ALBUQUERQUE - "Everybody in Albuquerque is an artist, related to an artist, or the friend of an artist," says Don Michaels, a resident of the city for 23 years.
Michaels, founder of The Collector's Guide, a guide to art galleries in Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Taos, says that while each of these areas has its niche in the New Mexico arts scene, Albuquerque galleries have an accessibility that is especially appealing to art lovers who aren't necessarily art experts.
Nowhere is that more true than in Old Town, the heart of Albuquerque's heritage. Old Town has a central plaza that anchors a maze of adobe buildings, some centuries old, that house shops, restaurants and dozens of art galleries. Here are three notable stops:
A stroll through De Colores Galleria quickly reveals why folk artist Roberto Gonzales is known as the "Santero de Albuquerque" (Saint Maker of Albuquerque).
Gonzales is surrounded by dozens of carved saints, called bultos, and other religious icons meant to protect and comfort the faithful, but the piece most sacred to him can't be found in his gallery.
Shortly after 9/11, he began work on an altar screen, one of the most challenging creations of his career. The intricately carved screen, which is colorfully painted in traditional Spanish colonial style, features nine retablos, (paintings on small pieces of wood) and seven bultos. It's topped with two sterling silver figures of the World Trade Center towers.
It represents Gonzales' belief in the power of prayer and embodies his spirituality. His son Desmond, a U.S. Marine, was deployed to Afghanistan shortly after 9/11, and creating the screen became a prayer for his son's safe return and a memorial to those lost on 9/11.
Just after the screen was completed, his most urgent prayer was answered.
"I had just finished putting the crucifix on top of the altar," he says. "About 15 minutes later, Desmond called to say he was home."
The piece is now on exhibit at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe.
Reggie Sawyer's sense of humor is as keen as his eye for Southwestern art and antiques, and both attributes keep customers coming back to the Hanging Tree. The shop has so many cases filled with vintage, Navajo-made jewelry that most shoppers have no trouble finding art meaningful to them.
Indian pottery from the Acoma, Cochiti and Santa Clara pueblos line the shelves, and collectors stop by often to see if Sawyer has picked up any Maria Martinez pieces lately. Martinez, a renowned San Ildefonso Pueblo potter who died in 1980, was known for her black-on-black ware. She perfected a firing technique that juxtaposed a shiny finish and a matte finish on the same pot, allowing her to create beautiful, intricate designs.
Andrews Pueblo Pottery started as a pottery seller in 1974, but the business has expanded to include a variety of jewelry, baskets and paintings by American Indians.
Collectors now come not only to buy pieces by world-famous artists such as Santa Clara Pueblo potter Joseph Lonewolf, but also to see works by up-and-coming artists such as 30-year-old Navajo painter and sculptor Sheldon Harvey, who won the Best of Show award at the 2008 Santa Fe Indian Market.
"In 35 years, this is the only artist who has brought work in the gallery and everyone has agreed immediately to take his work," says gallery manager Yvonne Stokes.
Navajo spiritual traditions are reflected in Harvey's art, and he is known for depicting creation stories in his paintings. Sharing these stories with the outside world required permission from Navajo elders. Some of the images in Harvey's paintings are normally seen only in sand paintings used at Navajo ceremonies.
Tracey Teo is a freelance writer in Indiana.When you go
GalleriesHanging Tree Gallery, 416 Romero Road NW, Old Town; 505-842-1420; www.collectorsguide.com/ hangingtree.
De Colores Galleria, 112 Rio Grande Blvd. NW; 505-246-9257.
Andrews Pueblo Pottery, 303 Romero NW, Old Town; 1-877-606-0543; www.andrewspp.com.
Where to stay
Hotel Albuquerque at Old Town, 800 Rio Grande Blvd. NW; 1-800-237-2133; www.hotelabq.com.
Where to eat
Church Street Cafe, 2111 Church St. NW; 505-247-8522; www.churchstreetcafe.com.