The Art of Simplicity

by Administrator on 9 January, 2018 People Profiles 767 Views
The Art of Simplicity

Longtime East Mountain resident carves out a big life from small pleasures

By Rena Distasio

Even if you’re new to the East Mountains, you’ve likely seen Brud Grossman out and about on his bicycle. Maybe you’ve waved or stopped to say hi, talking about his artwork or about the joys and perils of peddling these rural roads. And if you haven’t met him, you’ve probably wondered who he is and how long he’s been here.

For the past 40 years, this artist and jack-of-all trades has made his home in Gutierrez Canyon, inside a former sheepherder’s hut dating back to the Civil War, which eventually became the family home of a branch of the Gutierrez family. Forty years is a long time, considering that Grossman, born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska, has traveled the world, having visited more places by the time he was 28 than most people will in a lifetime.

It was 1971, and Grossman had just graduated college with a degree in mechanical engineering. He was free as a bird, owing nothing and no one. “I had a good number in the draft lottery and knew I wouldn’t have to go to Vietnam,” he says. “So I put my thumb out and decided to see America.”

Next came a six-week bicycle trip through Europe, part of it with a college buddy. But with a return ticket good for a year, Grossman was in no hurry to get home. “This was my first time out in the world,” he says, “and I wanted to see more of it.” He sold his bike and with only himself for company hitchhiked eastward, through North Africa, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and on up to Everest, where for the equivalent of 10 cents he gained permission to tour the holy mountains, a three-week trek that culminated at 18,000 feet. Then back again to spend more time in Afghanistan, India, Turkey, Greece, and France.

A few years after returning home, Grossman decided to ride a bicycle from Boston, where he was living, to Vancouver. He was only half serious, but then he did it, clocking 4,200 miles in 42 days, and solidifying his belief that the bicycle was in fact a legitimate form of transportation. He discovered the freedom of motoring along on his own power, carrying next to nothing, just a sleeping bag, canteen, and some clothing.

Soon after, he landed in New Mexico—his second trip—and wondered about the house and three acres in Gutierrez Canyon he had once visited, which a friend’s father had purchased in the late 1960s. Turns out that the tenant who was living there was moving to Idaho. Grossman moved in and bought it several years later.

 “I realized I really wanted to be here, not just in New Mexico, but here,” he says, pointing to the floor. “In this house. I don’t know why. I just always felt comfortable here. You could pick up this little house and piece of land, put it anywhere in the world, and I’d be fine.”

Grossman has made improvements over the years—a new roof, insulated windows, a skylight—but the house retains its original rustic charm. It’s all Grossman needs. He could easily be talking about it when he mentions his decades-long refusal to update his bicycle. “I could spend a lot of money and buy something fancy that would be a whole lot faster. Get some sleek gear and look like everyone else, but it wouldn’t mean anything to me.”

Although Grossman does own a truck for running errands in Albuquerque, a bicycle has been his primary mode of transport since he moved here. Sure, he’s a little slower these days, and there are roads he no longer travels (like NM 217, thanks to its lack of shoulder and increased traffic), but there’s little he can’t do on two wheels.

Another of his passions is wood carving, something a friend suggested he pick up as therapy when Grossman hurt his back in the early 1980s. His pieces, which he carves from a variety of woods using tools he hand-forged himself, range from artful furniture to delightful figures of animals and people. Thoughtful, expressive, and rubbed to a soft gloss with linseed oil and wax, they decorate the inside of his house, as well as those of friends, family, and occasional buyers.

While Grossman lacks formal art training—he just picked up a pocketknife and got started—he does credit longtime East Mountain resident and artist Dick Hicks (who passed away in 2012) as an influence. “If I got stuck, whether for an idea or how to use the tools, I always went to Dick for advice. He was the closest I ever had to a mentor. Dick was a fine man.”

As for marketing his work, Grossman shrugs. “I had a girlfriend who made a legitimate living as a potter and she worked her ass off. She spent a lot of hours producing and then a lot of hours marketing, and that never appealed to me. Let it be my version of pure. That may sound corny, but I can’t begin to produce fast enough to make a legitimate living.”

The self-reliance Grossman learned while traveling the world as a young man continues to serve him well. But he’s not a hermit. He is close with his sister and nieces, and has a supportive network of friends, which proved instrumental in his recovery from a broken kneecap suffered during a fall in July.

Thanks as well to excellent post-operative care and a solid base of fitness, Grossman hopes to be back in the saddle soon. Not just so he can get around on his own again, but to stay in touch with his community as well. “This year I realized how much I rely on riding, for my socializing even,” he says. “Half the people I know are the people I wave at and say hi to on my bicycle. I miss being out there.”

So start looking for him on the roads. Feel free to say high, and call him Brud (pronounced like “mud”), a lifelong nickname. “Officially, I’m Henry, but my sister couldn’t pronounce ‘brother’ so she did me an enormous favor on the day I was born,” he says, and then laughs. “Because Henry would have gone to law school, but Brud can be an eccentric woodcarver living in the mountains.”

 

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