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.
Then there are the arts markets, the most celebrated of which is the Southwestern Indian Arts Association (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. For a few hundred dollars, Marigold Arts has a variety of original artwork you’d be proud to take home.
Limited edition prints or “multiples” are another good option for entry level collectors. Many galleries offer prints. The most well-known Santa Fe printmaker is Gustave Bauman (1881-1971). You won’t be able to purchase any of his work for under $1,000.
Santa Fe artists under $5,000
Frank Baalam’s tree paintings at Ventana Fine Art Gallery jump off the gallery wall and would surely do the same in your house. While at Ventana, be sure to take time with Indigenous artist John Nieto’s work as well. Nieto, who passed in 2018, is a legend with ever increasing sales prices that have pushed his work over the $5,000 threshold for his most iconic images.
Robert Moore’s colorful landscapes of Aspens and winter scenes straddle a line between Impressionism and expressionism with an undeniable freshness. His paintings make you feel like you’re there.
Big, bold, bright colors define Barbara Meikle. Stepping into her gallery approximates walking into a box of Skittles.
Tracy Felix’ wintry landscapes put a fresh spin on the centuries old genre. Find her work along with Western art legends Oreland Joe, Kim Wiggins, Jerry Jordan, Z.S. Lang and John Moyers (whose prices are much, much, MUCH higher) at Manitou Gallery.
Muscogee-Creek artist Starr Hardridge’s unique fusion of Pointilism, beadwork and Indigenous painting represented by Blue Rain Gallery are dazzling.
Best work (well) under $5,000 – first place
Immediately upon entering James Roybal’s studio, I was hooked. Roybal’s paintings define what we 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 began his career as a sculptor, gradually transitioning to oils and pastels. He excels in all three mediums, numerous examples of which are on display in his gallery.
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.
Overall, there was a great deal of work in pastel and watercolor in Santa Fe, much more and of a higher quality than I’ve seen elsewhere.
Along with being a great artist, Roybal is a heck of a nice guy as he spent over an hour with me in his gallery. Any opportunity to meet the artist takes your appreciation of the work to another level.
Best work from $10,000-$20,000 – first place
“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 work in Santa Fe and have followed him ever since. His work can be seen below and in the featured image of this post.
Romero’s scale is large – 48 x 60 inches. The colors are vivid, laid on thick with a palette knife. The work is at least two paintings in one, very different when seen up close and far away.
Romero’s work is represented by King Galleries.
Best work over $20,000
Native American artist Tony Abeyta’s work can be found in an increasing number of Western art museums around the nation. If I were starting a serious contemporary Native American or Western art museum or collection, Tony Abeyta is the first artist I’d buy.
Best work (well) over $20,000 – first place
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 was a highlight of my trip to Santa Fe.
Best work if money is no object ($50,000+) – first place
Just prior to my trip to Santa Fe, 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. Baumann. T.C. Cannon. Diego Rivera.
Matteucci also represents Walt Gonske who, while not cheap, is within reach of many.
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.artBarbara MeiklecollectingDel CurfmanErnest LawsonFrank BaalamJames RoybalLouisa McElwainMateo RomeroRobert MooreSanta FeTony Abeyta