SANTA FE REPORTER

ARTICLE TITLE
DATE
PG#
"7 Days: What Santa Fe's talking about"
October 20 - 26, 1999
"Bizarre & Ironic" Letters to the editor
October 27 - November 2, 1999
March 8 - 14, 2000
14
"Shame", "It Happens all the Time", & The Real Abuse"Letters to the editor
March 15 - 21, 2000
"Investigate for Yourself" & "What Men Do" Letters to the editor
March 22 - 28, 2000
"Amusing and Obtuse" Letters to the editor
March 29 - April 4, 2000
"Beaver Bafflers" Letters to the editor
April 5 - 11, 2000
"art or CRIME?" Follow - Up
October 4 - 10, 2000
 
"Is this Art?" Letters to the editor
October 11 - 17, 2000
 
"The Body Politic" Follow - Up
October 11 - 17, 2000
 
"Top Ten Stories of 2000", "The Artist Vs. The Prosecutor"
December 27 - January 2, 2001
10,20


Mark Rendleman

Family PHOTOS
Can Art Be Abuse? Can Abuse Be Art?
BY Maya Sinha
14, MARCH, 2000 Santa Fe REPORTER

(©2000 Santa Fe Reporter Copied with permission. )

     While you're out of town, someone comes into your home and rifles through your family photographs and home videos, including ones you took of your children playing, swimming and dressing up. The intruder selects only ones that show your children naked, and turns them over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Next, federal agents search your house, confiscating hundreds more photos and videos. Days later, as you step off the plane in Albuquerque, you're arrested on child-pornography charges and hustled off to jail. A prosecutor presents certain of the photos and videos - minus the children's testimony - to a grand jury that doesn't share your views or lifestyle. And, the next thing you know, you're facing a lifetime in prison.

This is exactly what happened to Mark Rendleman.

Since last October, his life has become a tangled nightmare.

     On Feb. 29, citing a need for more time to prepare, the state filed a motion to postpone Rendleman's criminal trial until July. The former art professor, 49, is charged with several counts of sexual exploitation of - and criminal sexual contact with - three children over the course of five years. One of the children is his youngest daughter, and the other two (a boy and a girl) are the children of a former fling: the mother of his oldest daughter, Tiffany Mia Barbosa, 24. Barbosa herself is charged with several related counts against the children, now, ages 14,13 and 10. Both she and Rendleman (above) have pleaded not guilty.

     As a result of the investigation into possible sexual abuse, Rendleman also is facing three federal counts of possession of an unregistered firearm. (Three rifles seized in the search of his Embudo home were illegally fitted with homemade silencers. Rendleman has said he used them to shoot beavers.) All told, he is looking at a maximum sentence of more than 200 years.

     This isn't simply a tale of a family ripped apart by allegations of child abuse. It's also a story of the changing nature of family values, the fine and wavering line between art and pornography and what happens when the law is drawn into family business. Rendleman's many supporters insist he has done nothing wrong. They cite his history as a prolific artist and photographer, claiming he made the photos and videos in an artistic spirit. They say the family snapshots on which the prosecutions case is based never were intended for distribution.

     Leslie Drobbin, the mother of Rendleman's 10-year-old daughter and alleged victim, dismisses the content of the photos and videos as "child's play . . . it's kids being silly, playing games, making up skits," she said. "I was never troubled by it."

     Not everyone would take that attitude. Although a viewing of a handful of the photos shows images as commonplace as most parents' bathtub shots of their kids, others require a judgment call.

     Two grand juries made vastly different judgment calls on the images' artistic value. On Oct. 14, a Santa Fe county grand jury dismissed 25 out of 27 possible criminal counts against Rendleman. A week later, a grand jury in far more conservative Rio Arriba County indicted him on 30 counts.

     Rendleman currently is under house arrest, released on a $1 million property bond and electronically monitored by an ankle bracelet. (Both he and Barbosa, through their lawyers, declined to be interviewed for this story, as did state prosecutors and law enforcement involved in the pending case.)

     Rendleman's supporters, like Drobbin, decry the fact that the artist now is enmeshed in a legal system whose main concern is prosecuting alleged child abusers, not judging what's art. It's a situation they blame on almost entirely on Elizabeth Stewart the mother of Barbosa and the older two alleged victims.

