Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Living the adventure
Award-winning international artist Cassandra Gordon-Harris found a home in Roswell
By Christina Stock
A new artist with an impressive background in the arts made her home in Roswell in the midst of the pandemic in June of last year. Cassandra Gordon-Harris’ move went unnoticed as all galleries and museums were closed with social distancing measures in place due to the pandemic. Then, a press release arrived earlier this year, saying that Gordon-Harris’ graphite drawing “Fish” took second place in the National Association of Women Artist’s exhibition “Herstory.” It mentioned that she had found a new home in Roswell. Reaching out to her, Gordon-Harris was available for an interview at her home and studio.
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Gordon-Harris said that her move had several reasons, one was health issues, the other was looking for a milder climate and a lower altitude. “We looked around and Roswell just touched us. I felt alien enough to move here,” she said and chuckled.
Looking at her work, one constant is obvious in her art — women and animals. “I paint the concept of female emotion in progress,” Gordon-Harris said. “People say that my paintings have movement to them, almost a dance. An emotional dance. I think, I painted my life through the women in my art.”
While Gordon-Harris had lived in many places all over the world, she has returned to New Mexico several times. “New Mexico has that draw, once it gets you, you can’t leave,” she said.
Growing up, Gordon-Harris said, it was difficult for her to start a career and true support came much later when she married.
“I was born in New Orleans and we left when I was nine, my father had gone bankrupt in marine insurance. There was a big dock strike at the time. He got offered a job in South America and he packed us up, six kids and a dog, and we went. I was nine and my sisters and brothers were much younger. I remember it vividly,” Gordon-Harris said.
Their new home would be Guayaquil in Ecuador, known as a gateway to the Pacific islands, including the Galapagos Islands. The children adapted easily to the life in the colorful port city. “We were one of the very few white people there,” she said. “Of course, before my hair went white, I was a redhead, so that made us stand out even more, my sisters and I. My mother never really adapted to the culture. For my father it was God-sent. He became a marine surveyor for Lloyds, then for the Nippon Lloyds and for the German Lloyds as well on the east coast of South America. He was very happy with his work.”
As far as she knows, the only other artist in Gordon-Harris’ family was her father’s sister, who was a medical artist. “Way back, before they did photography, she used to sit in operations and do illustrations. She was very good,” she said.
Gordon-Harris said that her parents’ plans for her were to marry a doctor or a banker. When they learned about her goal of studying art, they were angry. “Artists were considered bohemians during those days. It wasn’t something they encouraged at all,” she said.
At the time, anybody who could afford it would send their children to a college in Europe. “Father didn’t want to send us back to the States for college. I was a year and a half ahead of everybody else at school, so I graduated early,” she said.
Her father chose Fribourg in Switzerland for his daughter to finish her education. He supported her at the beginning, she said. “I started art history and languages and I graduated from college. Then the last two years, I found work and was able to finish myself through grants and scholarships,” Gordon-Harris said.
While she had studied art, she said she never pursued a career until after she was married. Instead, Gordon-Harris spent her youth traveling the world and working in places others can only dream of. “I never had any fear,” she said. “When a door opened I would go through it. For a while I sailed the Pacific, I crossed the ocean on a 64-foot yacht as crew member and I picked up a racing yacht on the way back, and we did the Molokai Channel Race with them. I was in New Orleans in radio, that was before I was married. I went back to South America and the Galapagos. I lived in the Galapagos for about three years. It’s tiny and had barely any electricity back then. At the time, it was very primitive. Electricity was only on for four hours a day. The scientists did more damage than the tourists every did. I helped the Darwin station and we established guides and rules for guides. That was important for me. I became very much an environmentalist at that time. Then I came back to the States. My husband, I’d met years ago when I worked as a translator for oil and gas in Houston (Gordon-Harris is fluent in Spanish and French), and he found me when I was in New Orleans eight years later — he was looking for me. We got married six months later.”
Her husband was impressed by Gordon-Harris’ drawings and encouraged her to pursue an art career. “Two years later, we’d moved to Santa Fe and that was the beginning of my career. I had arrived in Santa Fe just about at the time when women in art were just becoming recognized in the early ’80s. I got to be in a ton of shows, I was in galleries, I did the mural on Guadeloupe Street with three other people. Zara Kriegstein was my mentor at the time and installed in me a love for large murals; I’ve done five or six since that time,” Gordon-Harris said.
Gilberto Guzman designed the mural with Zara Kriegstein in the 1980s to portray New Mexico’s interplay of different cultures across time. Noted artists Frederico Vigil, David Bradley, Cassandra Mains, John Sandford, Rosemary Stearns and Linda Lomahaftewa assisted with the 110-foot by 18-foot mural.
