Ever since 1991, anyone driving down West North Street in Cortez has been graced with a view of what appears to be a two-storied Anasazi pueblo, right in the middle of town. The pueblo is actually a mural on the wall of the Cortez Cultural Center. It was designed and painted by Buford Wayt, a prominent Cortez citizen and teacher who died in 2003.
Wayt began the distinctive mural in the spring of 1991, when he was 70, completing it as a way to give back to the community that he loved.
He was also instrumental in helping to raise funds so the cultural center could purchase the building from Fred and Nancy Thomas. As soon as the sale was complete, Wayt began working on the mural.
Its realism is impressive and has caused many a double take.
Dottie Wayt, Buford’s widow, said after it was completed, members of the Ertel family, who own the funeral parlor across Market Street from the cultural center, said it was causing trouble — because robins kept trying to land on the painted ladder.
Now, in 2013, the mural is a bit weathered, and although it still has the power to make visitors believe they are seeing a real pueblo, it has faded and deteriorated in the 22 years since it was painted.
Anne Beach, executive director of the Cortez Cultural Center, noticed the wear, and acknowledging the historic value of the mural – it was Cortez’s first ever – decided to have it restored. Beach secured funds from the city of Cortez, and contacted several artists to see if they would be able to do the restoration.
Artist Mariah Kaminsky of Durango, who completed the mural of miners panning for gold on the side of Garcia’s jewelry store across from City Market this summer, took a look and stepped up to the task.
Kaminsky, whose studio work features striking portraits, was originally trained in the theatre and has extensive experience painting interior scenes for private clients. She was thrilled to be able to use her expertise in creating life-like scenes, honed during her years painting sets and backdrops, in this unique restoration. She has chosen theatrical paints for the job, which she says are super-saturated and provide better color. After the restoration is complete, the entire wall will receive a topcoat, which will reseal the work and ensure its preservation.
Kaminsky began the restoration on Sept. 23 and hopes to have it completed in a couple of weeks. There will be a celebratory opening reception and mural “unveiling” on Friday, Oct. 18, from 5 to 7 p.m. at the cultural center. Kaminsky will be present for the opening, which also features an exhibit of her work in the center’s gallery. The exhibit will be on display Oct. 6 through Nov. 2.
The process began with a power wash, and then Kaminsky spent a day of prep, patching the aging stucco. She goes up and down the two stories on a scissor lift, thanks to the efforts of local individuals and corporate donors who were encouraged to contribute by county resident Galen Larson, who worked to raise the needed funds.
Speaking about the intricacies of restoration work, Kaminsky said working on this project is a refreshing break from her usual studio portrait work. She said that for her the goal is one of “marrying what it used to be with what it is.”
The most challenging part was not adapting to the scissor lift (she already knew how to operate one), but figuring out the colors. The shades on the wall are faded, and in some cases it’s tricky to decide what to keep and what to correct – should a rough wash be painted in with more detail, or left as is?
“I don’t want to take away from what he [Wayt] did – it’s his mural!” Kaminsky said. Instead she is excited about making some small improvements, like “popping the chilis out” (making them brighter red), or putting in more detail on faces, corncobs, or the pile of firewood.
Overall, Kaminsky said that she has been looking forward to the work, especially since the September rains postponed the project by a couple of weeks. She took pictures of the wall before the power wash, and will be using these along with her theatrical experience and artistic sense to improve upon the mural when she can.
The restoration is a result of collaboration between the city of Cortez, local citizens and the Cortez Cultural Center. Yet again, Cortez has shown a dedication to the promotion and preservation of local art. Be sure to stop by to see the “new” pueblo at 125 Market St. when you get a chance.
Dottie Wayt said she is excited about the restoration. “I am real glad it’s being done. I hope they preserve the 3D nature of the mural. I just think it’s great.”