A newcomer to Magdalena, sculptor Judy Richardson feels right at home in her studio/gallery on North Main Street. She finds inspiration in the western setting and natural environment. John Larson | El Defensor Chieftain

Sculptor Judy Richardson has found a home for her art in Magdalena. A relative newcomer, she was attracted to the area by the natural beauty and landscape of Socorro County. Her studio and gallery is in a historic building on North Main Street.

When did you relocate to Magdalena?

I moved here on Nov. 1, 2019. Thank God! It was a very fortunate move.

From where did you move?

Born and raised in Philadelphia, but have lived all over the country. I lived in New York for almost 30 years, in Brooklyn. I never wanted to live there, but I had to go for family reasons and I kind of got stuck there. I always wanted to leave, and my New Mexico connection was Roswell.

Why Roswell?

I had an artist-in-residence grant, and lived and worked there in 1988-89. That was my New Mexico connection and I went back and visited many times. The year we were there my daughter was 2 years old and none of the other artists had children but my neighbors, people in town, had kids the same age, and I became friends with them. I visited a number of times, so I knew when I was finally able to leave New York, Roswell was my home base. But I knew I didn’t want to live there.

What kind of art are you creating in your studio in Magdalena?

As a sculptor, I find materials out of stuff. But I really try to transform them so that you don’t know where they came from. I don’t want that. I want a reference to, like, people’s stuff. Like, this is something that somebody’s used, something that somebody wore.

So you use what people may consider junk, and turn it into something else?

What drew you to that? I just like to make things. I was supposed to be a journalist. My mother was a journalist. I didn’t want to be a journalist. But I didn’t want to be like her, and I was always good at making things since I was a little kid.

Did you study art in college?

I got my BFA at Kansas City Art Institute. I got my MFA at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. At Kansas City, I started out in the fiber department. I was going to be a weaver — a practical thing where I could make a living. But I saw the sculpture department and there was this huge pile of junk outside that was available to them to use for their work. I’m seeing people welding and casting and stuff, and I said to myself, “I just want to do that.”

What is your preferred medium for your sculptures?

For me it’s everything. In New York, I couldn’t find scrapyards you can actually go to. There’s a mountain of stuff with a backhoe and a Doberman pinscher tied up. You can’t go there. I was used to other places where you could go in and look through stuff. Where was I going to get my stuff? I was completely broke, I was the mother of a tiny child, my daughter, Lena. So, I just started taking stuff off the street. People throw out everything — furniture, clothes, pots and pans. Whatever they don’t want they put it out there. So I started my work out of that kind of stuff. That’s where it became my aesthetic because I couldn’t afford to buy anything.

Your artist’s statement speaks of the “elements that speak of the wonders of the everyday.”

My sculptures are built, assembled, and cast with familiar materials like wood, wire, metal, wax, and cloth. I’m interested in the things people have worn, sat in, slept on, used in various ways.

And what do you do with them?

I take objects apart, use the parts as raw material or keep the most emblematic detail to reconstruct into a new place or thing. It becomes something that, well … you don’t know what it is, right? Then you kinda do after you look at it for a few minutes. That’s my goal: It’s to transform the found material and transform (it) into my own thing. I can use furniture parts and I just used them as raw material. Instead of buying 2-by4s, I would find furniture and cut it up and make it into my own version of what I needed. That’s my purpose.

And the disparate items you use end up as something entirely other, eliciting a different meaning to each viewer?

The pieces take on a theatrical, prop-like character that refers to their own narrative, maybe that of a fairytale, or a page from the journal of a foreign journalist. I work with urgency and humor, and feel that the intensity of our lives is shown in the things we make because we have to and need to make them. I believe in the mark of the human hand, and the beauty of human error.

How did you find Magdalena after Roswell?

In Roswell, I was told to check this place out. I was put in contact with Catherine Demaria, who introduced me to Hills Snyder and others in the Magdalena art community. I found this space, and it seemed good and I could afford it, so… It was a matter of good luck to come here.

Has your approach changed since being in Magdalena, as opposed to New York?

I try and make my work reflect how I feel about where I am. But here in Magdalena, New Mexico, it’s not really about people and their stuff. People are like a minor component here, I feel. It’s about the wind and the grass and the live stuff that grows and the way it blows in the wind, the way things are affected by nature. The people are here, but I think the “place” is like the predominant thing. It has an effect on how people feel about being here. People just happen to be visiting here, even though we live here. I have found people who live here to be very smart and thoughtful. But I think it’s because so many people made a choice to come here. They made a choice and didn’t just end up here by accident. People are more appreciative of where they are because of that. People have more time to be thoughtful. And to be expressive.

How is the art market now, with the pandemic and all?

I was in a big art fair in New York in February. It was right before all this now. That was like a real honor. I was in one of those places in midtown where thousands of people came through and I sold a couple of things. But all the art world is virtual, now. There are only a few little appointment-only showings. This is the year it’s only online. You don’t get to have an opening or anything. I feel really bad for artists who wait two years for an exhibition in a gallery.

What have you sold recently?

Years ago I made a Persian carpet in cast concrete tiles, and I got a commission on Facebook to make one for someone in Maryland. I just shipped it to her. That was freakin’ lucky. One of my pieces I made here I sold to a friend in Roswell. So, I’ve been doing pretty good here.

What else keeps you busy?

Besides working as a sculptor, I’m teaching a drawing class for Community Education out of New Mexico Tech. I’m also working with the census. It sounds like you’re here to stay I don’t want to go anywhere else. I’m having a wonderful time here and just want to work on my stuff.

You can learn more about Judy Richardson’s art at judyrichardsonsculpture.com, or visit her studio on North Main Street in Magdalena