Friday, November 23, 2001

GALLUP, N.M. — Most optometrists aim to help their patients see the world a little more clearly. But few of them are able to add beauty to that vision.
Dr. Michael G. Blake of Gallup is different.
Employing the talents of a local artist, Andrew Butler, the optometrist turned some office dead space into a mural with Indian themes. Instead of white walls, eye patients get a vision of the Navajo story of creation in burgundy and turquoise tones.
Gallup, population 20,000, is a crossroads of Indian culture. It is the seat of more than 100 trading posts, shops and galleries featuring antique rugs and blankets, sandstone paintings and sterling silver jewelry inset with turquoise or coral.
Its arid high-desert locale 139 miles west of Albuquerque and 25 miles east of the Arizona state line is spectacular and photogenic. Red sandstone mesas rise to the north and east and the mountains and painted deserts of Arizona to the west.
So it only seemed natural that, given extra wall space resulting from a 1996 renovation merging two buildings, a mural would be in order.
“I just kept waiting for someone to give me a concept,” the doctor said. He showed the space at 121 W. Coal Ave. to Mr. Butler whose 14-year-old son was one of the optometrist’s patients.
“When I first saw the space I thought of the grand Baroque murals,” Mr. Butler said. “The 17th-century painters considered the viewer to be an essential part of the painting. They would stretch out parts of the painting so the viewer would look from one point of reference into another part. This is what I tried to do.
“I sought to make the eye an active participant in the art. I wanted the eye to carry you from one panel to another.”
The artist began working on the mural in March in a space built as a corridor between two buildings that were joined together. The painting goes on all four sides of this long hall, is 23 feet high, 61/2 feet wide and 50 feet long.
“It was not so much like a painting as like a sculpture,” the painter said. “You don’t see it all at once.”
The mural includes people, abstractions, nature and scenes from the area. On one side is a scene from the Zuni Indian pueblo (town) south of Gallup. On the other side is Window Rock, the capital of the Navajo Nation in eastern Arizona. At one end is a railroad, a reminder of Gallup’s past as a major stop along the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad starting in 1881.
Getting to the ceiling, the painter said, was the hard part.
“I don’t like heights and it was hard to get up there,” he said. “But it all came together.”

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