Elizabeth Stewart
Elizabeth Stewart
Courtesy of Elizabeth Stewart
     So far, Stewart, 46, has been only a background figure in the case. She never has testified against Rendleman and received almost no press attention. But it was Stewart who first informed the FBI of the nude photos and videos. It was she who, without Rendleman's permission, entered his Embudo home, removed his videos and pictures, and turned them over to the FBI. And it was she who -- Rendleman's supporters are convinced -- exaggerated her children's claims of possible sexual abuse.

     The Reporter has learned that Stewart herself has been arrested twice in connection with Rendleman: once for breaking and entering at his Santa Fe home and battering him, and most recently for contacting him against court orders. At a March 3 arraignment hearing, she was returned to the Santa Fe County Detention Center (where she has been in custody since Feb. 2) and ordered to post a $250,000 cash bond to leave.

     Although Stewart insists she only was trying to protect her children, as far as Rendleman's supporters are concerned, calling in the FBI was both unwarranted and tragically shortsighted. They insist that the photos and videos were made in a healthy family environment -- one that was simply uninhibited in matters of nudity. And the children were doing fine, they say, until Stewart's allegations plunged them into the center of a sordid criminal case.

     Mark Rendleman hails from an old, slightly bohemian Santa Fe family. His father, "Doc" Rendleman, was a respected local physician and his mother, Mimi, is remembered as a noted beauty and sometime nude model. After graduating from military school, Rendleman moved to California and found success as an artist. In 1983, he returned to Santa Fe to care for his ailing parents. In addition to carving out a second, lucrative career in real estate, Rendleman served for 15 years on the board of the Center for Contemporary Arts -- often donating his own money to keep it afloat -- and, in 1992, raised almost $70,000 to help found the Teen Center.

Mia Barbosa
MIA Barbosa
Age 24, one of the accused.
Courtesy of Elizabeth Stewart
     No one denies Rendleman's lifestyle is an unusual one. But friends are apt to describe his unconventional ways in glowing terms. "He's a genius type, outside the bell curve," said longtime friend Nancy Kenney. Instead of adhering to social norms, Rendleman, she says, "follows his own vision." At one time, for example, Rendleman and Barbosa belonged to a Santa Fe religious group that has been under investigation by the U.S. Customs Department since last May. The religion, called Uniao do Vegetal, originated in Brazil in the 1960s. It makes sacramental use of a hallucinogenic tea called ayahuasca that is illegal in this country. Dan Cron, Rendleman's attorney, points out that his client was for a time a practicing nudist.

     Not surprisingly, Rendleman's immediate family is atypical. Of his three daughters by three different women, Barbosa -- his and Stewart's child -- is oldest.

     Rendleman and Stewart never knew each other well. Although Stewart says the relationship between her and Rendleman lasted four months, he has (in court records) characterized it as a "one-night stand." When, in 1999, Stewart moved from California to Santa Fe, it was the first time she and Rendleman had daily contact with each other.

     Barbosa, on the other hand, had a close relationship with her father. She had been visiting him since about age 9, and moved to Santa Fe in the mid-9o's.

     In 1998, Stewart agreed to let her youngest son and daughter move to Santa Fe to live with Barbosa. The children had been visiting her and Rendleman every summer for years. In Embudo (where Rendleman also has a house), they played with his other children, skinny-dipped in the river, and ran around in the elaborately sculpted caves that Rendleman had spent years creating in the foothills behind his house.

Mark Rendleman was arrested Oct. 7, 1999 at Albuquerque International Sunport. He was returning from a trip to Brazil with his new wife, who subsequently has moved back to Brazil.

      Friends refer to the caves as one of the many misunderstood elements of the case: not dark, dank and foreboding, they say, but a sort of labyrinthine art gallery that other artists often visited and admired. "They open up into full-sized rooms with skylights," said Levy, "with frames sculpted into the walls to put paintings in." Kenney describes them as replete with "gorgeous gothic arches, inlaid with diamonds," and built to showcase "a private collection of contemporary art, most of which has been shown at CCA."

