Aug. 22--MESILLA -- He's a living legend and he and his family are establishing a legacy that will help teach future generations about New Mexico's culture and heritage.
J. Paul Taylor turns 94 this month, and fans of all ages will be gathering to wish him a happy birthday at special celebrations in Las Cruces and Mesilla.
Friends of the Taylor Family Monument will host a "birthday salute" for the beloved educator, legislator, community leader and art collector, from 5 to 7 p.m. Sunday at Josefina's Old Gate CafÉ, 2261 Calle de Guadalupe.
In 2006, the Taylor family home became the seventh New Mexico Monument, the Taylor-Barela-Reynolds-Mesilla Historic Site, thanks to a 2003 bequest to the Museum of New Mexico from Taylor, his late wife and their family.
J. Paul Taylor Academy students also traditionally plan a celebration.
"They're celebrating all week long. I understand they're doing special things each day and we'll be going for a founder's day celebration in conjunction with his birthday on Thursday (Aug. 21) when kids will dance and sing and the orchestra will play 'Happy Birthday' and each class will do something special for him. The principal, Cynthia Rismer, was a former student of my father's. They go way back," said Taylor's daughter, Mary Helen Taylor-Ratje.
Rismer said the children adore Taylor.
"He's everybody's grandfather. All the children will join for a performance and each class will do something special for him," Rismer said.
Though he modestly protests the fanfare, Taylor said he appreciates the thought.
"I think 94 is a rather old age, but after that, I'll be coming up to 95 and that may be the cause for celebration -- or maybe alarm," he quipped.
He said he's feeling good and is spending his birthday month on a special project with Lisa Peugh.
"We're going through the house and cataloging and deciding what should stay and what should go to the family. I have to be very careful about those decisions. I'm still adding to my collections. I've been collecting textiles for so many years; the house is overrun with them. Some are really personal, like quilts made by my mother, and some I collected for children, to give them some idea of geography. ... I want the house to really look like a home, like people live here," he said.
Taylor was born in Chamberino on Aug. 24, 1920. He and his wife, noted author Mary Daniels Taylor, settled in Mesilla in 1947 and in 1953 moved to the historic adobe home where they raised their seven children.
"This special place provides an exceptional setting for visitors to understand and appreciate the history, culture and architecture of Mesilla and the Borderland," notes a statement from FTFM, a nonprofit group formed in 2010 to support the preservation and interpretation of the historic site.
FTFM president Cynthia Garrett said that Taylor has continued to be generous in opening the monument site, where he still makes his home, to tour groups.
"This year has been a busy one for the Friends and Mr. Taylor. Highlights include on-site learning adventures for nearly 400 kids from local schools, and a wonderful exhibition of paintings by the late Ken Barrick," Garrett said. "Our group successfully advocated for the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs to contract for a Historic Structure Report and Structural Assessment that will provide information needed to manage the site's facilities and prepare them for public use."
The Taylor-Barela-Reynolds-Mesilla State Monument, which will be open to the public after Taylor's death, includes two adjoining store fronts facing the Mesilla Plaza, one of which will become a museum gift shop. The store was recently renovated and opened this month with a new tenant: The Pecan Company.
The bequest also includes historical paintings, photos and other artifacts that reflects a family history here that dates to the 1500s as well as the Taylors' extensive personal collections of rugs, furniture, pottery and textiles from all over the world, as well as a collection of Spanish Colonial, Mexican and New Mexican artwork that curators have called "extraordinary."
"The birthday celebration will include a showing of Mesilla photographs by the late Mary Daniels Taylor, who was an accomplished photographer, as well a historian, archivist, paleographer, writer, mother of seven, and active member of her church and community," Garrett said.
Classical guitarist Ray Dueto Renato Crystal and his wife, Rosa, will perform songs from South America and Mexico.
The Josefina's Gate Sunday birthday event is open to FTFM members only. To join or renew membership (family $25, individual, $20, student $15, youth $10 or benefactor, $50 or more) using a credit card or PayPal visit the FTFM website: ftfm-mesilla-nm.org/membership.html or send a check to FTFM, P.O. Box 1305, Mesilla, NM 88046. For reservation or more information, visit ftfm-mesilla-nm.org or contact the Friends group at: email@example.com or 575-915-5756.
S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at 575-541-5450.
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