The road to Vida Encantada Nursing and Rehab twists past a subdivision littered with toddlers’ toys, past the great prairie’s golden summer grasses, past the long curved road of life that leads most of its residents home here.
A walk through the facility follows the same quixotic curves. Residents congregate in the recreation room, indulging in community dinners, in games and musical events. A turn down one hallway finds visitors singing Happy Birthday, a turn down another finds a small art gallery showcasing ten paintings and colorful line drawings, each proudly signed “E. Flores.”
“I’ve only been painting six months, maybe less,” explains Vida Encantada resident, Eddie Flores. “I was taking therapy for my arthritis, and the therapist wanted to help me start using my right hand. ‘Here’s a brush. Use it,’ she said. And I started painting. I just did it.”
Flores’ work captures the memories and emotion of his early years. In one finger painting, “Enchanted Flowers,” three sunflowers with petals the vibrant blues, earthy greens, and deep ochres of New Mexico’s traditional folk arts, pose in the sun. The flowers appear picked, as if they are waiting for a vase, for someone to remember, to appreciate them.
“I was the troublemaker in the family,” Flores reminisces of his Las Vegas childhood. “They put me to work in the grocery story since I was in the fourth grade, soaking beans, selling cans of sardines for 10 cents. A lot of my paintings are things I remember from being young. I was always responsible, a grown up, even at a young age. I had to help support my four younger sisters and brother as well as go to school, but I still had some fun. When I was in high school in the ‘50s, I would travel the old Route 66. I remember having four speeding tickets.”
The Vida Encantada wall gallery offers a time machine back through Flores’ mind. “Route 66” captures a car tooling through Monument Valley, much like George Herriman’s minimalist Krazy Kat comic strip. In “Plaza Hotel,” a supersized navajo rug and Native American pottery leap over the hotel — which is painted in rich pink — as if to say “we were here first.” Flores’ work is unique, simplistic, full of unexpected color, often humorous.
Flores remembers the deep separation he experienced when he, a man of Spanish descent, married a women whose family was from Mexico. He remembers how her father told her that she could find no finer man. Flores remembers scrambling to complete high school, then college, eventually earning a master’s degree in social work. He remembers working in Denver, in Las Vegas, giving therapy to couples and families, to disadvantaged children. He remembers a full life, a life well-lived, a life he continues to stretch in new, unexplored areas. Today, Flores proudly counts almost 100 paintings as his contribution to the local arts scene.
“I try to carry the Spanish, the Western, and New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment, in my paintings, muses Flores. “I paint a good five hours a day. It’s almost like working a full-time job.
In addition to the Vida Encantada gallery, Flores’ work can be seen at both the First National Bank and the State Employees Credit Union, where he offers paintings for both viewer’s enjoyment as well as for purchase. Flores also strings an eclectic assortment of beads and charms into wildly-patterned necklaces. He hopes to show some of his work along with other Vida Encantada residents at the next People’s Faire. Between creating his works of art, Flores dances, plants flowers in the nursing home courtyard, and talks to his two goldfish.