Rio Grande Artist Retreat, New Mexico, U.S.

elephant butte logo3-1


The Rio Grande passes through some of America’s most dramatic landscapes as it winds its way down through New Mexico before crossing the Southern border. In 1908, what was then the largest dam in the U.S. and second largest in the world, was constructed at a place where human beings had been coming for millennia to soak in the healing hot springs that bubbled into this great river. The dam slowly created a lake which became the largest body of water in the state of New Mexico, named after a distinctive volcanic butte that became an island as the water rose.

Elephant Butte Lake is one of New Mexico’s most visited tourist attractions in the summertime, but is literally reduced to its tiny resident population for the winter months. It is during this time, in the month of February, that the Damsite welcomes artists to the Elephant Butte Lake Artist Retreat. Although it’s technically “winter”, February here consists of warm days and cool nights. Average temperature for the area during the Retreat is mid-60s fahrenheit with little to no precipitation. The mild weather, combined with a calm serenity during the “off-season”, create a perfect work environment for visiting artists.

The Damsite at Elephant Butte Lake has been the center of a number of historic events, beginning with its original construction. During this time, the camps that housed workers were sometimes occupied by as many as 3,000 men and women. There was even a short railway line that ferried materials to the damsite. Twenty years after its completion during the 1930s and 40s, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was active in this area and some of the larger buildings were converted to hotels.

However, the most distinctive structures left by the CCC were a group of cabins–casitas–that were designed as holiday cottages. These unique structures are still a feature of the Damsite landscape and are currently being refurbished in preparation for the 2017 Elephant Butte Lake Artist Retreat.


The retreat is sponsored by Lago Rico, a local corporation that owns and manages the lake’s three Marinas, the Damsite Recreation Area, and the Elephant Butte Historic District. The 2017 Winter Artist Retreat is a month-long residency in this historic area, from January 30 – March 1. To participate in this residency program, all artists, emerging and established alike, are invited to complete the application process. The link to this application form is in the General Info section below. There are no restrictions regarding the type of work produced during the residency, however the shared studio space is only set up for 2 dimensional artwork. The EBLAR (Elephant Butte Lake Artist Retreat) has been designed to allow participants to share a common experience with a small group of fellow artists, that encourages the exchange of ideas and work, while allowing the major focus to be private time for individual work and introspection.

Participants are housed in their own historic Casita in an unsurpassed natural environment surrounded by history. The Casitas were constructed by the CCC in 1940. They are rock and stucco, pueblo revival style with a small patio. They have kitchenettes with a gas cooktop, microwave oven, coffee maker, and small refrigerator. All units contain at least one bed and some have 2 or 3. Dining table, chairs and other basic furnishings are provided. Private washrooms include toilet, sink and shower. There are no televisions, radios, or phones in the casitas. Each one is also equipped with basic cookware, dishes, towels, bedding etc.

Weekly cleaning with towel/linen exchange is included in the residency. Rental fee is for the 4 week Artist Retreat, utilities and WIFI included. Parking is available at each Casita. The Shared Studio and Lakeshore/Marina are reached easily by foot, bike or car. Hiking trails are accessible throughout the Retreat area. Unfortunately, the casitas are not wheelchair accessible.

Food, personal items, art supplies etc, are not included in the cost. Scholarships covering all or part of the residency fees may be available. Artists may bring their spouse/partner and most casitas are pet friendly, however there are some restrictions and a pet agreement will need to be signed before occupancy. There is no smoking in any of the facilities on the site of the Artist Retreat. Once we approve your application, we will assign you a casita. We will then send you pictures of your specific unit.


The Retreat is located on the shores of Elephant Butte Lake in rural Sierra County, New Mexico. The nearest community, Elephant Butte is a small town 8 miles away, with the basics; post office, gas stations, banks, restaurants and churches. There is nightlife at the Ivory Tusk Tavern located at the Elephant Butte Inn. The world-renowned Sierra Del Rio Golf Course is also located in this quiet little town. Truth or Consequences (T or C as the locals call it) is the largest town in Sierra County and is 10 miles away. This town of 6,000 is the commercial and retail hub for the county. The majority of restaurants and retail establishments are locally owned but there are a couple of national chains, and there is a good selection of art supplies available in town. T or C has a unique history and geography that invites exploration. Bath houses with naturally flowing artesian mineral springs dot the downtown historic district.


EBLAR is located in a somewhat isolated part of New Mexico and there is very limited access by public transportation. Therefore it is required that all participating Artists provide their own vehicle.

