With more than 250 art galleries across town, along the famed Canyon Road, circling the Plaza, popping up in the Railyard, Santa Fe, New Mexico is a collector’s paradise. Perhaps too much of a good thing, if that’s possible. There’s more artwork and artists in Santa Fe than you could see in a week if you did nothing else – and that’s just at the galleries.
Santa Fe boasts museums for Georgia O’Keeffe, Native American art, art from New Mexico and more. Even the state capital building has a notable art collection on display.
Then there are the arts markets, the most celebrated of which is the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts (SWAIA) Indian Market, the largest cultural event in the Southwest and the largest Native American arts festival in the country. Indian Market takes place every August and has a winter version as well. Santa Fe’s International Folk Art Market also has summer and winter editions. There’s a Spanish Market each summer.
What about the auctions! Another story for another day.
Art isn’t for everyone, but art can be for anyone. Here’s a guide to help you find the perfect artwork for your collection regardless of price range.
Finding Artists in Santa Fe
Purchasing fine art doesn’t require a trust fund.
Generally, purchasing art in Santa Fe is more affordable than you might think. This isn’t Beverly Hills.
Handmade Southwestern pottery at Andrea Fisher Fine Pottery ranges in price from $2 to $100,000. You’ll find exceptional contemporary pots – big ones – for under $1,000 from a variety of the New Mexico pueblos and if you’re lucky, on the day you’re shopping, one of the artists will stop by with new work.
Zuni fetishes and jewelry at Keshi gallery are precious and spiritual. If you’re looking for a memorable gift for someone special from Santa Fe, start here.
Native American jewelry from throughout New Mexico can be found at galleries around town. The Navajo women creating bracelets under the Etkie brand for sale at Malouf on the Plaza are worth your attention.
Santa Fe artists under $5,000
Prints are a good way to build a quality collection without six-figure income. Earl Biss (Apsáalooke) is where I started. Biss is my all-time favorite artist. Paul Zuger represented Earl Biss in life – no easy task – and has represented his estate since the artist’s passing in 1998.
Galerie Zuger has Biss masterpieces from Paul Zuger’s personal collection retailing for upwards of $100,000. Stop by just to look. They’ll change your life. They did mine. Upstairs from the gallery and open to the public Zuger has a museum of his personal collection of Biss’ absolute best listed as NFS (not for sale).
However, the gallery also sells a variety of jaw-dropping prints in the $3,000 range. These are hand-signed, limited-edition (fewer than 300) and capture enough of the color, spirit and energy of Biss to proudly hang in your home. One does in mine.
I’ve increasingly come to appreciate Muscogee-Creek artist Starr Hardridge’s unique fusion of Pointillism and beadwork which is represented by Blue Rain Gallery. Hardridge had a MAJOR 2022 with representation in a show at the Dallas Museum of Art, a commissioned Wilma Mankiller portrait to be displayed at the Oklahoma State Capitol Building, and a mural project on the Muscogee Reservation.
Hardridge is on the cusp of museum acquisition, but his gorgeous paintings can still be purchased for under $5,000. I’m happy to have him in my collection of contemporary Native American art.
Immediately upon entering James Roybal’s studio, I was hooked. Roybal’s paintings define what I love – expressive, bright colors, Western landscapes, heavy paint application, vibrancy. You feel the joy he has for his work and his subjects when viewing them.
The most difficult decision I had in his gallery was which one I liked most.
Roybal, born and raised in Santa Fe, began his career as a sculptor, gradually transitioning to oils and pastels. He excels in all three mediums.
I was especially drawn to his more economical pastels which were the finest in that medium I saw in Santa Fe. His treatment of light and mood with this medium was dead on. He captures moments brilliantly.
Along with being a great artist, Roybal is a heck of a nice guy spending over an hour talking with me in his gallery. He had no idea I was an arts writer. Any opportunity to meet the artist takes your appreciation of the work to another level.
