The Mesilla Valley is full of talented and caring individuals, but every once in a while, you come across people you are especially proud to call “neighbor.” Let’s meet one of those.
As long-time Las Crucens know, the Branigan Cultural Center was built during the Great Depression in 1935 with a donation from the Thomas Branigan family and served as a library from 1935 – 1979. When the new library opened, the building transitioned to a new role as our city’s first museum in 1981.
Beginning with that gap between the library closing and the cultural center opening, the inaugural director of the Branigan Cultural Center was James E. Richardson III, nicknamed Junior. Junior served as the director of Branigan Cultural Center from 1980 until he passed away in June 1986.
Junior had a namesake son, James Richardson IV, or “Dusty” to his friends. According to Dusty, Junior was a talented artist and fantastic father. Dusty admired his father’s talents, and clearly remembers his patient and disciplined ways of creating art. Dusty was a young man when his dad passed away in 1986 and, without guidance from Junior, never pursued his own artistic talents with any type of vigor. Instead, he took a job at Foot Locker at the Mesilla Valley Mall while he pursued a career in criminal justice.
Fast-forward, and Dusty had been on the NASA police force for several years when he reconnected with a friend and former frequent customer at Foot Locker, Erica, who became the love of his life. Erica was the doting mother of a son named Angel. Dusty, Erica, and Angel began life as a family, and before long they added two daughters, Madeline and Marlee.
One day, Dusty was looking at Madeline, and saw her in a way that clicked a gear in his mind like a Swiss watch. He snapped a picture and began sketching his daughter with the love, patience, and precision that his father, Junior, used to display when Dusty was watching him all those years ago. “I had no clue he could do anything like that,” Erica said, her eyes wide open as she laughed out loud. “I just couldn’t believe how he captured her, not just her picture, but her.”
Erica saw that this was not just a daddy doodling a sketch of his daughter, but that there was a truly talented man living in her home, and she pushed Dusty to create more art.
Dusty told his wife that he would, but only if it could somehow help the community outreach program Jardin de los Niños, for which Erica had been a board member for several years. Jardin de los Niños is a Las Cruces nonprofit organization that provides childcare and educational services for children ages six weeks to 10 years.
Besides providing immediate assistance to these kids, Jardin offers comprehensive and holistic family services that give parents the tools they need to help their family flourish. In other words, Jardin de los Niños feeds children fish while teaching their parents how to fish. Jardin is an expanding presence in the community that both creates awareness about and grows the resources that support the needs of underserved children and their families.
Dusty has created pencil drawings of two iconic Hollywood figures who made movies here in Las Cruces, Clint Eastwood (The Mule) and Edward James Olmos (Walking with Herb). Dusty was able to secure Edward James Olmos’s signature on his drawing and the drawing was auctioned off at the screening of Walking with Herb earlier this year, proceeds of which were directly donated to Jardin de los Niños. Some of the other subjects Dusty has used for his lifelike drawings are basketball greats Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan, and comedy icon Robin Williams.
Dusty recently retired from the NASA police force and feels blessed to be able to take care of his two young daughters and donate his talents to the community. “I see all the hard work my wife and her colleagues put into helping these kids and their families,” Dusty comments. “I feel it is an honor to do whatever I can do to help their work.”
Just like his father, Junior, who gave his hard work and talent to the Las Cruces community — enough for the Branigan Cultural Center to name a gallery after him — Dusty wants to leave a legacy for his family and community that exemplifies his desire to take care of others.
To donate to Jardin de los Niños, please visit jardinlc.org.
Written by Daniel Gonzales • Courtesy photos
Originally published in Neighbors magazine
Posted by LasCruces.com