     It was during these summers, 1995 through 1999, that the nude photos and videos were taken: some by Barbosa or in her presence -- and some in the presence of Stewart herself. Although none of his supporters has seen all the photos and videos in question, they are unfazed by the fact that state District Judge Michael Vigil has called some of the images "very disturbing."

Minna 1980These Josh Sturges Photographs were exhibited as art at Photo-Eye Gallery last year.
Minna 1991Above: Minna, Northern CA, 1980 At right: Minna, Northern CA, 1991
©Jock Sturges, Courtesy of Photo-Eye Gallery.
     Cron has argued that none of the images of the children is "lewd, lascivious, or sexual" in nature, and all are protected under Rendleman's First Amendment right to free artistic expression. "People have very different attitudes about nudity and sexuality," said Ranny Levy, who worked with Rendleman on the board of the Teen Center, "and sometimes react out of their own fears."

     In Rendleman's defense, his friends cite similar works by acclaimed photographers jock Sturges and Sally Mann, whose images of nude children are commonplace in Santa Fe's galleries and bookstores. For many, even those artists' works are uncomfortably explicit. (The recent Sturges exhibit at Photo-Eye Gallery, for instance, featured nude, prepubescent girls gazing, in arguably suggestive ways, at the viewer.) Still, in liberal Santa Fe, such works are generally accepted as within the bounds of artistic expression.

     Rendleman's Embudo neighbor, photographer Lisa Law, says that she herself has "a zillion pictures of nude kids." Adds Kenney, a self-described "free spirit": "Any of us could be in that cell."

     Rendleman's friends also point out that the children's own testimony largely seems to exonerate him. The Santa Fe county grand jury, which indicted Rendleman on only two counts, heard Stewart's children testify that the evidentiary photos and home movies were their own ideas, not Rendleman's, and that he never asked them to pose nude. By contrast, the Rio Arriba county grand jury indicted Rendleman on 30 counts after a hearing at which none of the children -- only state and federal investigators -- were called to testify.

     Drobbin calls the case pending against Rendleman and Barbosa a "travesty" -- one she believes happened because Stewart wrongly called in the FBI and an overzealous legal system took it from there. "Must parents think twice about snapping a photograph of their child running around, or just being themselves?" she asked. "Do we . . . want to be judged as to whether that photograph we snapped was appropriate?"

Longtime friend Nancy Kenney says Rendleman is spending about $30,000 a month in legal fees.

     Among the items taken from Rendleman's home were a videotaped skit, "Funny Girls Video," that Drobbin said was both written and performed by her daughter. Also: various footage taken in the man-made caves behind Rendleman's house, and of children playing, unclothed, in the Rio Grande. As for the several counts of criminal sexual contact, Cron claims they refer to photos depicting innocent horsing around, such as a nude child sitting on Rendleman's bare shoulders.

     "Those kids were totally comfortable around him," said Law, who often saw Rendleman around the children. "They loved him, loved the attention." Although Stewart knew of Rendleman's practice of videotaping and photographing her children in the nude, she insists she was shocked to discover, last fall, what some of the images entailed.

     In person, Stewart is a slender, well-dressed blonde. She says the fact that Rendleman and Barbosa are being prosecuted isn't her fault, but Rendleman's. He's the one who "coerced" Barbosa into taking exploitative photographs of her half-siblings, Stewart says. "If she would just come forward and admit that she's a victim," she says, "the true predator will come out, and that's her father".

Elizabeth Stewart says she carried a hurtful letter Rendleman wrote her in her purse for 24 years.

     According to Stewart, the whole thing began last fall when her youngest daughter, after watching an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show about pedophiles, called her aside and told her of certain nude photos and videos Rendleman had taken. Although Stewart says she previously had seen "about 50 percent" of the images in question, she claims that the two videos her daughter then showed her were more troubling.

     Upon viewing them, said Stewart, "I was devastated . . . If he had just videotaped them skinny-dipping, that's one thing. But in some, he had zoomed in on their genitalia."

