From the decorative bundles of herb selling on the Farmers Market to over 250 fine art galleries on Canyon Road, art is distilled in Santa Fe. Founded in 1610, sitting on the high desert at an elevation of 7,000 feet, Santa Fe is the oldest and highest capital city in the nation. With its diverse cultural history, distinctive architecture, Santa Fe gained its nickname: The City Different.
I felt the difference immediately when we were waiting for the train to downtown at Kewa Pueblo. We were the only two non-native Indians on the platform. When we got on the Rail Runner Train, I saw people in all colors. The train is a double decker with nice seats and toilets. We bought two round trip tickets for just $9. The train ran in the middle strip of Highway 25 passing vehicles. It was a pleasant ride watching the desert landscape reeling by outside the window. We got off at Santa Fe Depot. And the free Santa Fe Pick-up shuttle bus was waiting for us! How convenient it is to tour Santa Fe by public transportation! Santa Fe is a city like no other awaited our exploration.
The free shuttle bus took us to the heart of the city – the Plaza. St. Francis Basilica Cathedral is right next to the bus stop. The bell struck faithfully at 30 minutes past 11 when we arrived. This Romanesque Revival style church features twin towers, Corinthian columns and arches. Day lights came through a large rose window in the front and stained glass windows on the side. A nice dark granite baptismal font sits in the center of the nave. The soft lighting made the altar glow. And the hymn made this holy church a sacred place to pray.
The distinctive Pueblo architecture also make Santa Fe the City Different. Most buildings in the Plaza are in iconic Pueblo style. Across the street from the church is La Fonda Hotel. This adobe-like multi-story hotel has earth colored stucco walls, rounded corners, rows of projecting wooden vigas, and flat roofs. Museum of Art, Palace of the Governors are all Pueblo buildings.
Dozens of native Americans were selling jewelries, potteries, and other crafts under the portal of Palace of the Governors, the oldest continuously used public building in the nation. Native Indians sat against the wall with crafts displayed on the ground in front of them. Some of them had blankets on their knees to keep warm. Tourists walked along the portal browsing and picking up items.
In the center of the Plaza is a square with trees and a monument. Non native Americans also put up a line of stand selling arts and crafts. The necklaces made of flower shaped stones made by a young man were pretty. A band of a young couple named “Half A Shipwreck” were performing under a tree, using some improvised musical instruments.
Galleries and shops filled West San Francisco Street near the Plaza. Arcade in front of the buildings provide shelters for shoppers and street musicians. Vivid leather sculptures of Chinese figures displayed at Galerie Zuger caught my eyes. Talented artist Chan Liu Miao from Taiwan used a secrete ancient technique to make these amazing figurines. The best part of the figurines is the facial expression, which is the soul of each figurine. And it is the most challenging part. The sign on the wall says that “Chan works the leather by pulling, twisting, pressing, pinching, hammering, squeezing, shaving and piercing it in order to create the face, then every part of the body.” A corner gallery had a fine collection of pottery. Some pottery have decorative patterns and shapes, some have colorful relief carvings, some are pure black. There was a display of mini potteries in a glass showcase. The price for the mini wedding vase (No. 783) was over $200. Ouch! I could only afford to take some photos of the potteries. Native Americans also made seed pots into works of art.
R.C. Gorman Navajo Gallery displayed the renown Navajo artist’s estate arts. His portraits of Navajo women were beautiful. The fluid lines and forms as well as vibrant colors captured the nurturing spirit of Navajo women. The red colors in the paintings made me think about the red sand in Monument Valley. Gorman’s abstract realism style earned him “the Picasso of American Indian art” by the New York Times.
The Lensic, Santa Fe’s performing art center, stand out at the corner of the West San Francisco Street with its striking exterior in Moorish and Spanish Renaissance style. The theater features stucco walls and Moorish trim. Intricate carvings of dragons decorate the roofline.
On Old Santa Fe Trail, there are two beautiful churches: Loretto Chapel and San Miguel Mission. The elegant miraculous staircase in Loretto Chapel still puzzles us about who built it, what types of wood were used, and what is the physics of its construction ( lorettochapel.com). San Miguel Mission is the country’s oldest church which was built around 1610. It seems to have the same age as the city itself. The Spanish colonial mission church is a well preserved adobe architecture. Our steps made squeaky sounds on the wooden floor. The old wooden altar screen and the old wooden beam gave the church a solemn and sacred atmosphere. The original big bell was displayed inside the church. And the sound of the bell was enchanting.
Santa Fe is the third largest art market after New York and Los Angeles. Packed with more than 250 galleries, Canyon Road is the place to browse arts. The sculptures outside of Reflection Gallery told us that we were at Canyon Road. There are some fine galleries at 225 Canyon Road. Such as Meyer Gallery, McLarry Fine Art, Manitou Galleries. A giant black color sculpture of a man titled Listenstood by the road. A collection of Jane Dedecker’s bronze sculptures featured family groups and children were showcased in the garden. Among them, a young lady standing on one foot like a yoga pose reaching up to the sky was titled Tree. A sculpture of a horse and a dog entitled Buddies was displayed in front of Manitou Galleries.
A group of wind sculptures caught our eyes. We entered the yard in front of the Wiford Gallery. The giant copper wind sculptures revolved in the breeze. It was meditating sitting there and watching the blazes revolved in a smooth and slow rhythm. A giant white statue of Kuan Yin stood between two redbuds. Nearby were some small Buddha sculptures siting under the tall trees. Crafts from Tibet were for sale in the courtyard. On the yard, there were also water sculptures and fountains made of decorative slab of stones. Abstract sculptures were displayed outside of Pippin Contemporary. The happy pig in front of the Sage Creek Gallery put a smile on every passerby.
Canyon Road is steep and it was challenging to walk up the street for people who have altitude sickness. We later learned that it is better to take the shuttle bus to the top of the street and walk down. The Santa Fe Art Map from the Visitor Center would be a nice guide for touring the art galleries as well.
Santa Fe Railyard is a new district for avant-garde arts. Site Santa Fe features contemporary arts. Warehouse 21 is the art, media, and entertainment community center. Nearby Farmers Market is another tourist attraction. Inside the crowded building we found locally grown food, handmade crafts, bakery and more. There were also vendors by the railway selling food, plants and crafts made of herbs and chili peppers. A separate small art market was located by the railway up the road at the Railyard.
Most museums in Santa Fe are closed on Mondays. So we went to the State Capital instead. To our delight, there are galleries in the capital. An exhibit of the Work of Santa Fe Community College Arts, Design, and Media Arts Faculty Exhibitionwas on display. The skylight of the Rotunda is in the form of native American’s basket weave, and the blue and pink color represent sky and earth, respectively.
Historical Santa Fe is an artsy city with vibrant culture and city life. We only experienced a slice of life in Santa Fe and appreciated its difference.