In 1934, Roderick Mead was studying printmaking at the experimental Atelier 17 in Paris, alongside artists such as Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso, and Wassily Kandinsky. In 1941, he and his family settled in Carlsbad, in southeastern New Mexico, where the multifaceted artist lived until his death in 1971. The town is best known for its UNESCO World Heritage site, Carlsbad Caverns National Park, so it may seem surprising that a world-class artist also called it home. But this is just one of the unanticipated sides to this city.
Today, travelers can view a large repository of Mead’s works at the Carlsbad Museum & Art Center. Its Mead Gallery displays his sometimes-surrealist oils, watercolors, and woodblock prints. “He’s often overlooked in the bigger picture, but he was every bit as capable as any of his contemporaries,” says Director David Morgan.
Founded in 1931, the museum is one of the oldest municipal museums in the state. Its 50,000-piece permanent collection includes other significant works by the Taos Society of Artists, Native American pottery, and artifacts from the survivors of World War II’s Bataan Death March, many of whom hailed from Carlsbad.
The museum’s newest permanent exhibition hails the city’s other bold-faced names through history in the Carlsbad Hall of Fame. “So many people from Carlsbad have gone on to do incredible things,” Morgan says. The 28 inductees range from actor Bruce Cabot (1904–72), best remembered from his starring role in King Kong and as John Wayne’s sidekick in several Westerns, to award-winning NPR radio journalist, Linda Wertheimer. Also featured is Charles B. Eddy. Eddy founded the town, which was originally named after the rancher but later changed its name to Carlsbad after a famous European spa. However, the county retained the name Eddy in honor of Charles.
Carlsbad’s art scene sprawls outside the museum’s walls to Halagueno Arts Parks where two performance stages welcome live concerts and movie nights. In the future, the under-renovation Cavern Theater and Performing Arts Center will become a similar beacon. The International Style movie house was built downtown in 1951, but stopped showing films in the 1990s. The town is restoring it into a state-of-the-art performing arts venue.
The Pearl of the Pecos Arts and Culture District downtown remains an art epicenter. Anchored by the likes of the co-op Artist Gallery, the district includes dozens of galleries, vintage and antique stores, quirky shops, and boutiques. It’s also a dining and hospitality destination with gems like the Trinity Hotel and Restaurant, which is housed in the 1892 First National Bank Building, and newcomers like Milton’s Brewing, the city’s first craft brewery.
On his days off, Morgan can often be found exploring some of the nearby scenery. Although Carlsbad Caverns always gets top billing, the city claims yet another national park: Guadalupe Mountains National Park, a 45-minute drive away. The mostly Texas-based park stretches its boundaries across the state line into New Mexico and is home to the world’s most extensive Permian fossil reef.
“I’ve been to every national park from here to Alaska, and that’s a magical spot,” Morgan says. “I’ve lived here eight years, and I’m still being shown around. There’s still more to discover in Carlsbad.”