In April of 2022, I took a trip to explore Native American art in New Mexico. The visit centered on Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Interesting destinations highlighting Native American art and culture can be found across the state, however.
New Mexico and its various Indigenous cultural sites have pronounced 2022 to be Indigenous Celebration New Mexico 2022 in light of the remarkable number of significant anniversaries occurring across the state this year. I’m thrilled to take part.
This is only the second time I’ve been to New Mexico. My first trip occurred in 2018, right as I was starting to think seriously about transitioning my career from the sports media to art and travel writing. The Native American art in New Mexico I “discovered” helped convince me to switch and has inspired me ever since.
I learned about John Nieto, Mateo Romero and James Roybal among other Santa Fe artists. I visited the state capital which is full of New Mexico artwork. I walked up and down Canyon Road, exploring the galleries.
I just missed Santa Fe Indian Market.
I’ve been looking forward to returning ever since and finally had the chance. Throughout my visit I updated this blog post daily with itinerary items for you to consider on your next visit to New Mexico including restaurants, hotels, galleries and museums.
Native American art in New Mexico itinerary
Day 1: Arrival in Albuquerque
Shortly after landing, I headed to lunch at the historic Frontier Restaurant, right across the street from the University of New Mexico. The authentic New Mexico food is good, the original artwork covering the walls is AMAZING. Surely there are 300 paintings, blankets and objects including a delightful winter Pueblo scene from one of my favorite artists – and one of the top Western artists working today – Walk Gonske, as well as Native American artist B.C. Nowlin.
For proof, look no further than the major Tony Abeyta painting hung between the reception desk and elevators.
I’ve had the good fortune of staying at many “arts hotels” across the nation and Hotel Chaco has earned a spot on my short list of the best. Aside from the hotel’s art collection, a gallery specializing exclusively in work from New Mexico artists, Gallery Hózhó, can be found on property. Hózhó loosely translates in Diné as the interconnectedness of beauty, order, harmony and health.
I mentioned Mateo Romero previously, Gallery Hózhó and Hotel Chaco both have work of his on view.
Day 2: Around Albuquerque and on to Santa Fe
“Breaking Bad” you know is filmed in New Mexico, but did you know the state is making a HUGE push as a filming destination for other movies and TV. That’s why I saw John Cena enjoying breakfast at Sawmill Market across the street from Hotel Chaco… where I was staying, and where I was eating breakfast as well. He’s in town working on a movie project and all the Hollywood types stay at the Hotel Chaco.
Today’s highlight was undoubtably the “Pivot” exhibition of skateboard deck art at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque. I am fascinated by skateboard deck art because the skateboard culture was important to my childhood; I’ve always found the graphics to be provocative and the medium feels ultra contemporary.
“Pivot” refers to the quick transitions many Native people must make between their traditional and day-to-day lives.
Take a look at this stunning imagery – the artistry, the expression! “Pivot” will be on view through February 19, 2023.
Be sure to plan on lunch at the Indian Pueblo Kitchen on site with recipes inspired by Native cuisine.
After lunch we took the hour’s drive north to Santa Fe where we checked into the Hotel Santa Fe Hacienda and Spa, Santa Fe’s only Native American owned hotel. The property is conveniently located near the downtown Plaza area and has a MAGNIFICENT collection of Allan Houser sculptures. You can visit my Instagram page to see those.
Our afternoon activity was a visit to Keshi: the Zuni Connection, a small gallery near the Plaza devoted for more than 40 years to representing artists from Zuni Pueblo. Stunning jewelry, fetishes, pots and Katsinas all sourced directly from the artists make for memorable collectables or gifts. The super-knowledgeable staff shares information on the materials, makers and how to spot fakes to assure your money is well spent.
No other gallery in Santa Fe dives deeper into one subject area from one Pueblo with this kind of focus and commitment.
