Noel V. Marquez of Lake Arthur, 67, an honored New Mexico painter and a leader of environmental protection efforts, passed away Dec. 23 after a long illness, according to family members.
Marquez was the 2008 recipient of the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts. He was known for his large murals in New Mexico communities, including Carlsbad, Hobbs and Artesia, where he was born on June 4, 1953.
He studied art in many places, including Mexico and New Mexico Highlands University. But he had earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of New Mexico and his Master of Fine Arts from the University of California in San Diego.
Many of Marquez’s colorful murals depict rural life and indigenous people and also what he perceived as the threat of industry to those lifestyles. A Roswell project he coordinated was supported by the Arts Beyond the Classroom Foundation and involved students painting the utility boxes in the downtown area.
One of his murals lives on the wall of his home at his Lake Arthur property, which he shared with wife, respiratory therapist Madelene Aguinaldo, and their 14-year-old daughter, Paikea Marquez.
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Aguinaldo said that Marquez wanted a quiet passing but a community memorial ceremony is planned for June 4 in Artesia in Guadalupe Park. A mural Marquez did for an entrance arch for the park is being refreshed by another artist.
“My daughter said, ‘I want something happy. I don’t want sad,’” Aguinaldo said. “I said, ‘That’s right, your father wouldn’t want anything sad.”
In addition to his work as an artist, Marquez was the founder of Communities for Environmental Justice and several other environmental groups in the area that worked to preserve the region’s natural resources.
“Land is not just real estate,” he told the Roswell Daily Record during a February 2017 interview. “It is a sacred part of our existence, so we need to fight for our air, our water and our earth.”
In recent years, he worked to oppose a proposed nuclear waste storage site near Andrews, Texas, as well as the proposed Holtec nuclear waste storage site in Lea and Eddy counties. Both of those projects are still under consideration by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
He helped lead an effort that resulted in the town of Lake Arthur passing a resolution opposing the transportation of hazardous materials on rail or roads in its boundaries. He also worked to have other political officials express opposition to waste storage plans in the region. The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, a hazardous waste storage site that opened in 1999, also was depicted in his art as a potential threat to the public and he frequently spoke up at meetings about his concerns.
He had begun his working life by following in his father’s footsteps as a drilling mud vendor for the oil industry. But by the 1970s, he said, he had made the choice to be an artist and to express in murals and in activism his belief that the environment has to be respected.
Aguinaldo said that he stuck by his principles, even though it meant a modest lifestyle.
“He would tell me, if someone wanted me to paint something that I didn’t agree with, I wouldn’t do it, not even for $1 million,’” she said.
She said she often asked him why he didn’t work as a teacher or artist in San Diego, where there would have been more opportunities. She said part of his reason was that the “rebel” in him felt a need to return to southeastern New Mexico and “fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.” She said he felt strongly that the waste storage industry took advantage of poorer regions of the state.
His passing resulted in public tributes posted to websites of regional environmental groups.
“The political legacy that Noel leaves goes beyond his accomplishments: He left an example of a certain style of leadership that is not common. He loved everyone and everyone who met him felt that quality in him. It didn’t matter what culture you came from or what level of commitment you had; you were an important, worthwhile person; you were a brother or sister,” wrote Janet Greenwald, a member of the Southwest Alliance to Save Our Future.
Mary Marquez, the wife of Noel’s uncle, Henry, said she thinks Noel will long be known for the messages in his art.
“Everybody will remember his art because it said something. It spoke to people,” she said. “His art made a lot of interesting social commentary. It was very inclusive. It included everybody, especially minorities and people who were disenfranchised.”
William Goodman, who nominated Marquez for the 2008 Governor’s Award, said at that time that Marquez’s work “contributed to a sense of pride in the local people, and a particular identity to the place. And he has given young people an example to which they can aspire.”
Deborah Reade worked with Marquez on several environmental actions, including a successful protest to require the New Mexico Environment Department to make its public comment and public notification process more inclusive for non-English speaking populations.
“He was one of the few people I met who could stand out as special in so many ways,” Reade said, “but the main thing that separated him was his love — love for people and love for the landscape.”
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at email@example.com.