photos by Tom Hilsee
Mario Montoya and Albert Rosales started teaching hip hop break dance classes at the Harwood Art Center last fall. Montoya lost his right leg after a football injury about 17 years ago, when he was in eighth grade. “I feel like I lost my anger with my leg and I became a better person,” Montoya said. He continued his hip hop life after that. Rosales is a local visual artist and break dance expert. Every Friday afternoon the pair teaches break dancing to an after-school program at Harwood. “I’m amazed by (the pair’s) ability of connecting themselves to each kid,” said the director of Youth and Education at Harwood, Vashti Moss. “It is absolutely the kids’ favorite class here.”
Van Pexa trains approximately 15 hours per week, and plays a sport in every season of the year. Pexa competes in a number of sporting events in the Special Olympics of New Mexico, including hockey, bocce, softball, golf, equestrian, bowling and basketball. Pexa said he started competing in sports competitions at age 13, and that his favorite sports to play are unified golf, in which each athlete has a partner he or she competes with, and equestrian riding. When Pexa is not competing, he watches his favorite athletes compete on the court at The Pit. For roughly 15 years he has had season tickets for Lobo basketball, has attended nearly every game and even travels to Las Vegas for the Mountain West Conference tournament. “He’s nothing less than fanatic about Lobo basketball,” his mother, Dana Pexa, said.
“Having no food, being homeless, being crazy” is what made Chris Patz, 21, want to change his life. Patz said he used drugs such as cocaine, ecstasy and crystal meth on a daily basis between the ages of 13 and 18. During that time, Patz went through two drug treatment programs, but relapsed after completing each.
Now three years clean, Chris said he is preparing for the transition from a reserve to active duty recon Marine. Since his childhood, he said he dreamed of becoming one of the few people allowed to be a Recon Marine.
In the meantime, Patz said he focuses on pottery, a passion of his since sixth grade.
He just got back into pottery a month ago, and he said he finds himself “obsessed” with improving at his craft.
Mendy Lou Blackburn is an intuitive spiritual adviser and has practiced as a psychic for more than 40 years. She started reading Tarot cards when she was 15. Tarot is a study of the Hermetic Principles of Universal Law and Divine Principle.
When she was 20, Blackburn discovered a book of palmistry by William Benham, which she said inspired her to practice palmistry. Palm reading is a study of human character.
Blackburn gives palm reading and tarot card readings at her shop on Harvard Drive, which she owned for about a decade. She does readings at her shop, through the phone, or via Skype. Her shop is located at 139 Harvard Drive S.E. To find out more Blackburn and her practice, visit.Mendylou.com.
Carlos Menchaca, 23, said he always knew he wanted to dance. He started Folklorico and Spanish Classical in his aunt’s studio in San Antonio when he was 10. His aunt knew basic flamenco choreographies, but he said he grew frustrated no one could teach him at a more advanced level.
When Menchaca was 17, Yjastros: The American Flamenco Repertory Company, gave a workshop at his studio. Menchaca said he was introduced to the complex rhythms of flamenco.
Menchaca said he was hooked, and three months after the workshop he moved to Albuquerque to train under the direction of Joaquin Encinias of Yjastros. Menchaca performed with Yjastros for the past five years. Recently, Menchaca performed in Yjastros’ production of El Museo, a collaboration with the UNM symphony.
Sarah Kathleen McHaffie, 56, is a high school teacher at Cibola High School. In 2004, she was diagnosed with advanced lymphoma. The cancer spread to her stomach, chest and blood before being contained by a combination of chemotherapy and surgery. Her cancer is controlled but she said she has no intention to resign herself to worrying about it getting worse.
A year after her diagnosis, McHaffie went back to work at Cibola. Now, she is taking photography courses at UNM with the hope to one day obtain a Master’s degree in Art Education. Mchaffie has not lost a step in pursuing the things she loves in life. She said photography, dance and teaching are her passions, and she still pursues them all.
Chris Sanders, co-shop owner of Real Kutz Barber Shop, cuts hair and produces music under one roof.
Growing up in Springhill, L.A., Chris said he decided he wanted to be a barber at the age of 12 and has cut hair since he was 14. Before going to barber school, Chris practiced cutting hair on volunteers, friends, and on himself.
He also owns an independent record label called “Barcode Ent.” His label manages seven artists, for whom he helps write songs and sings backup vocals.
“It’s all about doing what you love to do … if you’re not doing what you love to do, nine times out of 10, it’s not going to stick around. I love cutting hair and music.”
David Thornburg, 58, said he was always enthralled with nature. He used be an avid hunter and fisherman, and he worked as a self-employed land developer in Santa Fe, NM for 30 years.
When the housing market crashed in 2008, the land development business was left crippled, and Thornburg said he was forced to reevaluate his career. Having already researched taxidermy for one of his sons, he said he decided to try it for himself.
Thornburg sold his motorcycles to provide money for his family and went to New York to apprentice with a taxidermist. Upon his return, he opened up ‘Dave’s Wildlife Studio’ in the woodshop behind his house. Thornburg said he enjoys the creative aspect of Taxidermy because dead animals lose many of the aesthetics that made them beautiful creatures. He said his goal is to bring them back to life, at least seemingly.
David Candelaria, 43, is a disabled and retired veteran, medical marijuana recipient and licensed grower. During Desert Storm, Candelaria, a tank mechanic, was hit by an exploding gas canister that fractured his skull. The injury resulted in the loss of his motor functions.
Candelaria had to re-learn how to speak, walk and read. He said he soon learned to live with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and received steroid injections, which contributed to cartilage deterioration in his hips.For many years, Candelaria said he couldn’t find prescription drugs that allowed him to function daily.
He said his life was forever changed the moment he tried marijuana. “I could walk. I could ride my motorcycle. I could enjoy life again.” Candelaria said he joined the Occupy Albuquerque movement in hopes that he could raise awareness of the benefits of medical marijuana and speak out against monopolies created by insurance and pharmaceutical companies.