Discovering the Arts and Culture of Northern New Mexico
As one of America’s oldest and most beautiful cities, Santa Fe embodies the romantic ideals of Southwest charm and style. Visitors come to experience the vivid landscape, arts scene, unique adobe architecture and fascinating history, and like us, end up cast under the sweet spell of the slower-paced desert lifestyle. Since the arrival of the Spanish explorers, visitors won over by the region have come to define the city itself.
One such visitor was the iconic 20th century American painter, Georgia O’Keefe. After spending several years building her career in New York City, O’Keefe sought out new artistic inspiration and made the first of many visits to northern New Mexico, eventually moving and spending the later half of her life here. Her bold, colourful interpretations of the southwestern landscape pioneered modern abstraction and were significant contributions to the American modernist movement. Santa Fe is home to the largest collection of her work, which is excellently curated inside the Georgia O’Keefe Museum.
In the later years of her life, O’Keefe traveled to India, South America, and Asia and was inspired to paint these new exotic places. A beautiful quote near the entrance of the museum captured her philosophy on painting and (perhaps) her travels,
“Where I was born and where and how I have lived is unimportant.
It is what I have done with where I have been that should be of interest.”
- Georgia O’Keefe, 1976.
Like O’Keefe, many artists before and after her time have been drawn to the raw beauty of the Southwest. Santa Fe has a vibrant arts community with hundreds of galleries for both highly esteemed and emerging artists, studios, boutiques and art markets. A few streets southeast of the city’s main historic square lies Canyon Road, the center of Santa Fe’s art colony. Here more than one hundred galleries, studios, and sculpture gardens showcase an extraordinary array of art from both local and international artists. Several museums dedicated to artistic excellence in areas such as contemporary native art, fine art, international folk art and Spanish colonial art can be found within a short drive from the city center.
While visiting Canyon Road we met a friendly local who recommended heading 90-minutes north of the city to the quaint mountain town of Taos. Reminiscent of what Santa Fe used to be like several decades ago before the chic hotels, designer boutiques and larger scale commercialization moved in, the laid back vibe runs strong here. The town is also centered on a small square with a historic main street previously home to many influential artists, frontiersman Kit Carson and the infamous old west gunfighter, Billy the Kid.
Nestled beneath the neighbouring mountains is the site of one of the oldest continuously inhabited Native American communities, or pueblos, in the United States. Estimated at over 1,000 years old, the pueblo has been designated both a National Historic Landmark and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The pueblo is situated along a creek dotted with red willows (for which they are named) with multi-storied adobe complexes on each side. These structures date back to the mid-1600s when the Spanish arrived and taught the locals how to make adobe style brick walls using mud and straw. They were originally built without doors or windows and instead were entered through a hole in the roof with ladders that could be pulled away in self-defense against invading nomadic tribes. These adobe homes have remained family owned by community members, some of which still inhabit them without modern amenities. While the population living in these structures has decreased (most have moved to nearby modern homes), many families use their adobe home to sell pottery, jewellery, folk art and traditional bread baked in outdoor adobe clay ovens, or hornos.
The Taos Pueblo is one of the few settlements in the US to resist displacement and its people have played a significant role in the history of New Mexico. In the 1680 Pueblo Revolt, the imposing Spanish rule on the region was successfully driven out for 12 years. After the 1846 US occupation of what was then Mexican territory, a collective revolt led by Native and Hispanic forces in 1847 resulted in the assassination of the newly appointed New Mexican governor. In reaction to the rebellion, the US Calvary retaliated by bombing the pueblo’s church with cannons, resulting in the death of over one hundred women and children who had sought protection from the war. Only the church bell tower remained and those who perished are now remembered alongside it. The community church was eventually rebuild in a nearby location.
The Taos Pueblo offers an informative walking tour that focuses on these major events and the community’s way of life. To plan a visit to the Taos Pueblo, head to their website: taospueblo.com.
For more information on traveling to Santa Fe, check out their tourism website: santafe.org