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NMSU alumnus recipient of 2009 Governor's Awards for Excellence in the Arts

New Mexico State University alumnus Edward Vega was one of eight New Mexico artists and arts supporters to receive the 2009 Governor's Awards for Excellence in the Arts, New Mexico's highest artistic honor.

Nominated by a long time friend, Vega was contacted by the award's committee and was asked to send his resume, pictures with examples of his work and letters of recommendation. While Vega says he has received numerous awards for his work, this one was the most important.

"This award is the icing on the cake of my art career," Vega said, "I am pleased and honored that people believe I deserve this award."

Vega, originally from Deming, has worked on art ranging from monumental sculptures to designing sets for major motion pictures. Vega earned a bachelor's in fine arts degree from NMSU in 1968 and later worked for the university teaching sculpture and printmaking in the early 1970s.

In 1985, while serving as the art department head at the now-defunct University of Albuquerque, production designers for the movie "Animal Behavior" needed a backdrop painted. When no one in the movie industry could take on the task of painting the backdrop, designers went to the University of Albuquerque theatre department and asked if they knew anyone who could help. The department referred them Vega, who took on the job and impressed designers with his debut work.

Just as the University of Albuquerque was closing in 1986, Vega was approached by the same production designer from "Animal Behavior" and asked if he was available to do scenic work in movies, offering him a job on a movie in Montana. Since the university was closing and Vega was available, he accepted the job offer working as a scenic artist on the movie "Amazing Grace and Chuck."

His work in the film industry continued, creating scenic backdrops and doing design work for movies like "Buffalo Girls" and "Spy Kids II." In 1996, while working on the movie "Selena," Vega was promoted to art director and filled that role for 11 additional films.

Vega's pieces have been shown in exhibitions and public art installations throughout the country, including the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History, and the New Mexico Museum of Art on the plaza in Santa Fe.

He was appointed by U.S. Secretary of Treasury Robert Rubin in 1998 to serve on the Dollar Coin Advisory Committee to establish the theme and look of the Sacagawea dollar.

Vega says the awards have gotten him back into his love for sculpture. Vega was asked to make a sculpture for the awards and has been asked by the Albuquerque Museum of Art to contribute a sculpture piece for an upcoming exhibition.

The 2009 award ceremonies were held on Sept. 25, at the St. Francis Auditorium, New Mexico Museum of Art in Santa Fe. The awards were established in 1974 by Gov. Bruce King and first lady Alice King to celebrate the enormous roles that artists, craftspeople and arts supporters play in the life of New Mexico.

Nominations for the awards are invited each year from arts groups and interested New Mexicans. They are reviewed by a committee of the New Mexico Arts Commission who sends its recommendations to the full commission and the governor.

Past recipients include Georgia O'Keefe, Laura Gilpin, Max Evans and Wilson Hurley.