Which famous artists are from New Mexico

AMERICA: The people of Santa Fe

AMERICA: The people of Santa Fe

New Mexico is also the "land of enchantment", they say. The capital Santa Fe, with over 400 years the oldest in the USA, is shaped by history and the connection to the native people of the country. It attracts artists and bon vivants from all over the world.

Bernadette Conrad

«Look how the city is embedded in the landscape ...» We are standing at more than 3500 meters above sea level - around us scrub, trembling aspen and, further up, even the last patches of snow. Mount Baldy is the highest mountain around Santa Fe. And since the small capital of New Mexico itself is already at an altitude of 2100 meters, you lose your yardstick a bit.

Maria Johnson, 51, tall and blonde and with lively eyes under dark eyebrows, has a loving way of talking about the city below. The sand-colored cubes of the adobe houses, scattered in the desert landscape, actually have a harmony, as if the place had not been built but grown. “There are few cities in America that are so strongly shaped by history and by connections to the native people of the country,” adds Maria.

A place as a spiritual home

She still remembers the moment 30 years ago: When she, then a young model, saw the famous photograph by Edward Curtis, "The Vani-shing Race" from 1904: the view from behind of a group of indigenous people who ride slowly out of the picture. "This picture must be taken in a place that has a soul" - so her thoughts. Although she had made the career leap from England to New York, she knew that she was also looking for something other than the glittering world of models. "I led a restless nomadic life - and made myself a promise not to give up until I found a place that would be a spiritual home." At that time she drove after the photo - to Santa Fe. That’s it. She bought a house in the late 1980s and commuted for another six years, while studying humanities and psychology at the Arts College. "New Mexico is also called the Land of Enchantment - the land of enchantment," says Maria as we slowly descend from the mountain and towards Santa Fe.

Tribes in 19 reservations

The oldest capital of the USA - in 1610, Santa Fe was declared the capital of "New Spain" by the Spanish colonial rulers - the small town of 70,000 has long had an image as a city of artists and bon vivants. On one side of the square plaza stretches along the mighty governor's palace, a massive colonial building - under its long canopy, the indigenous people sit day in and day out and sell their jewelry on blankets. Everywhere the architecture of the adobe houses - flat cuboids with rounded corners - that arose in the Indian pueblos. Its different tribes live across New Mexico in a total of 19 reservations.

The famous “Santa Fe Trail”, the trade route established in 1821 between Missouri and New Mexico, also ended here on the plaza. The whole exciting story can still be felt in the atmosphere - in some old-fashioned hotels or in the jewelry shops and their colorful displays that promise “real” Indian jewelry.

As a teacher with the Zuni

But what does "real" actually mean? Maria is heading straight for a shop called “Keshi”, which lies like a brick shed away from the plaza: “You can only tell if you know the history of the shop and the people,” she says and makes me with the white-haired Robin Dunlap is known who founded "Keshi" - the Zuni Indian word for welcome - many years ago. At that time, Robin had gone to a Zuni reservation as a teacher, a single parent with her young daughter, to teach there. "My values ​​have changed with the Zuni," she says, "how my daughter and I were welcomed there and become part of the community shapes us both to this day."

Robin founded a cooperative to pave the way for the artistic production of the Zuni to become public. Today the two women run the shop for which they buy their art from the Zuni at fair prices. It is people like Robin who at some point brought Maria to set up her blog “santafeselection.com”: dedicated to those businesses and initiatives that are committed to an idealistic spirit, but above all to solidarity with the origins of Santa Fe and its indigenous people.

«Spirit» from the fetishes

The showcases are full of that filigree "petit-point" art that is typical of the Zuni: The turquoise and rubies are set in silver like finely worked splinters. At the center of Zuni art, however, are the fetishes: bears, badgers, dragonflies, wolves, eagles; Animal figures, carved from stone or semi-precious stones, the smallest two centimeters small, the largest meter high. “Fetishes make their 'spirit' and their special powers available to the people who nourish them,” explains Robin. For every fetish you buy at «Keshi» there is a small bag of cornmeal.

But now coffee. In «C. G. Higgins Artisan Chocolate & Chuck’s Nuts Original »A few streets down the street smells of coffee and chocolate. We sink into the coffeehouse chairs and let Chuck - white hair, steel blue eyes - talk about that career-deciding initial spark that he experienced as a twelve-year-old. It was a small family business where he ate home-made nut rolls for the first time - and they aroused his ambition to produce something so wonderful himself.

Chuck, who is from the Midwest, tried his luck in various places, but only found happiness in Santa Fe. "The people here are somehow special - maybe that's why we live in good bonds because nobody takes it for granted to be in Santa Fe." You could spend a lot of time trying Chuck's “specials”: ​​caramel popcorn or chilli pecan brittle, raspberry truffle or homemade ice cream.

Keegan's apple brandy

The ways in Santa Fe are short - almost everything can be done on foot, completely un-American: The existence of Maria's compatriot Colin Keegan also began with a coincidence and is now led with the vigor of a dream come true: It started with a piece of land, on which too many apple trees grew to be able to handle the fruits. “Apple brandy,” beamed Keegan. Calvados. But also whiskey in the Scottish style. His “high spirits” have now been given the highest honors and have won gold and silver medals. Like Maria, he could no longer imagine going back to Europe. Colin Keegan says there is expanse not only in the landscape, but also in people. Maybe it's even related.

Cowboys and chiefs

At the end of the day, Maria wants to show me Canyon Road - that famous art street that is lined up with galleries and sculpture gardens. On the way there she meets an Indian artist friend who has just come from a market.

He tells me that some artists like him concentrate on a single motif: his "power animal", he says, is the owl - and he carefully unwraps a shiny black figure to show me. While we walk past life-size cowboys, bronze figures of Indian chiefs, jewelry, ceramics on Canyon Road, Maria says proudly: "Artists from the area want to stay here - and they want to come from elsewhere in the world." The Swiss writer Milena Moser has recently been living here somewhere. The reputation of Santa Fe has even made it behind Lake Zurich.


On her blog santafeselection.com, Maria Johnson has been introducing the city and its people for years.