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Raymond Jonson House and Gallery
The Raymond Jonson House and Gallery is a late work by John Gaw Meem, which broke with his customary historicism, replacing it with modernist abstraction.
The house was designed in 1948, when Meem was turning over most design responsibilities to other partners in his office. Raymond Jonson, however, was a special client. Trained at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and the Art Institute, Jonson came to New Mexico in 1924, co-founded the Transcendentalist Painting Group in 1938, and was a well-known art professor at the University of New Mexico, where he taught from 1934 until 1954. Built with private funds from the art patrons Frank C. and Nettie H. Rand and Amelia White, it is located on the campus near the President’s House and along Las Lomas Road, which had been designated for faculty housing since the 1930s.
The design combines an upper-level residence that faces south and is reached from Las Lomas, and lower-level studio, workshop, and gallery spaces that cascade down a hillside behind the residence. Meem used the site to advantage in order to condense this messy program into the deceptively minimal composition of a central entrance block with its recessed doorway framed by two slightly recessed and symmetrical wings that are set off asymmetrically by a single large square window to the right and a row of five small square windows placed high in the wall to the left. The restrained massing and limited detailing are consistent with the building’s construction of hollow terra-cotta tile and concrete, and are unexpectedly, if unmistakably, reminiscent of Barry Byrne’s Old Chemistry Building. Having spent his career promoting the Spanish-Pueblo style, Meem—perhaps in response to his client— here turned his attention to modernism and found an alternative sense of place in New Mexico.
The university permitted Jonson to continue living in the house from his retirement until his death in 1982, when the house became a public gallery devoted to exhibiting his collection. While the lower level has been altered several times, the upper level remains virtually unchanged. In 2008, the Johnson archive and gallery were moved to the University Art Museum, making way for the use of the house as the Robert R. Jonson Foundation Center for Health Policy. It remains an open question whether the building will be returned to its intended artistic uses after the foundation grant expires.
Bunting, Bainbridge. John Gaw Meem: Southwestern Architect. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico, 1983.
Hooker, Van Dorn. Only in New Mexico: An Architectural History of the University of New Mexico. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico, 2000.
University of New Mexico. Department of Facility Planning Records. Center for Southwest Research, University Libraries, University of New Mexico.
University of New Mexico. Department of Facility Planning Drawings. Center for Southwest Research, University Libraries, University of New Mexico.
Ware, Chip, “Jonson House and Gallery,” Bernalillo County, New Mexico. National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form, 2001. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, DC.
Wilson, Chris. Facing Southwest: The Life and Houses of John Gaw Meem. New York: W.W. Norton, 2001.
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