     (Sources confirm that some of the photos depict close-ups of children's genitals. A defense exhibit, however, shows a succession of Rendleman's photographs taken throughout the course of a day. In a few, as a child gets dressed, her genitals are clearly exposed -- but others in the roll show her clothed, eating breakfast, etc. The defense contends that, in such photographs, context is everything.)

     Court records indicate that, in early October, Stewart called an FBI agent and reported that Rendleman had taken nude videos and photos of her children. She also accused him of child molestation. (Stewart denies she actually placed the call, but not that she made the allegations.) At some point, while Rendleman was away in Brazil, she removed photos and videos from his Embudo home and turned them over to the FBI.

     Rendleman's supporters believe that Stewart had questionable motivations for launching the investigation. In an unpublished letter to the New Mexican, Kenney, Levy, and Robert Althouse layout, their view that she did so because Stewart "has a scheme, perhaps to make money. I do not know her true intentions, but I guess that she seeks a profitable settlement, and I pray that she doesn't fool the jury or the judge."

All the charges against Rendleman including those of criminal sexual contact are based on images in his photographs and videos.

Lisa Law
Rendleman's Friend & supporter, Photographer Lisa Law
©Laura Egley Taylor
     Strictly speaking, Stewart's reasons for having Rendleman investigated don't matter. Police, investigators and lawyers have spent months sifting through the hundreds of videotapes and photographs seized from Rendleman's house -- and a jury's appraisal of their content, not Stewart's motives, will determine whether he is convicted.

     But Rendleman's supporters blame her for the fact that he is on trial at all. Their concern is that innocent family photos taken by an artist with atypical attitudes toward nudity have fallen under the microscope of a rigid criminal , justice system.

     In addition to potential financial motives, they cite Stewart's psychological history as reason for her to misrepresent what happened to her children. "This is a very, very mentally ill woman," said Barbosa's attorney, Dan Marlowe. Stewart's two youngest children had spent the past year living with Barbosa -- Marlowe and others claim -- because Stewart herself was psychologically incapable of taking care of them. Stewart admits she was voluntarily hospitalized in California in 1998 "for severe burnout, major depression and anxiety (According to a Nov. 24, 1999 letter written by Cron, there is "reason to believe that she has been hospitalized at least four times for psychiatric reasons." He also claims she is on psychiatrist-prescribed medication.)

     Stewart herself has said she is receiving disability payments for mental health problems. Rendleman's friends claim they have long known about Stewart's mental instability. It's why, Drobbin says, Rendleman himself feels no anger toward Stewart. "He feels badly for her," Drobbin said. "We would all like to see her get some help."

Dan Marlowe
Barbosa's Attorney, Dan Marlowe
©Eric Pitsenbarger
     Private investigator and former city councilor Peso Chavez was hired to do a background check on Stewart. His findings are likely to be used in Rendleman's defense.

     Stewart responds that Rendleman's supporters have made discrediting her their main focus. "Understand that someone has to be the scapegoat," she said in a recent interview. "If [Mark's supporters] think that's the position that will best serve them, they can try. It doesn't even affect me . . . I have no animosity or hostility toward Mark."

     Court records attest to a slightly different story. On Nov. 23,1999 Stewart was arrested at Rendleman's Santa Fe home on charges of breaking and entering and battery of a household member. In his Nov. 24 letter to District Attorney Henry Valdez, Cron describes the incident as follows: after attending a court hearing to revoke Barbosa's bond, Stewart "informed her psychologist that she was going to kill MIA Barbosa and then commit suicide . . . The psychologist was so alarmed . . . [she] called Mr. Rendleman's residence [where Barbosa also was living] to advise him of the death threat to MIA" Within minutes, writes Cron, Stewart was smashing a tall plate glass window by Rendleman's front door. While he was on the phone to 911, she entered through the broken window and began attacking him "with various objects she could use as weapons."

     A police report of the incident states that Stewart was "screaming incoherently" during the attack, in which Rendleman suffered minor injuries; he later was taken to a hospital for treatment.

     Six days later, Stewart was released on bond under an order not to contact Rendleman. On Jan. 26, she called him. (According to court records, the call was to ask the whereabouts of Barbosa.) On Feb. 2, Stewart was returned to the Santa Fe County Detention Center for violating the conditions of her release.