With Gordon-Harris’ success in the art world came the wish to put down roots in Santa Fe, but prices were high as a new wave of modern-day settlers — enamored by the art scene and landscape — bought up prime locations. “It was discovered by California and price and everything went just sky high,” Gordon-Harris said. “It became impossible to buy anything that wasn’t on a 45-degree angle with no water. They said Santa Fe became Californicated. So we kept looking and looking and ended up in Tijeras, the outskirts of Tijeras. We bought a 150-year-old adobe, which we restored. It took us 13 years to do it, but it was gorgeous.”
Asked what made her leave New Mexico, Gordon-Harris said that she returned to New Orleans to take care of her aunt. After her passing, two years later, she moved to St. Petersburg, Florida. All the galleries representing her were located in Florida at the time.
“That’s when everything blossomed,” she said. “It was that period of true creativity. I did everything: I did murals, I taught school, teaching arts — which I adored — I taught at the art center and was part of everything. It was really wonderful. And then the economic collapse happened. Everything died, all my grants dried up. The arts council I was working with was slowly dismantled by the Republican governor and two years after that, it was removed, totally destroyed. We decided it was time to leave, time to move back. We wanted to move back to Tijeras but there was nothing available, so we wound up in Edgewood, which was wonderful. One of my sponsors had given me $8,000 to build my studio. So I built my studio, but no one came,” Gordon-Harris said and chuckled.
The high hopes to rekindle her career in New Mexico did not work out and Gordon-Harris said she felt obsolete in her prime due to the economic depression. Her niche and clientele who would purchase her art were the middle class and they were wiped out. Gordon-Harris couldn’t even fall back on her art education skills. At the time, the public schools lost provisions for arts education. Curriculums that were deemed inconsequential were cancelled and instructional time for the arts removed throughout the U.S. In hopes of finding better jobs, another move brought Gordon-Harris and her husband to his sister in Kansas where they spent the next two years.
She was able to return to New Mexico when her husband found a job, she continued working on her art and having exhibits. Looking back, she said that she had no choice than to reinvent herself in Kansas, pursuing a different career, working as store manager in Kansas and in New Mexico, including a night operations manager at a Sheraton Hotel in Albuquerque.
“I spent years trying to find something that would get me back in the swing of things, but there was nothing I could paint, nothing I could do that would change people’s opinion of my work. It was like I didn’t exist, like I was a dinosaur. I was always on the edge of being an outside artist anyhow, not fitting in to the mainstream art and now it seemed to be complete,” Gordon-Harris said.
When the news about the award from New York City’s National Association of Women Artist’s exhibition reached her in Roswell, Gordon-Harris was surprised. “I didn’t expect that,” she said. It may be that a new chapter for the artist opened. She had reached out to the local art museums, and is in contact with Caroline Brooks, executive director of the Roswell Museum and Art Center (RMAC). Gordon-Harris is hoping to be able to teach again, this time adults at RMAC.
Brooks responded by email about her conversation with Gordon-Harris, “I still have a process I need to adhere to for approving contracts, etc. But I can easily say I hope to have her teach classes for us when the COVID restrictions clear.”
Gordon-Harris’ work has been exhibited in both national and international venues, including the Tampa Museum of Fine Art, Tampa, Forida; Williamsburg Art & Historical Center, Brooklyn, New York; Biblioteca Nacionali, Piacenza, Italy; Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, Florida; Armory for the Arts, Palm Beach, Florida; Museum of Contemporary Arts, Miami, Florida; Armory for the Arts, Santa Fe; SOMA Arts Center, San Francisco, California; Cork Street Gallery, London, United Kingdom; Longview Museum of Fine Art, Dallas, Texas; Boca Raton Museum of Fine Art, Boca Raton, Florida; Cornell Museum of Fine Art, Delray Beach, Florida; and the Midway Gallery, New York, to name a few.
Gordon-Harris has received many awards for her work and community service, including the Best of the Bay Award for her work with the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, Florida. Working under grants with The Cultural Affairs Department of the State of Florida, she initiated many innovative art programs for children within Title 1 Public Schools, including a two-year program at the State of Florida Corrections Juvenile Detention Center facility. She has taught privately for more than 20 years.
Gordon-Harris is currently a member of Arts Beyond Borders in Australia, Artificio and Mega Art of Italy, Women’s Art Network, New York, Western States Arts Federation and The National Association of Women Artists in New York and Florida. She is also listed in Who’s Who of American Women.
For more information, follow her on Facebook @cgordonharris or visit her webpage at casgohart.wixsite.com/c-gordon-harris.