New Mexico is rich with history and culture and alive with art — galleries, museums and festivals, not to mention all the artists throughout the state who are working on their craft.
Even if you were to pass through without stopping, you’d notice the murals that stretch across each highway overpass and the large-scale public art (sculptures, mosaics) that seem to be on every street. It’s clear that the people who live here care about art and take pride in displaying it.
The influence of Native American culture gives New Mexico even more depth to its art scene. Visiting the various Pueblos throughout the state is an enriching experience in and of itself, and many of the people who live there are artisans and craftsmen who sell their wares right out of their homes or small shops (paintings, sage smudge sticks, pottery, jewelry and more).
Here is an abbreviated guide on what not to miss when visiting New Mexico with an artist’s eye.
HISTORIC VILLAGES AND ARCHITECTURE
For those of you who are visually inclined and sensitive to aesthetics, i.e., for those of you who are artists, one of the best parts about being in New Mexico is taking in the old adobe buildings. Sometimes they have been abandoned, sometimes they are homes, and sometimes old homesteads have become hotels or restaurants for everyone to enjoy.
Mesilla is a historic town just a few miles from Las Cruces, and it’s comprised almost entirely of adobe architecture — something you just don’t see back East. Its La Posta de Mesilla is a sight to behold, too. The historic restaurant takes up a whole block, with room after room of dining areas, complete with indoor fountains and a huge caged area where parrots live (and will sometimes talk to you as you visit).
Another similar place is Casa de Ruiz in Old Town Albuquerque. The massive house was built circa 1706, around the time of the founding of Albuquerque, though much of its history is unknown. It’s said to be the oldest residence in Albuquerque and one of the oldest structures in the entire state. It was built in the hacienda style, with a classic Spanish U-shape (if you’ve seen the movie “Frida,” it looks like that). It has adobe walls that are more than two feet thick in some places (the thicker the adobe walls, the older the structure). Dining areas lead from one room to the next. Indoor seating will put you in close proximity to gorgeous rooms with a Wild West flair and many images of the Our Lady of Guadalupe (it’s hard not to run into her no matter where you are in New Mexico) and historic photographs. Outdoor seating is just as atmospheric, with twinkly lights, a soothing fountain and lush plants.
The historic Old Town Plaza in Albuquerque is worth a walk-around, too, and it’s quite walkable. One must-see while there is the De Colores Galleria at 112 Rio Grande Blvd. Here, you’ll find a place that’s part shop, part art gallery, showing the work of Roberto Gonzales, the “Saint Maker” of New Mexico. The prolific, self-taught artist, who passed away a year ago, painted images of the saints in his own unique style, many of which are framed with tin that he cut and painted. The gallery shop winds around through several rooms and can be a lot to take in. Take your time.
TAKE THE TURQUOISE TRAIL
The Turquoise Trail, a gorgeous two-lane highway through the mountains, will take you through the artsy town of Madrid. A group of artists settled there a few decades ago, selling their handcrafted art, including jewelry from the stones mined in the region. Eventually, Madrid became a tourist destination, lined with shops and restaurants. It’s easy to spend an entire day here. If you want to stay the night, a unique spot to try is Shanti Community, which rents out cool, old buses and RVs for the night and often has live music around the campfire. You can find them on Hipcamp.
Also, be sure to check out the small neighboring town of Los Cerrillos, with beautiful adobe architecture, a historic church and a dining spot not to miss: The Black Bird Saloon, an authentic, old West pub (their burgers — and service — are phenomenal).
Taos is synonymous with art and is probably the first thing that comes to mind when people think of seeing art in New Mexico. Artists have been flocking here for decades and have made the town the arts destination that it is today.
Taos Art Museum at Fechin House should certainly be on your list of things to see. The home itself shows off the home of Russian artist Nicolai Fechin and his intricate woodwork throughout. But it also houses rotating exhibits, often highlighting artists who were or are significant to the region.
The Mabel Dodge Luhan House is a great option for lodging. The hotel is a National Historic Landmark and a sight to behold. Mabel Dodge Luhan was a writer who used the home to house and foster the work of several artists who passed through Taos in the early 1900s, helping the careers of such artists as Georgia O’Keeffe, Ansel Adams and D.H. Lawrence.
AND SANTA FE
The Santa Fe Opera is world-renowned, so it only makes sense to start there, but there are so many art options when visiting Santa Fe, it would be impossible to choose just one.
Meow Wolf has garnered massive media attention in recent years, and it’s an experience worth seeing. The massive art installation was created by a huge team of artists to be an immersive experience that takes you through a story — visually. You’ll find yourself crawling and climbing as you wander through multiple areas of Meow Wolf, possibly the most stimulating art installation ever created, engaging all five senses around every corner. Meow Wolf began as a large arts collective but the name has become synonymous with their art installations, which are now cropping up in other cities across the U.S. One is slated to open in Washington, D.C., in 2022.
Another must-see in Santa Fe is Canyon Road, a long stretch of galleries that showcase work in all mediums, as well as gift shops and restaurants. You’ll often get to meet artists in their studios and talk to them about their work or watch as they make it. There is so much to see, it’s hard to do it all in a day — but it’s possible. In any case, it’s a place you’d be smart to visit, if you’re in the area.
GET ACQUAINTED WITH GEORGIA O’KEEFFE
If you’re interested in Georgia O’Keeffe but don’t know much about her, a good place to start is the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe. Here, you can learn her history and see a large collection of her work (the gift shop is great, too).
Should you want to dig a little deeper, tours are offered of both of her homes in Abiquiu, one of which is at Ghost Ranch. If you only have a little bit of time, it would be worth your time to at least stop by Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu to stand among the mesas and wide-open country that inspired much of her later work. If you’re familiar with her life and work, it’s not difficult to feel her presence here.
If you want to take it a step further, you could visit the Cerro Pedernal mesa, where her ashes were spread. If you’re looking to camp, a great site to take in Abiquiu and a view of Pedernal is Riana Campground at Abiquiu Dam. Surely, you’ll feel a connection to Georgia O’Keeffe there, and with the reds and browns and silvers of hills and sagebrush and gnarled juniper and pinion pine, it’s not hard to understand why artists have made New Mexico their home, year after year.
Originally published in The Frederick News-Post in August 2019.