I WAS BORN IN Roswell in 1964, the 11th of 12 children—eight girls and four boys. We didn’t join Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts. We didn’t play Little League baseball or peewee football. We were our own troop, our own team. Jan-Vicky-Babs-Cathy-Julie-Tish-Betsy-John-Bob-Tom-Jim-and-Val. Since becoming an adult, when I tell stories about growing up in our large family, people often ask me if it was weird. I respond, “No.” It was normal. Our normal.
One might assume it was easy to get lost in the crowd, just another Vogel kid. But that wasn’t the case. We each had, and still have, our unique traits and talents. The singer, the boss, the peacemaker, the athlete, the other boss. As for myself, I was never very coordinated, so I wasn’t an athlete. I couldn’t sing or carry a tune, so I wasn’t a musician. As number 11, I was certainly not the boss, and we had enough of those anyway. But I could draw. I was creating pictures since before I can remember. According to family lore (i.e., my older sisters), we would all be outside playing when I would suddenly stop, run inside, grab paper and pencil, kneel at the coffee table, and make a drawing of whatever had come into my head. That’s who I was, the weird art kid.
As a young artist, I was fortunate to grow up in my family and in Roswell. Early on, my parents were advised by a director at the Roswell Museum & Art Center not to enroll me in any art lessons. She told them to just provide me with art supplies and let me develop on my own. Thankfully, my parents listened. That same museum was my introduction to world-class art. With its free admission and air conditioning, I could visit on a hot summer day to take in the works of Georgia O’Keeffe, Peter Hurd, Henriette Wyeth, and Luis Jiménez—and guzzle cold water from the drinking fountain. I assumed every small city had an art museum like ours, and I was much older before I realized how rare it was to have such a collection available in our little corner of nowhere.
In high school, my art teacher recognized my talent. He set me up with my own studio space and supplies. On difficult days, it was a welcome retreat from the halls of Roswell High. I was, after all, the weird art kid. Even with all this support and my confidence in myself as an artist, I still succumbed to the art-is-a-nice-hobby-but-you-better-start-thinking-about-a-career voice of the real world.
Heeding that voice, I attended the Art Institute of Colorado, in Denver, to study graphic design, thinking I could use my innate talents and make a living. The classes focused on commercial art with mock clients, mock assignments, real deadlines, and, fortunately, one class a week of life drawing. It was drawing for drawing’s sake. The best part of attending the art institute was meeting Christen Hupfer, another design student. We just celebrated our 30th anniversary. Graphic design and I, however, didn’t work out.
Jump ahead to 2017, and we have three beautiful, talented children: Gray, Sage, and Makaela, each a young adult with unique talents and career paths. We have a warm home in Dixon. We both work as fine artists. For the past 18 years, I’ve made a living by painting and drawing. Inspired by the people, places, stories, and myths of my beloved home state, I go into the studio and draw out the ideas that crowd my mind. Some of these drawings become paintings. Christen often contributes her talents as a salvage artist to create frames that don’t just contain my paintings but finish them. Blue Rain Gallery in Santa Fe represents me and has been very supportive over the past 15 years. The collectors and art lovers have shown their admiration and affirmed my efforts. I cannot imagine a more fulfilling life.
Last year, New Mexico honored me with a Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts. I was stunned and humbled by this recognition from the state I love. I was in good company as well: The other recipients included David Bradley, Nick Herrera, Elodie Holmes, Felix Lopez, Michael Hurd, and New Mexico Magazine. There was an awards ceremony with Governor Susana Martinez and First Gentleman Chuck Franco, where each recipient was expected to give a brief speech. No problem, I thought. I can wing it. Spontaneity is more interesting. It’s genuine.
And it was no problem—until that night, when I walked into the 400-seat St. Francis Auditorium at the New Mexico Museum of Art. It was then that I realized the size of the crowd and the enormity of the situation. My mind went blank. Christen can attest that I was nervous. Fortunately, I didn’t have to go first, or second, or third. Everyone else seemed so prepared. Then the idea occurred to me.
As a state, New Mexico was almost last in a big family, just like me. New Mexico didn’t fit in, just like me. New Mexico was blessed with an abundance of artistic talents, just like me. New Mexico followed its own path, just like me.
New Mexico was the weird art kid of the United States. So from one weird art kid to another: Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. Thank you, New Mexico.
Artist Jim Vogel is represented by Blue Rain Gallery in Santa Fe. He is slated to show a new body of work in the fall. blueraingallery.com