     (In a strange twist, Stewart's former husband, Ronald Stewart, also recently was booked into the Santa Fe County Detention Center on an outstanding California warrant for a parole violation. According to Stewart's fiancé, Tony Bearhorse, Ronald had come to Santa Fe to try and take custody of his and Stewart's children. State police records indicate he was arrested Feb. 19 at OfficeMax, after an unidentified person called the police and informed them of his whereabouts and outstanding warrant. Bearhorse has been caring for the children since Feb. 2.)

Mia Barbosa & Elizabeth Stewart
MIA Barbosa (left) & her mother, Elizabeth Stewart, at a recent Mother's Day gathering.
Courtesy of Elizabeth Stewart
     On Feb. 10, a Santa Fe grand jury indicted Stewart on four counts stemming from the incident at Rendleman's house. (At press time she was in jail, expecting friends to post bond for her.) According to Assistant Attorney General Jody Curran, who is prosecuting the case, Stewart herself now faces a possible 13 years in prison.

      Since his Oct. 28 arraignment, Rendleman has been allowed to see his 10-year-old daughter only three times. Because he's under house arrest, his friends say, he is unable to make a living as a Realtor. And, whatever the outcome of his July trial, he is facing a possible 30 years in prison on the federal weapons charges. Still, Rendleman's friends say, he isn't t bitter, but characteristically philosophical and calm. "He is an extraordinary man, a highly ethical man," said Levy. "He is kind, generous, and honest -- the kind of person you're fortunate to know"

     As for the three alleged victims, their lives hardly have been improved. According to Drobbin, Rendleman's youngest daughter "misses her father." Although the child is coping well, Drobbin says she worries about the impact the ordeal will have on the girl.

     Meanwhile, Stewart's two younger children have been in Bearhorse's care for weeks, since both their parents have been in jail. Since October, they also have been barred from any contact with their sister and longtime caretaker, Barbosa.

     "They're basket cases," Law said pityingly. "They're the ones who are being hurt the most."

     Stewart has maintained she only called the FBI to "protect my kids from any further harm." Yet, in a recent interview, she seemed to realize the unforeseen consequences of her actions: namely, the painful ordeal that both her young children and her daughter MIA continue to suffer. "If I could make this all go away tomorrow," Stewart said, "I would."

Private investigator and former city councilor Peso Chavez was hired to do a background check on Stewart. His findings are likely to be used in Rendleman's defense.

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ART OR CRIME? - Follow Up
By Maya Sinha
4 - 10 October, 2000 Santa Fe REPORTER
(©2000 Santa Fe Reporter Copied with permission. )

     "I'm not that optimistic that the case will be dismissed," says Santa Fe artist Mark Rendleman. "I'm an artist, but they think the reasons behind the photographs are questionable."

     Rendleman spoke to the Reporter on Oct. 3, the first of three scheduled days of hearings in the case. Rendleman faces life in prison for the nude photos and videos he shot of three children. [Cover, March 8: 'Family Photos"]. Outside the courthouse shortly before 9 am, a handful of supporters held handmade signs, including "Nudity Is Not Pornography" and "Artists and Parents Support Mark and MIA," referring to Rendleman's daughter and codefendant MIA Barbosa.

     Inside, Rendleman's attorney, Peter Schoenburg, was advising a circle of enthusiastic friends not to wave their signs in the courtroom, "because we wouldn't want the judge to think they're directed at him." Off to the side stood the reason for the crowd of media and onlookers: a slight, soft-spoken man who appeared surprisingly calm. Last October, Rendleman was indicted on a total of 32 counts involving sexual exploitation of children-all but two in Rio Arriba County, and all having to do with the images he shot of his 10-year-old daughter and two other children.

     In the three-day motions hearings in front of First Judicial District Judge Mike Vigil, the defense will argue that Rendleman's photographs and videos are protected under his First Amendment right to free speech, that evidence seized from his Embudo home should be suppressed, and that the entire case should be quashed.

     Rendleman's Rio Arriba and Santa Fe county trials are scheduled for January and February, respectively.

