Campus art exhibit depicts ‘Santa Fe Real’


Story by Julia Sanders, Writer

The Holt-Russell Gallery is hosting the Santa Fe Real exhibit, which features work from three realist painters: Christopher Benson, Sheila Miles and Kathryn Stedham.

Assistant Professor of Art Russell Horton, who also serves as the Holt-Russell Gallery Director, selected these three artists for a variety of reasons. Primarily, he said he likes to have “a good representation across the spectrum for artistic styles,” and he believes these three artists depict that.

Horton became connected to the artists through his original connection with Benson. A few years ago, Horton and Benson were in a group show together in Connecticut and both left with the judge’s prize. Horton contacted Benson about being displayed in this exhibit, and Benson connected him to Miles and Stedham.

Benson, Miles and Stedham currently work in Santa Fe, New Mexico, which is a “hopping art scene” and “hotbed for realist painting,” according to Horton.

Although they all currently live in Santa Fe, their stories regarding their initial interest in art started in different places.

Originally from Newport, Rhode Island, Benson followed in the footsteps of his family.

“My whole family, going back 100 years, are artists and craftsmen,” he said.

Like Benson, Stedham’s interest in art came from family, specifically her grandfather. While growing up in Virginia, Stedham spent time with her grandfather who built furniture. Starting at 8 years old, she would paint designs on the furniture that her grandfather sold.

“My grandfather always fostered my interest in art and would do whatever it took to make sure that I had whatever I needed,” Stedham said. “He believed that being an artist was an important aspiration and was a source of constant support and affirmation.

For Miles, art began as a consolation for something she could not have while growing up in Indianapolis, Indiana.

“I love horses and couldn’t have one, so I drew them non-stop,” Miles said. “Then when I was 9, my mother gave me a book on Gauguin and I said, ‘I want to be an artist like that.’”

Following her horse-drawing, Miles fostered her love for art in a high school setting, going early and staying late to make art that she would show and sell, starting at the age of 15.

Each exhibit has a separate theme, and Horton normally tries to relate them to a different academic field.

For the upcoming exhibit, Horton said the works could be related to a number of fields ranging from environmental studies to business.

Benson, Stedham and Miles have a variety of goals for their art.

Benson describes himself as an “American representational painter.” As the country goes into a more globalized world, he tries to show the “old American slowly changing and dying out.” While he finds this sad, he also finds it as a source of affection.

“I am descended from both recent Italian and Irish immigrants as well as some very early Yankee ancestors who were among the country’s founders, so I am an American through-and-through – not in the way of a strident or romanticizing nationalists, like some are today, but as an inheritor of centuries of the country’s real and sometimes checkered history,” Benson said. “The place often drives me crazy, but I love it. That’s the feeling I try to paint.”

For this exhibit and future ones, Horton invites all students and community members to “come by and take a look at the art on the walls.”

The Santa Fe Real exhibit will run through March 24.