Gayle Van Horn began his art career apprenticing as a teenager with Carl Von Hassler, a highly respected and sought after Albuquerque artist (born in Germany, in 1887 he immigrated to New Mexico and died in 1969.) Having learned from Von Hassler the trompe l’oeil technique, a way to fool the eye into believing that architectural elements are present when they actually are not, and after studying with Emilie von Auw (1901-1984; teacher at UNM in the 1940s) Van Horn became a sought-after artist in his own right. He worked with architects to update aging buildings and painted murals in public and private buildings around the state. Among others, Fort Stanton natatorium, Oñate High School in Las Cruces, and the Creamland Dairy building in Albuquerque all have felt the deft touch of Van Horn’s brush. Located at 500 Broadway Boulevard SE, the Creamland Dairy building is, perhaps, his most-viewed and well known public mural. The entire building, which takes up a full city block, is painted with Van Horn’s mural. While the façade looks as though it is built with brick and huge glass picture windows, the industrial building is actually made of metal and cinder block.
Perhaps the lesser-known of Van Horn’s larger works are the recreated panels that decorate the ceiling of the historic Shaffer Hotel Café in Mountainair. For many years the Shaffer Hotel and Café stood empty and a few of the original hand-painted ceiling panels incurred water damage. These prominent panels, painted in the earlier decades of the 1900s and installed by Pop Shaffer, are part of the reason the hotel was placed on the National Historic Register and is a main visitor attraction.
By restoring the ceiling to its original splendor, replicating Shaffer’s original design, Gayle Van Horn helped maintain the original artistic vision and interpretation that the founder had created. The restoration was done with such precision, most visitors don’t realize that the ceiling had ever been damaged.
From 1999 through 2003, Van Horn kept art studios in Mountainair. His first was located directly across from the Shaffer Hotel and the second, was, again, directly across from the hotel on Highway 55. He was an integral part of the arts community in those days, helping launch the still existing Manzano Mountain Art Council.
In March, as restrictions around COVID-19 began lifting, Van Horn took a drive from his home in Albuquerque to visit his old stomping grounds in Mountainair.
He stopped into the Shaffer Hotel and introduced himself to the new owner, Ed von Kutzleben. Van Horn shared photos of some of his current and earlier work and discussed his personal history with the town and the hotel.
After a lively conversation, von Kutzleben suggested that the artist visit La Galería @ The Shaffer and introduce himself to Linda Marie Carroll and Rebecca Anthony, the owners of the retail establishment attached to the hotel.
They were preparing for a watercolor show in early April and Van Horn’s work would be a great fit, he thought. After seeing photos featuring the steam locomotive #2926 at various historic New Mexico train depots and listening to his story, it didn’t take long before the owners of La Galería @ The Shaffer invited Van Horn to join their watercolor show.
Engine #2926 features prominently in many of Van Horn’s current paintings. He has a passion for the engine, assisted in its restoration and works with BNSF in other fundraising efforts. For the watercolor show, he depicted #2926 at the Mountainair Depot in an historic setting and, in a separate piece, the engine is seen pushing through Abó Pass.
La Galería @ The Shaffer invited Van Horn to be a guest artist and proposed a solo show titled “Gayle Van Horn; a journey back.” He accepted, and that show, featuring prints of his watercolors and brand-new originals, including one featuring #2926 at The Harvey House Museum Depot in Belen, will be held immediately following the Mountainair Sunflower Festival on the grounds of the Shaffer Hotel.
To open the event, Van Horn will speak on his career, his history with Mountainair and his work currently showing at La Galería. The band Sunburnt Stone and the Albuquerque distillery, Left Turn Distilling, will be on hand.