Santa Fe artwork from $5,000 – $10,000
“Wall power” is an art term for a painting which owns its surroundings. It dominates. It demands to be noticed. Even in a gallery of masterpieces, a painting with “wall power” stands out. Think John Singer Sargent’s “Madame X.”
I first discovered Romero’s (Cochiti Pueblo) work in Santa Fe years ago and have followed him ever since.
One of Romero’s large scale – 48 x 60 inches – northern New Mexico landscapes bursting with color and energy will become the centerpiece of your home. The images are vivid, paint laid on thick with a palette knife.
Smaller paintings can be purchased for under $5,000. Romero has a major painting in the permanent exhibition “Here, Now and Always” at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe. He’s an essential to the contemporary Native American painting genre and American landscape painting.
Romero’s work is represented by King Galleries.
Santa Fe paintings from $10,000 – $20,000
When I first visited Ventana Gallery on Canyon Road, Mescalero-Apache artist John Nieto had just passed. His Fauvist inspired Native American dancers and animals were just out of my price range around $5,000. I’ve regretted passing ever since. His brilliant, joyful, dramatic paintings – big ones – are now selling in galleries and at auction in this price range.
Numerous galleries around Santa Fe have Nieto paintings, but Ventana represents his estate and is the place to start.
Santa Fe artwork over $20,000
Diné artist Tony Abeyta is the king of Santa Fe. His work can be found in a variety of the top galleries, at MIAC, at La Fonda Hotel, it can be found at… Starbucks. A huge Abeyta image is visible on the back wall from the street.
Tony is “the man” and if I were starting a serious contemporary Native American or Western art collection, Abeyta is the first artist I’d buy. Increasingly, the biggest and best of his paintings fetch upwards of $50,000, sometimes more, but if you put the time in and haggle, you’ll find a primo example in this price range.
Owings Contemporary represents him and is the best place to start.
Louisa McElwain died in 2013, the circumstances of her death standing in stark opposition to the joy and optimism of her work.
Forget color, line and composition, McElwain’s work seems conjured out of pure energy. She captures the spirit of New Mexico’s deserts, mountains, and storms. She reached right out and put them on the canvas.
When looking at her work, you feel the sun on your face and the wind in your hair.
McElwain’s primary gallery in Santa Fe is EVOKE Gallery at the Railyard where pictures of the artwork are not allowed. Occasionally, secondary market pieces can be found at King Galleries just off the Plaza.
Spending time with McElwain’s paintings are a highlight of each trip to Santa Fe.
Best artwork in Santa Fe if money is no object ($50,000+)
Just prior to my first trip to Santa Fe in 2018, I saw Ernest Lawson’s “Cripple Creek” in Washington, D.C. at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Of all the paintings I’ve ever seen anywhere, it was one of my favorites. Lawson has become one of my all-time favorite artists.
Imagine my surprise at finding another of his works, “Little Ranch, Colorado,” for sale at Nedra Matteuci Galleries – $65,000 and it’s yours. I’d start my negotiation at $50,000.
“Little Ranch, Colorado,” while much smaller than “Cripple Creek,” features the same unmistakable use of color – seemingly infinite small brushstrokes of innumerable colors laid down right next to, and on top of, each other, until a cohesive image magically pulls together.
Like M.S. Rau in New Orleans, Nedra Matteucci Galleries deals in very high-end, museum quality art. The only Georgia O’Keeffe I saw for sale in Santa Fe was found here: $850,000 for a flower picture the size of a dishrag. You’ll find famed Taos Russian artist Nicolai Fechin on sale here as well. Taos Founders. Gustave Baumann. T.C. Cannon. Diego Rivera.
Matteucci also represents Walt Gonske who, while not cheap, is within reach of many.
Owings Gallery, similarly, features museum quality work including a striking Birger Sandzen landscape that could hang in any Western art museum in the world. The Denver Art Museum holds a similar piece and hangs it in pride of place to welcome visitors to its Western galleries.
My favorite artists from Santa Fe won’t be your favorite artists from Santa Fe. Who will yours be? I don’t know; I do know that with all the options available, you’re sure to find many.