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New Mexico museum exhibit takes comprehensive look at “lowriding capital of the world”

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1963 Chevrolet Impala, Owner Lee Cordova of Alcalde, New Mexico, 1998. Photo by Jack Parsons, courtesy New Mexico Digital Collections.

In the mid-Eighties, MTV descended on the northern New Mexico city of Española and declared it – not Los Angeles, not El Paso, but Española – the lowriding capital of the world. Few people in New Mexico seem to have forgotten that honor in the decades since, as is evident by a pair of ongoing museum exhibits in Santa Fe that examine the history, culture, and artistry of the lowrider.

“Lowriding in New Mexico is a really big deal, but it’s never really been recognized,” said Daniel Kosharek, curator of the New Mexico History Museum’s Lowriders, Hoppers, and Hot Rods: Car Culture of Northern New Mexico exhibit. “Our intent was to honor lowriders’ artistry and the ways they express themselves.”

According to Kosharek, lowriders can trace their history back to the Thirties in the border towns of El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, from which the style migrated (along with its originators) to the aircraft factories of Los Angeles during World War II. Mexican-Americans who returned to New Mexico after the war then embraced lowriding as a cultural identity and honed their skills in upholstery, painting, and restoration.

“The interesting thing about it is that these guys are restoration experts,” Kosharek said. “They’ll buy an $800 1964 Chevy convertible and four years later have a pristine automobile. They come from impoverished areas, so they’re fabricating a lot of the material they need, and they’re buying trashed cars, not pristine ones, to turn into lowriders. The passion and effort they put into restoring these cars should definitely be recognized.”

The pair of exhibits – both the New Mexico History Museum’s and Con Cariño: Artists Inspired by Lowriders at the New Mexico Museum of Art – came about after Kosharek wanted to revisit a book on lowriders that the history museum’s press published in 1994. “‘Low and Slow’ was a big success, so we wanted to redo the book and do a small photography exhibit, but then a larger space opened up that allowed us to actually bring cars into the museum,” he said.


Dave Jaramillo’s son Dave Jr. and wife Irene with his lowrider car, El Santuario de Chimayo, New Mexico. Photo by Annie Sahlin, courtesy New Mexico Digital Collections.

Curating the exhibits, however, proved easier said than done. “When I started this, I thought I’d just call around to the major archives for lowrider photos, but nobody had any,” Kosharek said. “So I asked the individual photographers I approached to donate their photos to a collection here at the museum, a sort of reference library for lowriders.”

As Kate Ware, curator of Con Cariño, noted, there isn’t really a lowrider art community for her to draw works from. Instead, she asked artists who have exhibited at the museum in the past whether they had any works that were influenced by lowriders. The result – a combination of paintings, sculpture, photos, and videos – show a community perhaps more focused on religion, family, and geography than other lowriding communities.

“The Virgin of Guadalupe makes many appearances,” she noted. “In many other places, the lowriders show more of the profane than sacred; we encounter much less of that here. With the murals on the hoods and the trunks, they’re almost cathedrals on wheels.”


Man with cross and lowrider car, Good Friday pilgrimage to El Santuario de Chimayo, New Mexico. Photo by Annie Sahlin, courtesy New Mexico Digital Collections.

The concept for the exhibits also expanded beyond the static with a car show that attracted 130 lowriders in a parade around the Santa Fe Plaza back in May. “The lowrider community has really embraced this exhibit,” Kosharek said.

More importantly, Kosharek said, the exhibit has helped break down some barriers around the lowrider community. He related the story of one of his docents, an elderly woman, who, after the exhibit started, spotted a lowrider filling up at a gas station. “Normally, she would have diverted her eyes, but this time she went over to talk to him,” Kosharek said. “Lowriders have always had a bad rap as gang members and drug dealers, but here we broke a stereotype. We’re absolutely getting people to look at these cars and their craftsmen in a different light.”

Exposure to lowriding also affected one of the artists in Ware’s exhibit. “Meridel Rubenstein, shortly after she moved to New Mexico, started taking photos of New Mexican craftspeople,” Ware said. “She just about finished when somebody told her she missed a big one – the pinstripers and painters and muralists who worked on lowriders. After that, she said that lowriding totally changed the way she made art.”


Man with lowrider car, Good Friday pilgrimage to El Santuario de Chimayo, New Mexico. Photo by Annie Sahlin, courtesy New Mexico Digital Collections.

Both exhibits opened in May, but a number of associated events remain on the two museums’ schedules, including a talk by Albuquerque-based lowrider painter Rob Vanderslice on August 12, a presentation on the activities at GM Design by Santa Fe-based Dennis Little on August 28, and a workshop on how to use airbrushes on November 20.

Con Cariño will run through October 10 while Lowriders, Hoppers, and Hot Rods will run through March 5. For more information, visit and