Dorothy Peterson: Painting New Mexico

Here in Roswell we're fortunate enough to have a robust local art scene, which we like to highlight at the Museum through special exhibitions, classes and other programs. Our most recent show, for example, Dorothy Peterson: Painting New Mexico, highlights the colorful work of an artist who has been enriching our community for over three decades.

Dorothy Peterson is one of Roswell’s most respected educators and artists. As a teacher, she has dedicated herself to the creative enrichment of Roswell and its surrounding communities for over thirty years. In her painting, she explores New Mexico’s distinctive sense of place. Her expressionist watercolor and acrylic compositions celebrate the joy of creative expression while taking inspiration from history, archaeology and personal experience. 

Dorothy Peterson, Rural Electrification, 1984, watercolor on paper. Image courtesy of Southwest Printers.

Dorothy Peterson, The Landman, 2014, watercolor on paper. Imahe courtesy of Southwest Printers.

Raised east of Albuquerque in Moriarty, Peterson grew up among both Spanish and Anglo ranchers, an experience that immersed her in New Mexico’s multicultural heritage. She received her Bachelor’s degree at the University of New Mexico, and earned a Master’s in education at the University of Texas, Permian Basin. She first came to Roswell in the early 1960s with her husband, a petroleum geologist, and they settled here permanently in 1980 after years of travel and relocation. Peterson has provided courses in art and art history at the New Mexico Military Institute, Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell, and the Roswell Museum and Art Center. She has also taught at Ghost Ranch, the home of renowned New Mexico artist Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986), as well as in Italy and Mexico. In addition to classroom instruction, Peterson has served as an arts advocate. From 1983-1996 she served on the New Mexico Arts Commission, which as the advisory board for New Mexico Arts assists the Department of Cultural Affairs in providing opportunities for artistic enrichment and awareness around the state. In 2014 she received a Heritage Award from the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico, based in Roswell.[1]
Dorothy Peterson, Southwest Gothic, 2008, watercolor on paper. Image courtesy of Southwest Printers.

Peterson began painting central and northern New Mexico in the 1960s, when she started visiting the small rural villages around the Manzano Mountains. She also made numerous trips to Taos Pueblo to observe its dances and other ceremonies, painting her memories of the events afterwards.[2] During the 1980s, she turned her artistic eye to the southeastern part of the state through a series of sketching trips around the Hondo Valley, Dexter, and Elida.[3] Peterson’s work revels in the spontaneity of watercolor and acrylic media, with splashes of paint, translucent washes, and other forms of mark-making infusing her work with a vibrant sense of abstraction. Color also plays a key role, with bright reds, blues, greens and other hues enhancing the vivacity of her compositions while highlighting the varied palettes that comprise New Mexico’s distinct environments.


Dorothy Peterson, Paint Out, 1990, watercolor on paper. Image Courtesy of Southwest Printers.

From landscapes to still life and portraiture, Peterson’s watercolor and acrylic paintings encompass a range of subject matter that highlight the people and places of this region. In Southwest Gothic, Peterson meditates on the art historical heritage of New Mexico’s churches. Bringing together an array of architectural and sculptural forms, from the stones arches of doorways to the iron tracery of stained-glass windows, she creates an almost kaleidoscopic interpretation of her observations and experiences. Other works such as Paint Out are strongly autobiographical, in this instance with Peterson highlighting her life as an artist. [4] Brushes, paints, pencils and other tools are shown scattered among landscape sketches and studies, providing insight into her creative practice.[5]

Dorothy Peterson, Territorial Gothic, 1984, watercolor on paper. Image courtesy of Southwest Printers.

Peterson’s art reflects her ongoing appreciation for the history and cultures of New Mexico. Having spent most of her life in this part of the country, she has dedicated herself to capturing this state’s diversity. From vast landscapes to tiny villages, Peterson’s richly-layered paintings pay homage to the centuries of historical and artistic exchanges that have defined this distinctive region. 

Dorothy Peterson, Taos Vespers, 1992, oil on canvas. Image courtesy of Southwest Printers.

This exhibit will be on view through September 17, so do stop by if you have the opportunity. Peterson will also be giving a free gallery talk on Sunday, September 10 at 2 pm, so if you'd like to hear directly from the artist herself, be sure to mark the date on your calendars.

[1] Timothy Howsare, “Local Artist’s Painting on Magazine Cover,” Roswell Daily Record, 7 November 2015,; Vanessa Kahin, “Northern NM captured acclaimed artist Dorothy Peterson’s Heart,” Roswell Daily Record, 14 April 2012,
[2] Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico, “Dorothy Peterson Biography,” August 2014; Dorothy Peterson, interview with the author, 7 February 2017.
[3] Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico, “Dorothy Peterson Biography,” August 2014; Kahin, “Northern NM,” Roswell Daily Record, 14 April 2012/; “Heritage Dinner to be Tuesday Evening,” Roswell Daily Record, 23 August 2014,
[4] Kahin, “Northern NM,” Roswell Daily Record, 14 April 2012; Peterson, interview with the author, 7 February 2017.
[5] Howsare, “Local Artist’s Painting,” 7 November 2015.