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Focusing on faces: Bunch comes into her own


The only spanking long-time Las Cruces artist Carolyn Bunch ever got was for ruining her mother’s fountain pen when she used it to draw a picture of Snow White.

“It wasn’t positive reinforcement, but it didn’t stop me either,” said Bunch, a native of Fairfield, Iowa who moved to Las Cruces from California in 1953.

Throughout her many years as a fixture in the local art scene, Bunch said her favorite subject has always been people.

“I really enjoy the human face,” Bunch said.

She studied figure drawing for two years at the Chicago Art Institute, and also had two years of college before coming to Las Cruces. Bunch earned a degree in art education from New Mexico State University and became one of Las Cruces Public School’s three elementary art teachers, traveling among schools across the district for 15 years before her retirement in 1974.

“It was a joyous thing to go from room to room because the kids were so happy to see us,” Bunch said. Using large sheets of paper or drawing on the blackboard (she has loved colored chalk since childhood), Bunch taught young children to draw simple pictures, often still life, using crayons.

``Bunch’s mother bought she and her sister a new box of Crayolas every month. Blue – “every shade” – has always been Bunch’s favorite color.

Bunch said she usually makes a sketch or takes a photograph of something she wants to paint – “when I see a face I like; it has to be an interesting face,” she said – and then returns to her studio to create the actual painting.

Bunch opened her first gallery in 1983 in a renovated adobe building in Mesilla that dates back to 1853.

“It was a spacious building constructed around a large indoor courtyard,” Bunch said. “The gallery was one side, and the living quarters – where she and her husband, Henry Bunch, lived – were on the other side. There were four iterations of the Adobe Patio Gallery until the most recent closing in 2016,” she said.

Henry Bunch has just completed work on a new studio and art library for Carolyn that is part of their Mesilla Park home. The sun-filled space will include Bunch’s faces and figures, along with a handful of her landscapes.

She has found people – and especially faces – to paint during travels around the world, including Ireland, England, Guatemala, Morocco, Yugoslavia, Italy and the San Miguel de Allende Institute of Art in Mexico.

“Florence is still my favorite place in the world,” Bunch said. Florence is also the birthplace of her favorite artist, American portrait painter John Singer Sargent (1856-1925). Sargent mastered “darker darks and lighter lights,” she said. Bunch also admires the work of Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer (1632-75) and Spanish painter Francisco Goya (1746-1828).

Visiting the Prado Museum in Madrid with her son, artist Tony Pennock, in 1974 was “such a wonderful time,” she said.

Bunch said Pennock is the only one of her five children to follow in her footsteps as an artist.

The creator of 10 water-tank murals in and around Las Cruces, Pennock is among the most popular and prolific artists around.

Bunch also has 15 grandchildren (two are artists) and six great-grandchildren. They are often the subjects of her paintings.

Painting in her in-home studio “is the most relaxing thing I do,” Bunch said. “It’s also the most intense thing I do. It takes continuing effort. You can be happy but never be satisfied with it.”

Carolyn Bunch