     At his Oct. 24 sentencing in federal court in Albuquerque, Rendleman also could be sentenced to up to 30 years in prison on three federal firearms violations, to which he has pled guilty. In searching his house, federal agents turned up three rifles illegally outfitted with homemade silencers, which Rendleman has said he used to shoot beavers. He said he has spent more than $300,000 defending himself against criminal allegations that resulted from the mother of two of the photographed children contacting the Federal Bureau of Investigations. The mother, Elizabeth Stewart, has since left the state with the children.

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Letters
IS THIS ART?
11 - 17 October, 2000 Santa Fe REPORTER pg. 7
(©2000 Santa Fe Reporter Copied with permission. )

     After sitting through two whole days of the Mark Rendleman hearings, I must say I'm shocked and embarrassed, not by his snapshots, but at the action of my government.

     You say that he faces life in prison for possessing nude photographs of his own children [Outtakes, Oct. 4: "Art or Crime?"]. According to court testimony, the mothers of the kids were present and gave permission when the photos were taken, and none of the images was ever sold or given to anyone outside the immediate family.

     My government is spending millions of tax dollars in a medieval-style witch hunt. In the land of our sacred Bill of Rights, high-paid, out-of-town inquisitors are effectively destroying an extended family because of their private photo record of their life together.

     The courtroom is curiously divided. The defense team is all male. The large (I counted five) prosecution crew is all pursed-lipped women. Back in the Inquisition, all the witch hunters were men, and all the popes had naked children with wings painted on the ceilings of their chapels.

MARK A. LEE
LAMY

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The Body Politic - FOLLOW-UP
By Maya Sinha
11 - 17 October, 2000 Santa Fe REPORTER
(©2000 Santa Fe Reporter Copied with permission. )

     On the morning of Oct. 5, art professor Gary Brown of the University of California at Santa Barbara took the stand in First District Judge Mike Vigil's courtroom to defend the photographs of his former student, Mark Rendleman (Cover, March 8: Family Photos"].

     In the motions hearing slated to resume Oct. 24, Rendleman's attorneys hope to quash the 32 criminal counts against their client for taking nude videos and photos of three children, including his daughter.

     The face-off between Brown and prosecutor Cheryl Johnston about the artistic value of the photos often resembled a high-stakes undergraduate seminar. In fact, said Brown, students at UC-Santa Barbara frequently debate topics such as the line between art and pornography in a discussion series called "The Body Politic."

     Key to the dialogue were nude photos of a prepubescent girl taken by Rendleman, including one showing her straddling his lower rib cage. "Does it appear it could be simulated sexual intercourse?" asked Johnston. "Oh, no," said Brown, slightly exasperated. "That was similar to a pose I could show you 100 years ago."

     Another photo showed the girl kneeling on tinfoil, her body shiny with oil. "Lots of times, a photographer will spray an adult with water or oil," said Brown. "It brings out the highlights." "Do you see sexual coyness in this photo?" asked Johnston. "No," said Brown. "But she is slathered in oil?" "Yes," he replied.

     Brown testified that, while he didn't consider Rendleman's photos of the nude children art, they seemed to be part of his documentary journal that formed the raw material of future art work. "How do you determine the intent of the photographer?" asked Johnston. "Whether the person is an artist or not," said Brown. "Does that mean carte blanche?" asked the prosecutor. "If I'm an artist, I can take any kind of picture I want?... How do you determine whether these photos were used for sexual gratification or not?" "It's not for me to determine," Brown said, finally. "I myself don't see this in them."

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The Top 10 Stories of 2000 - page 10
A Year of Nail Biting

27 December, 2000 Santa Fe Reporter

(©2000 Santa Fe Reporter Copied with permission. )

     We thought the year 2000 was going to be about the collapse of civilization due to the pesky little Computer Problem That Wasn't known as Y2K.

     Nope.

     Civilization remained intact. But there were plenty of times when it seemed like the end of the world.

     Unless you have nerves of steel, surely you noticed that most of the the top stories of 2000 were ones that made our hearts race and our collective hair stand on end. From the devastating Cerro Grande Fire to the disappearance of Robbie Romero to the high-stakes Election 2000, there were plenty of sleepless nights and nail biting in 2000.

