Zimmerman Library Artwork

Zimmerman Library Artwork

Zimmerman Library is home to many historic and contemporary art works and has been fortunate to be the recipient of artwork from the State of New Mexico 1% for the arts program.

sculpture entitled Valences by Kenny DavisValence
Kenny Davis, artist
installed January 2016

Artist statement: Valence is a light installation at University of New Mexico’s Zimmerman Library that is mnemonic in its intention. 72 individual environments are assembled together inventing an array of backlit window treatments that imitate various times, even moments of a day, season, or life. I see Valence as an instrument that assists in contemplation of creative material. Sometimes I look outside a window (stare into space) when absorbing new information. In the University’s academic setting, this work of public art represents an experiment that functions as memory device. 

Committees made up of local and regional representatives work with New Mexico arts staff to select artwork for the University through a catalog developed by the Art in Public Places Program.

Anderson Reading Room in Zimmerman Library The Three Peoples Murals

The Three Peoples Murals (1939) Kenneth Adams' Three Peoples Murals were completed in 1939, shortly after the opening of the library. Adams, the last artist to join the Taos Society of Artists, came to UNM as Artist in Residence through a grant from the Carnegie Corporation. His assignment was to teach painting in the Department of Fine Arts and to paint a series of murals in the new library. The rear wall of the main lobby, today's West Wing Grand Hall, included a central opening for the service desk flanked by four large niches crowned with corbeled wooden frames. The lower part of the niches was occupied by the card catalog, leaving the upper areas for four murals.

Adams was given specific instructions for the content of the murals. In his proposal for the Carnegie grant, UNM President Robert F. Zimmerman stated that the murals would represent each of the three major cultures in New Mexico and their contributions to civilization, with the fourth mural depicting the union of the three cultures in the Southwest. Like many public murals of this period, the works are painted on canvas and mounted on the wall. In the first panel the Native American cultural contribution is indicated by the arts, featuring basketry, jewelry, pottery and weaving. The Hispanics in the second panel are engaged in agriculture and architecture. Anglo progress though science is the theme of the third panel. The final panel, The Union of the Three Peoples, looks to the future with Native, Anglo, and Hispanic united through a symbolic handshake.

Although well received at the time, the murals have since come under criticism and protest at various times in the last 40 years. UNM architectural historian Chris Wilson explains that James Zimmerman initiated the mural project with good intentions, but did not achieve the attempted reflection of progressive ideology. “Despite President Zimmerman’s laudable desire to ‘reflect the spirit of democracy by representing the culture of the three races as socially equal,’ the murals convey racial and gender hierarchies in a variety of ways,” Wilson wrote.

In the 1970s The Union of the Three Peoples panel was twice vandalized. Audra Bellmore, curator at the Center for Southwest Research & Special Collections, writes in her article on the history of Zimmerman Library for the 75th anniversary celebration, “the murals serve as a sort of time capsule to another era in which societal norms were very different than contemporary standards,” and “The University fortunately preserved the murals, which today serve as a teaching device to demonstrate how to read artwork in historical context and how meanings, informed by cultural and societal transformations, change overtime.”

University Libraries is committed to open discussion about the murals and welcomes suggestions on how to provide alternative interpretations and viewpoints while maintaining the historical integrity of these controversial art works. Contact information: Office of the Dean, College of University Libraries & Learning Sciences, 505.277.9100, libadmin@unm.edu.


“Ethnic/Sexual Personas in Tricultural New Mexico,” by Chris Wilson in The Culture of Tourism, The Tourism of Culture: Selling the Past to the Present in the American Southwest, edited by Hal K. Rothman (2003).

“The University of New Mexico’s Zimmerman Library,” by Audra Bellmore in New Mexico Historical Review, Vol. 88, No. 2. Spring 2013.

Anderson Reading Room in Zimmerman Library The History of Writing

The 1967 expansion of Zimmerman Library brought many changes to the building. Significantly, the main entrances and lobby were moved to their current location, providing a new, north-south axis. A central stairwell in this new lobby became the primary means of reaching the upper floors and basement of the new addition. This stairwell is the location of John Tatchl's sculptural mural, The History of Writing.

John Tatschl, an Austrian artist skilled in many media, began a long career as Professor of Art at the University of New Mexico in 1946. Throughout his many years on the faculty, Tatschl taught in the Department of Art and created a number of artworks on campus including the bronze Lobo War Memorial by Johnson Center, the stained glass window in Travelstead Hall, and the wooden frame of the large retablo in the Alumni Memorial Chapel. The 1967 Zimmerman History of Writing was Tatschl's last large scale campus commission.

The history of writing is depicted in the mural by means of symbols painted on 53 of the projecting geometric masses. Beginning in the basement with simple scratches and line drawings, the symbols gradually evolve in time and elevation to proto-writing, hieroglyphics, various ancient alphabets, culminating at the top of the composition on the third floor with our Latin alphabet. The stone-like projecting masses and somewhat muted colors of the mural give the composition the "feel" of a grotto through which we ascend through time. Middle school students on a recent field trip to the campus were overheard to say that it would be great to have the mural go higher and include computer programing languages. Perhaps this may be considered for future expansion!

Anderson Reading Room in Zimmerman LibraryReds, Blacks & Golds: Fractured Square Series

Donna Loraine Contractor's weaving Reds, Blacks & Golds: Fractured Square Series was added to Zimmerman Library in 2011. It was placed in the library by the University's Art in Public Places Program, which is administered by the Department of Cultural Affairs' New Mexico Arts. Located in the public study space on the eastern wall of the first floor, this piece represents the recent trend in campus public art toward smaller works for more intimately-scaled spaces. Students come to this part of the library to read, write, and work on assignments, seeking a place for quiet contemplation; Reds, Blacks & Golds: Fractured Square Series is ideally suited for such a place.

Donna Loraine Contractor has been a resident of Albuquerque since 1988. Her work is found in many venues including the Albuquerque Museum, the International Folk Arts Museum in Santa Fe, and a number of galleries and private collections. She attended St. John's College in Santa Fe with the intent of becoming a mathematician or a scientist. However, by the time she graduated with a bachelor's degree in liberal arts, she had acquired interests in weaving, the history of art, the philosophy of mathematics, and much more. These influences are evident in Reds, Blacks & Golds: Fractured Square Series.

The composition suggests a view through a horizontally-mullioned window on to a brilliant red landscape populated with a frenzy of colorful rectangles that in itself opens on to a view of a night sky containing yet another view of sky and distant horizon. It is almost a visual equivalent to Pirandello's play within a play. Contractor has said that she is interested in Josef Albers' Interaction of Color, which deals with the way our perception of color changes with the association of adjacent colors. This is seen in the way some rectangles seem to "pop out" at us while others of the same color seem to recede.

Many of Donna Loraine Contractor's works are conceived in series reflecting a certain theme. Of her Fractured Square Series, she states that she has two sources of inspiration. One is the work of the Austrian Symbolist painter Gustav Klimt, who is known for depicting surfaces with flat, geometric patterning in striking color. The other source is what she terms the seemingly fractured nature of life in this modern world, which she then reconstructs into a cohesive and beautiful whole. (Donna Loraine Contractor, Contemporary Fine Art Tapestries http://donnalorainecontractor.wordpress.com/)