Thursday, August 7, 2008

Santa Fe -- MMMMMM

We recently returned from a short stint in Santa Fe. Such a great town. If you’ve been there then you know there is something special about that site. It’s unclear to me why anyone hundreds of years ago (over 400) was bothering to fight the rugged terrain, but it’s completely understandable why they chose to settle down where they did. Maybe someday we’ll be able to scientifically explain why the air just buzzes with creativity, but for now I’m chalking it up to magic. Every time I’m there I feel like I want to sit down and paint. I don’t paint. Or whip up some O’Keefe-esque abstract pastel. I don’t do pastels. But in Santa Fe, I believe I can. Mind you, I don’t ever actually interrupt my vacation to actually attempt any of these pursuits—but I BELIEVE I could. That’s the magic of the place.

There seems to be a corollary side effect that makes people there believe you can sell anything that passes as creative as well. Santa Fe is considered the second largest art market in the states--just behind NYC. Which is pretty amazing since there are about 70K residents in Santa Fe and it's widely known NYC is a city of over 8 million souls. Canyon Road is considered the heart of the Santa Fe art market. I have to assume that is true, but I have always hoped there was some other top secret grouping of galleries that could only be reached by some hidden portal accessible only to Amex Black card holders. As much as I love Santa Fe, I generally hate a large portion of the art there. Now, before you firebomb me with hate mail, there are BEAUTIFUL arts and crafts to be had. It’s just that as far as I can tell, Canyon Road is chock full of super expensive schlock. The most obvious example would be the several large galleries featuring bronze "sculpture." I’m talking almost life size, toe-headed children, giant women made to look like they are lounging in a pool (you know, the two part sculpture with the head and shoulders one piece and the legs another 2 feet away), cutesy animals. It's unclear to me what the price point is that transforms 'yard art' into 'sculpture,' but I'm expecting the next time I'm in Santa Fe they will be selling bent over plywood fat lady 'sculptures' for several thousand dollars. Frankly, it’s unbelievable to me that this stuff sells to anyone at any price. Judging by the sizes of the galleries carrying this stuff, however, I must believe it.

This trip we only hit Canyon road in the late afternoon. Once after 5 (everything is shut down by then unless there is an opening) and once around 3. This was perfect since the Road is almost completely deserted after 5. So, we got to meander unhindered by the ladies-who-lunch, peek in windows of all the shops and loudly deride those pieces that we hated without offending anyone. Two hours the next afternoon was plenty of time to visit the few galleries that had interesting work, see the pieces up close and verify that there was no way in hell we could ever afford it. I highly recommend this approach to CR. Also, toward the end of the lane there is a great tea house called, appropriately, The Teahouse. They have a very relaxing indoor and outdoor space that’s a perfect place to give your eyes and feet a rest. There’s an extensive menu of tea that you can buy in bulk or prepared in one of their yummy concoctions. They have a nice selection of food, too. I personally had the ‘starving artist’ plate which was just a green salad and bread, but it was very satisfying.

One morning Randall and I split up. He wandered down to the plaza and the history museum there. I wanted to check out the Museum of International Folk Art on the recommendation of a friend of mine. I didn’t feel like driving so decided to walk. It looked like a couple of miles on the map, but that seemed manageable. So, I headed out the Old Santa Fe trail, which for a half mile or so was in town. As I eased up the hill I noticed the sidewalk got narrower and narrower and the hill got a little steeper. As I rounded a corner, I realized this wasn’t going to be a leisurely stroll. The road opened up, the sidewalk ended and all I could see for a mile or so was the road and the mountains off in the distance. I’m pretty comfortable walking and exploring places I’ve never been, so, armed with my trusty Google map, I started up the bike lane. Fortunately, I wore my stylin’ cowgirl hat, so the lack of sunscreen wouldn’t be as big a problem. I made it up to Museum Hill in pretty good time, considering.

The museum is a fine one and I am glad I went. There is currently an exhibit about chairs. There were probably 100 or so from various times and cultures. I thought it was a very well put together and interesting exhibit. It fit nicely into my assertion that ‘enough of anything is art.’ Not that chairs can’t be art in their own right, but when you see lots of various examples of a simple concept like ‘chair’ your perspective changes regarding not only the individual piece, but also the overarching concept. In fact, as a testament to how good the show was, I actually took notes! I never do this. I always see something interesting and think “Oh yeah, Joe Schmoe. I like his work. I’ll have to look him up when I get home.” Needless to say, I can’t remember Joe’s name by the time I’m even half way through the exhibit. But this time, I was prepared. I had the back of my Google map and a pen and I put them to good use. There were several contemporary designers (Random Orbit, Tom Emerson) using (re-using) non-traditional materials in ways that I found fascinating. There was also some work by a 90 year old gentleman (Sam Maloof) that was exquisite. Apparently, he still goes to work every day and uses the same exact traditional tools and finishes that he has always used. It shows. The pieces are alive. I swear, they actually glow.

There was also a temporary exhibit called ‘Needles & Pins’ about textiles and the tools of the trade. Again, a great exhibit with some extraordinary examples of hand stitching and surface design. I spent way too much time in this exhibit and had to high tail it back to meet up with RT. The walk back was interesting because I took a different route to get back to Canyon Road. I was fascinated to find that all the streets between Museum Hill to one block from CR were still dirt roads. As far as I could tell, these were all still within the city limits, so I don’t know what the deal was. Anyway, it was fun to wind my way back through a neighborhood I would have never seen otherwise. And, I was really glad the map was accurate.

The one other thing I’ll say about Santa Fe and then I will end this too-long post. Boy howdy—times are tough even there. LOTS of real estate for sale and not a lot of businesses. Our inn-keeper said that business has been down for everyone even though summer is the high season. I’m not sure exactly what to think of all that. For the most part, Santa Fe is a essentially as resort town. Lots of people have their second or fifth or tenth homes here. From everything I’ve read, the top 1% of earners are supposed to be pretty much immune to the vagaries of the market. Maybe Santa Fe is just feeling the fallout from that realm of the top 10%. Whatever it is, it should give us all pause. . .

Some links for Santa Fe:

Casa del Toro — Billed as a Bed and Breakfast it's really several apartments and small homes all within a block or two of each other. We stayed in a different one almost each night we were there. It was a great way to see several places and to save some $$. It's a block behind the O'Keefe Museum, so super close to everything. Paul runs the show and does a great job.

Museum of International Folk Art

Todos Santos Chocolates -- These chocolates are wonderfully subtle and the little shop in Sena Plaza is a frenzy of color and scents. You must go there.

Nuart Gallery -- This is the best gallery in Santa Fe as far as I'm concerned.

Andrew Smith Gallery
-- Randall would probably pick this one.

The Teahouse

Tia Sophias -- Of course.

10,000 Waves
-- Much to my husband's chagrin, this place has long since been discovered. We managed to slip into the communal tubs one day without a reservation, but I wouldn't recommend it. Call. Make a reservation. Relax.

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