    Most of this year's top stories will continue to unfold in 2001. The City of Santa Fe is still grappling with how best to conserve its limited water supplies. The City Council also is forging ahead with a near endless laundry list of major planning items for the city in the new millennium. Artist Mark Rendleman will face trial next year on charges of sexually exploiting children and defend his work as art. Wen Ho Lee is out of jail, but fallout from his case continues. And if all goes well, the Santa Fe-based film The Tao of Steve will be a hit television show sometime soon.

     Of course, some of our top stories appear to be resolved. Most prominently on this list is the presidential election. Barring another twist in the road, George W Bush will be sworn in as president next year. There were many of us who thought it would never happen, but it did. And the world hasn't ended yet.


     THE ARTIST VS. THE PROSECUTOR
- page 20 - By Maya Sinha

     Mark Rendleman's photos blurred the line between art and crime.

     The most-watched legal battle of the year comprised a sort of Rorshach test. Depending on an observer's own ideas about art, sex and children, he or she saw in accused pornographer Mark Rendleman either a criminal or a martyr.

     A full-blown trial is slated for next year, at which point it will be up to a jury to decide Rendleman's fate.
Supporters of Rendleman, 50, and his daughter Mia Barbosa, 25, characterize the circumstances that led to the two being charged with sexually exploiting three children as innocently creative-not criminal-behavior.

     After all, Rendleman's was an unconventional family in which nudity was commonplace. Rendleman also was an acclaimed artist who compulsively documented his life on film and videotape. And friends say Barbosa was the last person who would have intentionally harmed her young half-sister and half-brother.

     But prosecutors say the photos and videos Rendleman and Barbosa shot speak for themselves. In them, three children are depicted nude in arguably suggestive poses-including bending over, on all fours and straddling a nude Rendleman's stomach. Based on the images, the former art professor is charged with 30 felony counts of sexual exploitation of, and sexual contact with, minors. Barbosa, who allegedly shot some of the photos, is charged with 20 similar counts.

     Little was known of Rendleman at the time of his October, 1999, arrest, following an FBI seizure of boxes of photos and videos from his Embudo home. In those materials, one of the children depicted nude was his own daughter, whose mother has staunchly supported Rendleman throughout his legal battles. The other girl and boy were his daughter Barbosa's half-siblings.

    The mother of Barbosa and the two younger children, Elizabeth Stewart, briefly dated Rendleman more than two decades ago. Rendleman's friends have blamed her for alerting the FBI to his collection of nude photos and videos. Stewart says she was only trying to protect her son and daughter, and bore Rendleman no ill will.

     As a result of the events of late 1999, Rendleman made headlines throughout the year 2000, much of which he spent under house arrest, shelling out roughly half a million dollars in legal fees and auctioning off his possessions over the Internet. In July, he pled guilty to three federal firearms violations, after federal agents discovered three shotguns that were illegally outfitted with silencers.

     Last October, Rendleman's lawyers argued before First District Judge Michael Vigil that their client had merely exercised his First Amendment right to free speech, and all charges against him should be dropped. For days, curators and art professors were grilled by lawyers on both the artistic merits of Rendleman's images and their pornographic implications.

     Vigil has yet to rule on whether or not to dismiss Rendleman's two, related criminal cases, stemming from grand jury indictments in both Rio Arriba and Santa Fe counties. Either way, Rendleman still faces prison time. In December, a federal judge sentenced him to a year and a day in prison for the firearms violations. Rendleman's attorney, Peter Schoenburg, says Rendleman was disappointed by the federal sentence, as he had hoped to receive only probation for the firearms violations. As for the pending decision as to whether Rendleman's trial on state charges will go forward, Schoenburg says that, on the one hand, "I think we made a strong, compelling case that this is an artist and a father and that these were family photos." But even if the judge opts for a trial, Rendleman will remain "philosophical and calm," Schoenburg adds. "He is looking forward to having his case heard by a jury and getting this cloud out from over him."

     Sidebar: Mark Rendleman once belonged to a religious group whose central ritual was the ingestion of a Brazilian hallucinogenic tea. Current practitioners in New Mexico are now suing the federal government for the legal right to use the tea for religious purposes.

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