Nancy Fleming has served as director of the Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art for three years. She followed her husband, Stephen, to Roswell in the late 1980s and early 1990s when he participated in the town’s acclaimed Roswell Artist-in-Residence program. They relocated to New Mexico in 1993. With a BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute and certification as a New Mexico art educator, she often plays double duty, with roles at the museum and as an art teacher. Her newest endeavor is the Miniatures and Curious Collections Museum in Roswell, a southeastern New Mexico town of some 47,000 residents who boast big-city art credentials.
One of our artists in residence said about Roswell: “Come for the aliens. Stay for the art.” Because of the Roswell Artist-in-Residence program, the art scene is high quality. The Anderson Museum displays around 500 pieces from the 250 artists who have been part of the residency since its inception in 1967. It’s a great example of a group show. The work is hung so beautifully that you don’t feel overwhelmed. It’s not the type of art you’d typically see in a town of less than 50,000 people. These are major museum artists from all over the globe who have gone through a competition to be part of the residency.
The isolation of Roswell is extremely good for some artists because the distractions are few. We have wonderful events here, but you’re rarely choosing among five things every night. To some, the landscape is shocking because it’s raw nature in the High Plains. It’s not an expected beauty. The light also inspires them. That’s so cliche, but it’s true. We have blue, clear skies more often than not, and the studios are filled with light. That crispness is something they really respond to. I don’t know if they know what they are getting into, but when they arrive, they always find something about the place they attach to.
The residency also fed the Roswell Museum and Art Center. Combined with the Robert H. Goddard: Dreamer, Tinkerer, Pioneer exhibit about the father of modern rocketry, and the collection from Peter Hurd and Henriette Wyeth, nationally known artists who lived nearby, they have an extraordinary collection.
Aria Finch, the ceramics director at the museum, has built a wonderful ceramics department. She siphoned artists from the residency program to talk to her students and takes the students to national clay conferences. We have a better ceramics program than a lot of other towns.
Some of our artists in residence have stayed. Susan Wink was a public artist and she enhanced our town with four to five works, including Remembering Roswell, a five-year community-based public art renovation of Reischman Park on Main Street.
Miranda Howe, another former artist in residence, was born and raised in the area and returned to open the Bone Springs Art Space. It’s a beautiful gallery in the historic railyards district. In the past, she has offered children’s and adult classes, which she plans to offer again soon.
Because Roswell is isolated, you get pockets of people here interested in something and they go to town. For example, the Roswell Symphony Orchestra started in a church basement in 1959 and now draws musicians from major cities within a 200-mile radius. Local people started the Roswell Jazz Festival 15 years ago, and it now attracts world-renowned jazz musicians to play in town each fall.
When miniatures were big in the 1980s, a local club called Los Pocos Locos (the Crazy Littles) got serious about miniatures. They would make group projects together. As the elders have been passing away, their collections are being dispersed. Elaine Howe, Miranda’s mother, and I created the Miniatures and Curious Collections Museum in 2018 to display some of their creations on loan. It also has a gift shop, a children’s play area, and the curious collections area.
We’ve displayed a Carlsbad resident’s space toy and robot collection. We had a show called Domesti-Collecti, which showed art made with food, kitchen magnets, and things like salt and pepper shakers. We also displayed a woman’s 42-year found-penny collection. It’s been so fun. You really have an opportunity in Roswell. If you have a dream you can make it happen here.”