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Home / Articles / Arts / Arts Valve /  Ghost of Arts Valve Past
p 38 Arts Valve Sharpe Extreme Garden Display
Helen Sharpe and both her Tunnies.
Enrique Limón

Ghost of Arts Valve Past

Revisiting some of this series’ memorable subjects

December 18, 2012, 8:00 pm

My personal definition of art goes far beyond a painting hung on a perfectly lit wall or a poignant poem slammed on a stage.

One of my initial goals upon landing the A&C editor gig was to create a space where the pulsating, multi-disciplinary/multi-faceted blood force that is the local art scene won’t be judged, explained or reviewed, but showcased and celebrated for what it intrinsically is. And so, Arts Valve was born.

These first six months have been quite the ride, and since some past subjects have left a lasting impression, I figured I’d revisit them and share how their paths have evolved.

Visual artist Ehren Natay was my first subject [June 27: “Game Far From Over”]. When I introduced him, he was hard at work in his Pojoaque studio getting six pieces ready for a residency in Nativo Lodge’s Rising Artists Project.

“All of them sold,” the self-described “urban Indian” tells SFR, adding that the CEO of Heritage Hotels purchased one for the host hotel’s collection.

“I busted it out in 12 hours,” he says of the lucky piece, “The Deer Dancer,” which was completed in the final push leading up to the exhibit. 

You can really see the frantic energy in it—it’s based on a dance I did,” he points out.

Natay—who marries his Native influences with modern pop culture—continues focusing on his artwork and creating original jewelry for sale; the 55th Annual Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair and Market in Arizona is the next big entry on his agenda. “It’s like Phoenix’s version of Indian Market,” he explains.

He’s also begun teaching at a Montessori charter school in Alcalde, where he is in charge of “integrating indigenous culture through the arts.”

“Me being so young, it makes it more accessible for the kids, because I’m not so far ahead of them age-wise and they can relate,” the 20-something says.

Photographer Hal Kahn paid a personal visit to SFR headquarters to drop off a CD containing images from his then-upcoming exhibit Faces of the Elderly [Nov. 28: “Gimme Elder”].

I figured I’d entertain him, and led him to my workplace. Hell, maybe I’d get a good image for our Calendar from the exchange.

I wasn’t sure what to make of the stills—all portraits of men and women in their golden years—and since most of them were in black and white, I knew off the bat they weren’t quite Calendar-ready.

Kahn began telling me the background stories of each of his subjects. There was Elizabeth, who was abused as a child and in her 70s regained her self-worth by taking up drawing; gazing Richard, who escaped the Hitler Youth and hid in a barn until the war ended; and Mike, a recovering alcoholic who asked to pose nude, using a prop sword he brought along for the occasion.

Their stories were captivating. Never mind a featured image. I’d inadvertently found my next story.

A few days later, I got an email titled “I am Mike.”

“The Mike mentioned by Hal Kahn,” the body of the message revealed. “Yes, he of the sword.”

After he retired from a 30-year career in IT, Mike formed a bucket list, he explained. “On that list was to pose nude for an artist.”

He and Kahn discussed the option of a shirtless pic (“I’m not a bodybuilder or an athlete,” Mike points out, “but a longstanding gym rat”).

“I figured ‘in for a penny, in for a pound’ and asked Hal to go for the Full Monty, so to speak.”

He also found that he looks better in artwork than his mirror’s image dictates. “The artists don’t care,” he wrote. “They interpret what they see and don’t have some ideal of beauty in mind.”

“As far as being a recovering alcoholic, it’s true. That’s one of the things I am,” he added. “Others are: volunteer English as a second language tutor...happily married man, motorcyclist, slave to cats.  Oh yes, and nude model.”

Finally, there’s Helen Sharpe, her husband of close to 60 years Charlie, aka Tunnie, and the impressive lawn ornament display at their Agua Fria Street abode [Sept. 26: “Yard Sticklers”].

The article, it turns out, gave them a high profile. At one Albuquerque wake, Tunnie says they were the talk of the town.  

“It was really terrific,” Helen muses, sitting in the couple’s living room during a recent visit, adding that their friends got a kick out of finding out their love story.

“It was news to them. A lot of people didn’t have the foggiest [notion of] how we met and what have you—you know—so it let them know how it all come about and what we’ve done since,” she says. “What we plan to do next? I don’t know,” she chuckles.

Next might be heightened notoriety and possible bestseller status, as CJ Pessma—a Kentucky-based photographer—has turned their passion for garden ornamentation into a book titled Tunnie and Helen: A Love Garden

Then, of course, there’s the full-time job of maintaining their ever-evolving outdoor collection that, like a tchotchke Sagrada Familia, has no set completion date.

“Oh, every time you turn around,” Helen says, there’s a new addition.

The only thing missing was a tribute to Mr. Sharpe’s nickname-sake, Charlie Tuna. Some trusty Ebaying on my part would soon change that.

“Isn’t that precious?” Helen says, giggling, as she opens the present. “Oh, I love it.”

“For years, we keep talking about ‘where are going to put that?’” Tunnie says. “[But] we always find a spot.”

“We never run out of space,” Helen chimes in, grasping her garden’s latest addition. “I don’t know how we manage it, but so far we have…so here we go!” 

 

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