Artist Alice Leese in Fort Union National Monument



Painter and rancher Alice Leese talks with Big Blend Radio about her National Parks Arts Foundation Artist-in-Residence experience at Fort Union National Monument in Northern Mexico! Plus, Lorenzo Vigil, Chief of Interpretation & Operations at Fort Union shares the Fort’s diverse history and visitor experience.

“Painting on site is a way to let the viewer feel what it is like to be in a certain spot. I’m not painting a specific area but what it feels like to be there.”— Alice Leese, NPAF Artist in Residence

The program, now in its fourth year at the historic northern New Mexico National Monument, is a successful cooperative venture between the National Park Service and The National Parks Arts Foundation to bring a variety of artists to work and live at the monument, and make a public presentation.

Alice Leese is an accomplished artist who works her family ranch in Winkler County, Texas, which shares the southeast corner of New Mexico south of Jal, as a border. The artist, who was selected by a panel of judges, spent the beautiful late fall months at the historic Northern New Mexico monument.

Alice, raised on the ranch which has been in her family for 100 years, says that the solitude and rhythm of this particular landscape is essential to how she approaches her art: “Living out here has also given me a frame of reference for time and patience, some days we are horseback from sunup to sundown, ranches here are large and pastures are sometimes 15 square miles, it takes some patience to not rush the cattle, they go at their pace and we just follow when we are rounding-up or working them.” She says that the ranch is very remote, and even requires the occasional climb on a windmill to grab spotty cellphone reception. Though she loves being a managing partner at their ranch, she often doesn’t get the focused time to paint, so being able to focus for a solid month on her art is an amazing opportunity. In addition to her full-time job, she is also completing an M.F.A.

She usually paints plein air, sketching in watercolors, then taking that sketch and any other resources gathered on site, and executing a finished work in the studio most of the time, in oil. Painting on location in oil lets her capture a certain feeling, a way of seeing that has sometimes prismatic qualities. “Painting outdoors in oil, a slow drying medium, lets the artist get to mood and details, or lets the artist capture quickly the essence of an area. Don’t remember who said it but painting on site is a way to let the viewer feel what it is like to be in a certain spot. I’m not painting a specific area but what it feels like to be there.”

She adds, “The area around Fort Union National Monument in the high desert will give a sense of space to the paintings and a sense of history. When I think of all the people who traveled the Santa Fe Trail and the Army who protected the travelers and the Native Americans who were impacted by the migration to the west it is sort of with a sense of awe for the history of the fort and trail.”

“National Parks have always welcomed artistic interpretations in support of land advocacy” said Charles Strickfaden, superintendent of Fort Union National Monument. “We are pleased to host artists who communicate complex and contemporary issues through their chosen medium.”

Fort Union National Monument, located in Mora County near Watrous, New Mexico, was the largest frontier military post and supply center of the southwest. It also was the hub of commerce, national defense, and migration at the final stretch of the Santa Fe Trail. The richly evocative remnants of a post-civil war era adobe fort became a National Monument in 1954 under the Eisenhower administration. Learn more at www.NPS.go/foun

This program, implemented with great success by NPAF at other National Parks, allows visitors to see the Monument through the eyes of world-class artists and visionaries. The AiR program is made possible through the philanthropic support of donors of all sorts ranging from corporate sponsors, small business, and art patrons and citizen-lovers of the Parks. NPAF is always seeking new partners for its wide-ranging Artist-in-Residence programs. These and other events and residencies are also made possible through the National Endowment For The Arts (NEA). Learn more about NPAF’s unique programs at

View more of Alice’s artwork at

National Parks Arts Foundation


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