Garden of the Gods Sculpture Center

sustainably designed for the unique demands of sculpture and the business of art

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Scenic landscape, convoluted geology, archeology, and a slice of history. These all combine to furnish an unrepeatable backdrop for a sculptors' and artists' retreat, work space, and gallery, included in a preliminary master plan prepared by the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture at Taliesin West of Scottsdale, Arizona.

The Sculpture Center lies nestled behind Ambush Rock, a soaring wall of yellow sandstone in the Galisteo formation that cuts diagonally across New Mexico Highway 14, a National Scenic Biway some three miles north of the historic mining town of Cerrillos, New Mexico.

In Old West days, a break near the northeast end of the Rock provided a natural passageway for a wagon road to Santa Fe. According to legend, here masked bandits were in the habit of waylaying travelers on foot or horseback and robbing stagecoaches and express wagons carrying silver and gold from the mines.

The Garden of the Gods itself stretches almost three miles along the Highway from Ambush Rock south towards Cerrillos. Today's travelers view a scatter of grassy flats surrounded by a jumble of lofty stone pillars, turtlebacks of slickrock, and vast plates of exposed sandstone and limestone turned on edge by ancient upheavals of the earth. And unseen from the highway are clusters of outsize petrified logs, in age dating back more than a million years.

Just over a mile beyond the north boundary of the Sculpture Center, San Marcos Pueblo once stood on high ground overlooking spring fed San Marcos Arroyo. Recent archeology discloses that it was the most populous of all the pueblos when the Spaniards first arrived in 1540.

Each spring the San Marcos people trooped down to the Garden of the Gods with their agricultural tools and bags of seeds. In the valleys and hollows amid the formations, they planted their crops of colored corn, beans, squashes, and pumpkins and tended them, aided by sheet runoff from the surrounding rocks.

For the Indians, this variegated landscape was sacred ground. On stone cliffs and massive boulders, they carved religious petroglyphs. And throughout the area, they erected stone shrines to honor the kachina spirits who brought rain and protected fields.

A faint memory of the Indians' ancient reverence toward this sunlit land led government surveyors in the 1880's to call it the Garden of the Gods. By that name it remains known to this day.

Written by Marc Simmons
Garden Steward, Neighbor, New Mexico's best known and most distinguished historian.