chisum family played a minor role in the Lincoln County War of 1878 that led to the fame of Billy the Kid. Sallie Chisum's diaries mention a friendship with “the Kid” that became a part of the plot for the film. With all of that said, you are free to research all the stories and add your version of Sallie and Billy.

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Derrick Floor, Artesia, NM

Lore in Artesia says that Sallie found the first artesian well in the area and used money and influence from her famous uncle to begin her own ranch. Good water wells became a draw until the population and farming found the limit of the wells ability to support a growing town. The story of Artesia might have ended there if it were not located on the edge of the oil field of the Permian Basin. Instead of drilling for water, the town turned to drilling for oil. Another story that is told by a large sculpture right on main street.

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Martin and Mary Yates
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Roustabouts in Artesia, NM
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Mack Chase and Johnny Gray

The oil rig sculpture should be described as three separate pieces that tell the story of oil exploration in New Mexico. The “Derrick Floor” shows the men who labored on the drilling rigs and is surrounded by sculptures of Van Welch, Mary and Martin Yates, and Mack Chase and Johnny Gray talking while leaning on the hood of a truck. Artesia has captured many of the people who were instrumental in establishing the city and its industry.

The last three sculptures are closer to the pulp fiction of another era. The first shows a cowboy firing a warning shot that a rustler has set his sights on a cow. The second shows the trail boss responding to the warning with a drawn rifle and a spurred horse. The last sculpture, a block away from the others, shows the rustler hunkering down preparing for the coming gunfight. Each of these artworks tell their own story about cowboys, but viewed together they form the basis for dozens of western movies churned out by Hollywood while John Wayne was in his prime.

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Vaquero firing warning shot
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Trail boss responds to the threat
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Rustler getting ready to fight for his life

One last link, again from a visit to New Mexico, is the story of La Llorona in print, graphics and sculpture. Story telling in many forms, but still our culture being shared.

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