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Sharon Stewart Photograph Collection

Identifier: PICT-2003-014

Scope and Content

Photographs related to life and the maintenance of the village acequia (irrigation ditch) in El Cerrito, New Mexico. The photographs were taken between 1992 and 2003. Photos show people, landscapes, work, agriculture, homes, churches, and other aspects of village life in the northern New Mexican Spanish land grant village of El Cerrito. Subjects of particular importance in photos include: depictions of the acequia madre and its components, the "parciantes" (the water rights holders), the "limpia" (annual cleaning and maintenance of the acequia), hired workers from outside the village, the "mayordomo" (caretaker of the acequia), field irrigation practices, agriculture and harvesting of alfalfa, the residents of El Cerrito, homes and property in El Cerrito, the village church, religious processions, and imagery. There are also single photographs of a diversion dam, a grave site, a woman picking peaches, and Pecos Valley petroglyphs. Prints are 8 x 10 in.


  • 1992-2008


Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research, but reproduction is restricted.

Copy Restrictions

Duplication of this photographic material is permitted only with permission.

Patrons are required to contact photographer for permission to reproduce these photographs for any purpose. Copyright: Sharon Stewart. Model release forms on file. User is responsible for all copyright compliance.

Please contact the Pictorial Archivist for more information.

Biography/Project History

Sharon Stewart Born in Edinburg, Texas, on the South Texas borderlands with Mexico, educated in finance and economics at the University of Texas and Harvard University, Sharon Stewart is a photographer of the cultural landscapes of Texas, the American Southwest, and Ancient Greece.

As founding Vice President of the Houston Center for Photography, Stewart served on its Board of Directors, Programming and Education Committees while writing for its quarterly publication. She is a member of the "Water in the West Project and Archive," a consortium of eleven photographers whose continuing self-directed surveys document the politics and history of water use in the American West.

Sharon Stewart lives in the mountain village of Chacón, NM, at the confluence of the Great Plains and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains where she has extensively photographed the economic, social, familial, mythic, and religious influences that define the cultural landscape of northern New Mexico.

El Agua es la Vida: A Village Life Portrait Project History This project, begun in 1992, presents a village life portrait of El Cerrito, NM, animated by an interdependence on water from the community irrigation ditch, or acequia. No one in El Cerrito remembers being told of the acequia’s origins, lending to speculation that the waterway was created by Native Americans who first inhabited this Pecos River Valley. Others believe its existence can be ascribed, as some other 1,000 acequias in New Mexico, to the efforts of Franciscan priests, who when colonizing the region for Spain, were directed by the crown to establish two vital elements of village life—water and faith. Very likely a confluence of efforts set this hand dug, one-and-a-half-mile gravity flow channel that sustains the village.

Acequia also refers to an association of users that honors water as a community resource rather than a commodity. Parciantes (water-rights holders) have shared for generations in the responsibility of maintaining a waterway that feeds their families, orchards, gardens, fields, and livestock. While recharging watersheds, acequias also provide a rich riparian zone for wildlife, shade trees, and native plants, many of which are used in traditional medicines. In a self-governing system dating to the Moors, who established acequias in Spain during their seven century occupation, the mayordomo (caretaker) is selected by the parciantes to oversee the acequia’s maintenance throughout the year and especially, in an almost religious involvement, during the spring limpia (cleaning). In El Cerrito, the limpia is the one social gathering outside the rare wedding and more common funeral for which extended family and curious students of traditional village life return.

Over the years, the title of the project/portfolio has evolved from El Cerrito y la Acequia Madre to El Agua es la Vida: A Village Life Portrait. Several of the photographs have been renamed as well. The changes are reflected in this collection as of January 2014.

Exit West: A Cultural Confluence Project History From Sharon Stewart: "In recent decades, the inherent immigrant nature of North Americans has evinced itself once again in a revived population shift to the American West. In 1994 I became one of those immigrants when I relocated to the convergence of the Great Plains and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in Northern New Mexico. As a cultural chronicler using cameras as explorative companions, my years living in the Mora Valley have been spent observing, as well as being observed.

My neighbors, many of whom are eleventh-generation descendants of Spanish colonists, some of them still speaking in archaic Andalusian idioms, have been reluctant to embrace the outside world and those of it, which in turn has provided for an insular life tethered by their faith in the church, family, and the land. The clutch of poverty stifled this remote rural domain during our country's great postwar era of prosperity, and a land-based subsistence continues to define life in these mountain villages well into the twenty-first century. Within this, there is a magnitude of cultural wealth here that is not obvious to outsiders. After spending two years away, I returned in 2009 with a new understanding of my place alongside the world I’d photographed, indeed had become part of, and I began to see shifts that are being felt in the valley.

Rich in land and culture, my neighbors live at a juncture of waning traditions and the inevitable accretions of change. The choices they now make reveal the personal, though universal, tensions that inform this chronicle, summoning an invocation to examine suppositions about tradition, community, and progress."

Source: Biography and project histories supplied by Sharon Stewart.


61 items (3 boxes) : 50 selenium toned prints, 11 silver gelatin prints ; 8 x 10 in.

Language of Materials



Photographs related to life and the maintenance of the village acequia (irrigation ditch) in El Cerrito, New Mexico. The photographs were taken between 1992 and 2003. Photos show people, landscapes, work, agriculture, homes, churches, and other aspects of village life in the northern New Mexican Spanish land grant village of El Cerrito.

Physical Location

B2. Shelved by Pictorial Number.

Select Image Available Online

"Abran & Vidal" print available on New Mexico Digital Collections web site.

Related Material

Oral history interviews of Sharon Stewart's El Cerrito y la Acequia Madre Oral History Project, Center for Southwest Research, University Libraries, University of New Mexico.


NOTE: Descriptions are the titles of the individual photos.

Processing information

Items 2003-014-0051 to 2003-014-0061 were accessioned in May 2015.
Finding Aid of the Sharon Stewart Photograph Collection, 1992-2008
Edited Full Draft
Eileen Price
© 2007, 2015, 2023
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid is in English

Revision Statements

  • Monday, 20210524: Attribute normal is missing or blank.

Repository Details

Part of the UNM Center for Southwest Research & Special Collections Repository

University of New Mexico Center for Southwest Research & Special Collections
University Libraries, MSC05 3020
1 University of New Mexico
Albuquerque NM 87131