Jane Whitmore combines archaeology, psychology values with art

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FARMINGTON — Santa Fe resident Jane Whitmore has devoted her life to a series of disparate and, apparently, unconnected pursuits — she's been an archaeologist, a clinical psychologist and, now, a full-time artist.

But as she focuses on the latter, she's found a way to incorporate elements of her previous work into her current interest. The results of that effort will be showcased in her "Enduring Traditions" exhibition opening Friday at the Henderson Fine Arts Center Art Gallery on the San Juan College campus, 4601 College Blvd. in Farmington.

"I'm trying to take some of my values as a psychologist and archaeologist and try to find another way of advocating for them," she said, describing the show.

"Enduring Traditions" features nearly two dozen photographs of structures at Chaco Culture National Historic Park, and of dancers performing at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque, along with text that ties the images together.

Those values include promoting the ideas of mental health, human rights and respect for cultural diversity, she said. Whitmore said she also strives to evoke compassion for the human condition and promote cultural pride.

The images of Chaco Canyon — most of which were captured in the 1960s and 1970s when Whitmore worked as an archaeologist — are intended to illustrate and evoke the greatness of that culture. The images of Pueblo dancers, shot at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in the fall of 2018, are intended to establish a link between the Chacoan and contemporary eras, giving them a sense of continuity.

Though she only closed her psychology practice and began to pursue art on a full-time basis a few years ago, photography has been a part of Whitmore's life for as long as she can remember. Her father was a photographer, and many of her fondest childhood memories consist of spending time in the darkroom with him. He gave Whitmore her first camera at age 7, and she never outgrew her fascination with the medium.

Whitmore said she has focused on Native, Hispanic and Anglo cultures at different points over the years, but she also has spent considerable time photographing subjects in Southeast Asia. It wasn't until she took her portfolio in for a review by a Santa Fe arts organization a couple of years ago that Whitmore said she came to understand that that approach had an inherent weakness.

The reviewers told Whitmore her work was too broad and that she needed to focus on one element. That's when she decided to begin devoting herself to Native American subjects, she said.

Whitmore has shown her work on a limited basis in the past, but the show at the college will be the first major exhibition of her work. She recalled sending college officials a proposal for the exhibition, then taking several framed pieces down off the walls of her Santa Fe home, loading them into the back seat of her car and driving to Farmington to show them to gallery representatives.

San Juan College officials apparently liked what they saw. Whitmore hopes those who give her work a look will find something appealing about it, as well.

"I would really like it to start a conversation," she said, describing the reaction she hopes to evoke. "I would like people to have an appreciation for their cultural diversity and to understand how lucky we are in New Mexico because cultural traditions here in New Mexico are more intact than anywhere else. They are intact and lively, whereas the Native tribes in a lot of other states have really been diminished."

Whitmore's work will remain on display at the gallery through Feb. 22. An opening reception for her exhibition takes place from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday, and admission is free. Call 505-566-3464.

Mike Easterling is the night editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.

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