Artists will have 24 hour a day access to a large common studio space that is used as the Damsite restaurant in the summer months. Sinks, tables, chairs, easels, washrooms, counter space, fridge and pool table are available in the shared space. This building has large windows that open onto an extensive external patio and beyond that, to the vista of the butte, lake and surrounding desert landscape that stretches away to the north.

Participants will be asked to bring with them a completed work of their art, which has been framed and ready for exhibiting. On the second Saturday of each month, the town of T or C holds an Art Walk, and all of the galleries are open.  The 2017 EBLAR participants will be featured in a show at the RioBravo Gallery which will serve as an introduction to this community.

We will begin each week in February with a Monday morning gathering in the shared studio. Lights snacks and an exchange of news, information, and perhaps a sharing of artistic intentions for the coming week will be the focus. The week will end in the same way on Friday, where the week’s work can be shared. Participation in these sessions is entirely voluntary and artists are under no obligation to “produce” or attend, however it is a wonderful time to share, and we encourage artists to spend some of their time with other members of the program.


Participating artists will arrive by 6:00pm on Monday, January 30 and depart by 6:00pm on Wednesday, March 1, 2017. Tuesday, January 31, is given over to settling artists into their casitas and orienting them to their “new home”. The Director of Lago Rico, Neal Brown, will lead a tour of the Damsite which will be followed by an afternoon boat tour of the lake. At 6:00pm that same evening, we will gather on the patio of the shared studio for a welcome Bar-B-Q. On Tuesday, February 28 at 6:00pm, a farewell Bar-B-Q will be held in the same place.

The theme for the 2017 EBLAR is “A Conversation with the Landscape” and consistent with it, we have planned one excursion each week for the month of February. It is our intention to introduce our visiting artists to as broad a spectrum of landscape as possible and will visit Las Cruces & Mesilla, Monticello, Chloride, Hatch and Hillsboro. These day trips are unstructured and casual, our only goal is to share the pleasure of moving through these different landscapes together. There are many unique sites in the surrounding area and although we try to include a few in our program, we encourage Artists to explore the area on their own and we are more than happy to share our knowledge of interesting locations for your own artistic adventures during your stay.


  • EBLAR is a 4 week residency program; artists are expected to stay for the duration
  • DATES: Jan 30–Mar 1, 2017
  • COST: $800
    Covers rent, utilities, WIFI, shared studio space, exhibit, guided history tour, 4 excursions, 1 boat tour, welcome/farewell BBQs
  • STUDIO SPACE: Is for Artists only, no other guests, no pets allowed
  • PARTNER/SPOUSE: There is no additional cost for one partner/spouse to accompany resident artists
  • PETS: EBLAR is pet friendly, however one per casita and pet agreement form/cleaning deposit required
  • NO SMOKING: There is no smoking in ANY of the facilities at the Artist Retreat
  • MAIL/PACKAGES: It is possible to receive mail/packages at the residency address, pick up at Marina
  • TRANSPORTATION: All artists are responsible for their own transportation by car


Application forms are available at the following site:
Forms must be completed online, there is no charge for applying
All applications must be received on or before November 30, 2016
Successful applicants will be notified within 4 weeks of having received their application


John and Souheir Rawlings will be your hosts and managers for the entire length of the Retreat. Prior to–and during–the residency, they may be contacted for any questions you may have. They have many years of experience working with artists of all levels, and are available to lend assistance, artistic guidance, support and encouragement as desired. However, they fully understand the Artist’s need for private, uninterrupted time, and are respectful in regards to individual preferences. Above all, John & Souheir wish to provide a peaceful yet productive artistic opportunity for all participants. Because of their backgrounds in Art Instruction as well as their years as producing Artists, they are happy to help out in anyway possible…but will certainly not interfere with artists’ own creative journeys.

They have studied and taught Art in colleges and arts organizations internationally, they run Art History Tours, Artist Retreats, and have studios in Northern Montana. The Rawlings’ have received several awards for their art and teaching, with John’s academic focus being on Italian Renaissance Art History and his artistic focus on sculpture and symbolism. Souheir has worked primarily in drawing and painting, with portrait/figure work as her subjects. In teaching, she has a special interest in multi-cultural arts and expressive arts therapy.



Retreat Hosts/Managers

John & Souheir Rawlings


telephone:    John’s cell:  (406) 249-9061   Souheir’s cell:  (406) 250-8821

Mailing Address:

EBLAR  c/o Lago Rico, Inc.   P.O. Box 1070   Elephant Butte   NM    87935