By Rose Glaser
One afternoon in early April 1979, oil painter Walt Gonske stood on his two acres of open, wild land in Taos, NM, drove a stake in the ground, and tied a bright white clothesline to it. When night fell and the North Star rose in the sky, he took hold of the line and walked south, away from the star’s light. Looking back, Gonske visually lined up the length of rope with the star, drove a second stake in the ground, and secured the line. In so doing, he set out the parameter for the western wall of his studio.
“Magnetic north is 13 degrees off true north,” says Gonske. “Since the North Star is at true north, I decided to aim the studio at it. This allows the least amount of direct sunlight through the north window.”
Gonske had moved to Taos from New York City and fallen in love with the simple homes and churches of the Southwest. In designing his own place he remained true to New Mexico style, using traditional adobe bricks for walls and vigas, or heavy beams, to support the ceilings. Unique to Gonske’s studio are four skylights with wooden covers that open and close, allowing him to control the warm light that falls on a still life or a model. He also has a huge, north-facing window that tilts in at the ceiling, a design element he discovered while looking through Nicolai Fechin’s Taos studio. “I felt it helped create a focal point,” says Gonske. “But the more practical reason for it is that it keeps out the glare from outside.”
Over the years, Gonske’s studio seemed to shrink as his career grew. At one point he added a storage room, bedroom, and gallery area to the existing building. Several years after that he had an adobe wall built to surround a garden filled with peonies, hollyhocks, sunflowers, and other plants he loves to paint.
The entry to his garden oasis is a favorite subject not only for Gonske but also for fellow artists and students who visit. Gonske’s inspiration came from photographs he took of gates and entrances to churches and graveyards around New Mexico. “From those ideas a design took shape, and I’m very pleased with it,” Gonske says. “By now it has been painted by hundreds of people.”
Today Gonske’s studio easily holds a grand easel, props and figurines, and many of the works he has collected by artists he respects. But as he looks around he’s still not satisfied. “I wish it was bigger,” he says, shaking his head. “Just a little bigger.”
Gonske is represented by Claggett/Rey Gallery, Vail, CO, and Nicholas Fine Art, Billings, MT.
Featured in “In the Studio” September 2001