Day 3: A Dream Come True
For anyone who loves contemporary Native American Art the way I do, the Institute of American Indian Art in Santa Fe exists as pilgrimage site and the soil from which that movement grows. IAIA has been home to Fritz Scholder, Allan Houser, Earl Biss, T.C. Cannon, Kevin Red Star, Tony Abeyta, Cara Romero and dozens more of the most important figures in the genre.
I had the opportunity to visit today and meet with the next generation of Native American artists.
I was able to spend a few short minutes in the permanent collection archives; unfortunately, photographs weren’t allowed. I saw abstract Earl Biss paintings in which he employed a runny oil paint like a wash, using it similar to watercolor on canvas. I’d never seen anything like it from him before. Almost Color Field painting reminiscent of Helen Frankenthaler. They date back to the late 60s and early 70s.
A MAJOR T.C. Cannon painting.
I could have spent the night going through the racks and stacks of objects.
I also toured the studio spaces for students and checked out the exhibition of work from graduating students, having the opportunity to talk with them along the way.
The big surprise today was at the Coe Collection. Ralph “Ted” Coe (1929-2010) collected Indigenous art from around the world for more than 60 years with an emphasis on Native American art. His interest in art eventually took him all the way to becoming director at the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, one of the nation’s finest. He curated shows of Native American artwork that exhibited at the Victoria and Albert Museum in England and lent and donated Native American material from his collection to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Coe’s niece now oversees the collection which numbers over 2,00 objects.
What makes the Coe Center unique is how visitors are encouraged to HANDLE the artworks. Guests can touch the beadwork, the moccasins, the sweetgrass baskets, the sculptures, the totems, the pots.
Doing so provides an experience unknown in the institutional world, intimate, unobstructed by ropes and alarms and security and glass cases. Coe Center staff hand visitors items to break their conditioning of not touching inside museums.
Being able to feel the weight of pots or the texture of beads, smelling the baskets, rubbing leather pouches, tapping drums – all while excitedly being fed information on Coe and the collection by employees – makes for an unforgettable experience.
Schedule your visit by appointment. Staff tailors each guest tour to however many people are in your party, however long you want to spend, whatever your level of knowledge and whatever you are particularly interested in. All free.
It’s a private, hands-on, guided tour of an exceptional collection of global Indigenous art.
Day 4: Dan Namingha
Today didn’t have a highlight – it had two.
I started at Andrea Fisher Fine Pottery, the nation’s premier retailer of authentic Pueblo pottery. Andrea first came to Santa Fe in the late 1960s and has been selling pottery on the Plaza since 1993!
“I was born with the collector’s gene and there is no cure,” she says of her extraordinary collection.
Fisher buys most of the pottery for sale in her gallery direct from the makers who regularly visit her, not on consignment, highly unusual for any art gallery. Imagine the overhead for inventory!
Thomas Tenorio (Santo Domingo Pueblo) was in the store at the time of my tour dropping off new work.
Fisher organizers her pots by Pueblo, allowing novice shoppers like myself to understand the various styles of pottery and compare and contrast. San Ildefonso vs. Acoma for instance. The gallery has an educational mission along with its retail objectives, also introducing customers to the legendary makers from each Pueblo: Maria Martinez (San Ildefonso), Margaret Tafoya (Santa Clara), Rose Chino and Lucy Lewis (Acoma), Nampeyo (Hopi).
Those are the Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Raphael and Botticelli of Pueblo pottery.
Prior to this trip, I knew nothing of Pueblo pottery. Between visits to Hotel Chaco, the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, Coe Center and Andrea Fisher Fine Pottery, I now have a basic understanding of the artform, its production and foundational makers, information I greatly value and am looking forward to expanding upon.
I now recognize Acoma as my favorite style, by the way.
Speaking of Nampeyo, her great grandson – amazingly – is the legendary painter and sculptor Dan Namingha. Dan is part of that first generation of IAIA artists I’m so fascinated with that I mentioned previously. Dan and his family run the Niman Fine Art Gallery on the Plaza in Santa Fe where the artwork of his two sons, Arlo and Michael, are also featured.
