SANTA FE, N.M. – December is the best month to be in Santa Fe. Snow sugars the old town and farolitos – occasionally still the paper bag and candle variety of childhood memory – climb stepped adobe walls. Pinon scents the night air. At the nearby pueblos, feast day dances bind the generations in spiritual traditions as old as time.
A first stop is Coulter Brooks Art & Antiques at 924 Paseo de Peralta. Jan Brooks and Lane Coulter – who is known for such well-thumbed references such as New Mexican Tinwork, 1840-1940; Navajo Saddle Blankets: Textiles to Ride in the American West and Converging Streams: Art of the Hispanic and Native American Southwest -are great sources on New Mexican decorative arts.
Lane pointed me to the exhibition “Nizhoni Shima': Master Weavers of the Toadlena/Two Grey Hills Region,” at the Wheelright Museum of the American Indian through April 17. The show, which Lane calls eye-opening, is based on more than twenty years of research by Newcomb, N.M., dealer Mark Winter. It features rugs and tapestries made between 1910 and the present at the Toadlena and Two Grey Hills trading posts in northwestern New Mexico.
Owings Gallery, which has moved from the Plaza to spacious new quarters behind the Santa Fe Public Library, is another prime source for historic New Mexican art. I was lucky to catch the tail end of “An American Journey: The Art of William P. Henderson.” Like other members of the early Santa Fe art colony, Henderson worked in several media . To eke out a living in this remote spot, the painter founded the Spanish-Pueblo Building Company, an architecture and construction concern, in 1925, and made furniture to go en suite, a la his early employer, Frank Lloyd Wright. Kudos to Owings Gallery for rounding up an assortment of Henderson’s rare Mission influenced furniture, made of heavily adzed pine pegged together with oak and carved with Spanish floral and Pueblo geometric motifs.
Santa Fe has always been a market town, but no one could have fully anticipated the runaway success of its new International Folk Art Market in July, which drew 22,000 visitors in 2010 plus acclaim from the Clinton Global Initiative and UNESCO. Along with the Winter Spanish Market, organized by the Spanish Colonial Arts Society, the International Folk Art Market’s three-day December pop-up shop helps make for a mall-free holiday.
Another success story is the year-old Santa Fe Flea, organized by Walter Borton, publicist for the California-based show promoters Caskey-Lees and a Santa Fe resident since 1996. During the winter, The Flea is indoors at El Museo, a cultural center in the Railyard District. During the summer, it moves outdoors to Santa Fe Downs, the old race track on city’s south side. It has been years since Santa Fe had a traditional flea market like the old Trader Jack’s, which drew a national following for cowboy collectibles and the like. Congratulations, Walt.
The Flea’s most famous vendor is Mary Emmerling. The great popularizer of “American Country” style and author of 24 look books, Emmerling and photographer Dana Waldon recently opened Emmerling Vintage, a consignment shop at 518 Old Santa Fe Trail. Mary must be raiding her private stash, judging by the great looking stuff at attractive prices. Mary is following up her 2006 book Art of the Cross with Art of Turquoise, due out this spring. Photographs by Santa Fean Jim Arndt illustrate these tributes to favorite Southwest design themes.
I hesitate to share one of my most cherished finds, Los Poblanos, the historic inn, cultural center and organic farm in Ranchos de Albuquerque, N.M. The former home of Illinois Congresswoman Ruth Hanna McCormick and her husband, Congressman Albert Simms, the old hacienda is one of the grandest commissions of New Mexico’s leading early 20th century architect, John Gaw Meem. Stay the night or take a cooking class surrounded by original art and design by Peter Hurd, Gustave Baumann, Robert Woodman, Walter Gilbert, Laura Gilpin and other New Mexico notables.
It’s always good to be home in New Mexico, catching up with family and friends. Next time, I’ll check out Americana Trading Company, a new antiques shop specializing in vintage guitars and Native American art, and try a few more restaurants in Santa Fe, maybe the best eating town its size in the United States. Locals say they like Jambo Café, specializing in African homestyle cuisine with European, Arabic and Indian influences; the elegant, upscale Restaurant Martín, run by the Guadalajara, Mexico, born chef Martín Rios; and La Cocina de Dona Clara, a frugal choice said to have some of the best Mexican comfort food in town.