Dan Namingha has work in major museum and private collections around the country and has been a leading figure in contemporary Native American art going on 45 years. His large-scale paintings sell for more than $50,000.
I had the incredible experience of spending 15 or 20 minutes talking to Dan about his work and life and art while walking around the gallery looking at his work. It’s an experience I will remember as long as I live.
Dan Namingha was exceedingly generous with his time, humble, open and remarkably soft spoken.
Allan Houser Gallery is right next door to Niman Fine Art, fitting as the two were close friends.
Make that THREE highlights from the day. I finally made it to the epicenter of the Earl Biss collecting universe, Galerie Zuger just down the street from Andrea Fisher.
Earl Biss (1947-1998; Crow) is my favorite artist, bar none. Seeing so much of his work, and so much of his best work, at Galerie Zuger, which has represented him for decades and now represents his estate, was at the top of my art “to-do” list. I wasn’t disappointed.
His ENORMOUS, ‘Four Chiefs, a Dog and a Boy’ (1983) was an exclamation to one of the greatest days I’ve ever had with art.
(It’s $200,000 if you’re wondering)
Day 5: La Fonda Hotel
This trip marks yet another item off my art and travel life list: staying at the La Fonda Hotel.
Anyone who’s ever been to Santa Fe, heard of Santa Fe, has any interest in the Southwest or Native American art has dreamed of checking into the La Fonda Hotel. I’ll stay here two nights.
FREE docent tours of the property detailing its history and art collection (1200-plus pieces valued at over $3 million) are offered Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 10:30 AM. They last approximately an hour.
A haunting painting by Shonto Begay, an artist I’ve interviewed and written about previously, stood out. Find room 297 and you’ll see it down the hallway. Look up the Navajo Shoe Game to understand its meaning.
It was also great seeing work by Del Curfman, another artist I’ve profiled here at SeeGreatArt.
In La Fonda’s exclusive La Terraza wing, all the suits feature window sheers based on Curfman’s artwork. I’ve never seen anything like that at a hotel.
Aside from the hotel’s lobby, hallways and ballrooms, original artwork features in EVERY guest room. Many of the pieces date to the Santa Fe Indian School days and the teachings of Dorothy Dunn. My room included a hand printed silkscreen by Harrison Begay (Navajo), one of the forefathers of Native American painting. Ask for 361 if you want to spend the night with it.
And of course, this jaw-dropping Tony Abeyta landscape just outside the guest elevators. More than any other living artist, Tony Abeyta’s work covers – and defines – Santa Fe.
Day 6: Abeyta Family at Wheelwright Museum
Suppose every year for the past five years – since I’ve really been into art, writing about it, traveling to see it – I visit 20 art museums. A little more pre-COVID, a little less during. Then suppose each of those museums has two temporary exhibitions on view while I visit. That’s 40 special exhibitions a year for five years: 200 exhibitions.
When I think about the most memorable of those 200 exhibitions, Eugene Delacroix at The Met immediately springs to mind. Massive. Historic. Iconic pictures pulled from art history textbooks and major collections across Europe. Once in a lifetime.
Elizabeth Catlett at SCAD Museum of Art. Powerful. Her printmaking – and the topics it explored – a revelation.
David Driskell from the High Museum of Art in Atlanta on view at the Cincinnati Museum of Art. Drop dead gorgeous. Who knew he had such talent?
I’ve seen more Van Gogh’s in a room than most people will in a lifetime at the Dallas Museum of Art.
Franz Marc and Auguste Macke at the Neue Galerie. Breathtaking beauty. Gasping sadness.
From the large-scale brilliance of Tony Abeyta’s paintings, to the exquisite detail and skill in Pablita and Elizabeth’s pottery, the color and storytelling of Narciso’s guache paintings and the crisp, graphic, clean and tight presentation, the Wheelwright should be incredibly proud of the show. Visitors should be lined up to see it and museums begging to borrow it.
See for yourself.
One last high spot on a trip filled with them.