Hands On New Mexico: Creating art in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Taos

New Mexico may be one of the USA's least known states but its laid-back, quirky, and artistic vibe draws visitors and new residents. Part of being artistic destination is not only a host of galleries, and street art (although New Mexico has both) but being able to experience art first hand, by creating it.

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The three major arts destinations in New Mexico offer opportunities to get down and dirty with art. And it is a joyful process.

Albuquerque and New Grounds Print Workshop

While Duke City may not be your idea of a haven for artists, in fact, many of the state's creatives call Albuquerque home. The street art scene is vibrant, the galleries are plentiful (and a bit quirky), and photographers regularly haunt the city (and the world) taking pictures and showing them at the juried photographic shows.

But if you want to go hands-on, meet Regina Held. She is the force behind New Grounds Print Workshop and Gallery, the only printmaking program in New Mexico that offers regular workshops to the public from its own well-equipped studio.

I sampled the monotype and linoleum workshops. Thorough, professional, and fun. And I walked out with art... that I made. New Grounds also offer workshops on serigraphy, etching, gravure and more. Some of their workshops are one-day and others go more in depth over several days.

If you're coming in from out of town and have very little flexibility in your schedule, take advantage of their one-on-one teaching. This private instruction is available for any printmaking technique, and it can be planned around your schedule and interests. The cost is $35 per hour + tax for individual instruction (6 hour minimum). If you bring a friend or two the cost per person is reduced (and it's more fun).

New Grounds has another important distinction -- it is green. They use only nontoxic waterbase inks developed by Akua.

Where to Stay in Albuquerque

There's all manner of chain lodging in Albuquerque, but there are three hotels that are distinctive and local. My personal favorite is the Hotel Albuquerque right on the edge of Old Town (the heart of old Albuquerque filled with restaurants and shops) and owned by a New Mexico-based company. It's Spanish charming with a pool, neat bars, and a gorgeous lobby. You can walk to many of the city's museums.

The Hotel Andaluz in the heart of the city's Downtown is locally owned and LEED Gold. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System provides standards for environmentally sustainable construction. The Andaluz achieved LEED Gold certification and is the only LEED-certified hotel in New Mexico.

The Hotel Parc Central is another locally owned upscale hotel. Just off I-25 and Central it has been many things in its history but in its current incarnation it is a bit of a green oasis, giving it its Parc name. The rooftop bar offers panoramic views of the city -- gorgeous at sunset.

Santa Fe and Heidi Loewen

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Just about an hour north of Albuquerque is one of the most artistic cities in the country. In fact, Santa Fe boasts more artists per capita than any other city in the USA. Canyon Road is legendary for the density and diversity of its art galleries. The art spills out from the buildings onto the street turning Canyon Road into an outdoor art museum.

But the trip to Santa Fe would be worth it just to learn from master artist Heidi Loewen. Her gallery, studio, and classroom fill up her space on Johnson Street. But what is even more unusual, is Heidi Loewen's medium -- her gorgeous art is made solely with clay.

There are other artists who work in clay -- their bowls, vases, plates are both lovely and functional. What sets Heidi apart is her artistry and her unusual technique. Her pieces grace walls around the world with their beauty. And even more rare, she has developed the technique of throwing dry.

Clay absorbs water making it soft and prone to collapse. Heidi might be the only teacher in the country to throw with almost no water other than the occasional moistening of a rim or a trickle down a finger to focus a few drops exactly where she wants it to go.

Although pricey, Heidi charges $175/hour per person, her students walk in ready to fashion bowls and platters. The clay is already centered on the wheel and Heidi and her staff do all the prep and cleanup. Everything a student makes is glazed and fired with food safe and waterproof glazes. And if you want to learn her unusual techniques, it is well worth the outlay.

And it's fun. Her philosophy is "have a good time and relax and let your fingers flow in the squish of the porcelain." She believes that the most important thing to bring to her studio is a sense of humor, and a sense of kindness for your own efforts. She's a serious teacher with an extraordinary light touch.

Learn more about creative workshops in Santa Fe at: SantaFe.org and SantaFeCreativeTourism.org

Where to Stay in Santa Fe

Santa Fe abounds with beautiful hotels. The famous La Fonda (which actually means The Inn) sits on a corner of Santa Fe which has hosted travelers for hundreds of years. This latest La Fonda was built in 1922 (and has a Harvey House history) but has been recently renovated.

The Inn and Spa at Loretto offers its own unique history and design. It's an oasis in the bustling center of the city, just one block from the plaza. Its gardens are lovely and a magnet for a cocktail or an outdoor dinner. Their Artist in Residence Program invites local artists to actually create their art in the lobby and chat with guests about their techniques.

The design is pure New Mexico. The architecture is based on the Taos Pueblo with its pileup of geometric blocks, and incorporates the traditional vigas and latillas in the ceilings. Regional art graces the walls, and the rooms are richly decorated with native American touches and warm terra cotta red walls.

At the Luminaria Restaurant Chef Marc Quinones has crafted a wide-ranging menu incorporating New Mexican and native American touches, excellently presented. The menu does change but on my visit, we tried several entrees and they were all delicious (and the breads and my pearfection martin was divine).

On the same grounds as the Inn is Santa Fe's famous Loretto Chapel. The outside is Gothic, but the inside is magic. The Loretto staircase is famous for its two complete 360-degree turns. Standing 20' tall, it has no center support, resting only against the choir loft. It was constructed using only square wooden pegs without glue or nails. The chapel is now a private museum.

Taos and Delinda VanneBrightyn's Fused Glass

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Take the Low Road up from Santa Fe to Taos with its gorgeous views and the High Road back down (stopping in Chimayo for the church and the rug weavers).

Taos is a small but charming town with galleries, restaurants, museums, and whiff of historical scandal. But it also offers multi-day art classes, photographic workshops, metalwork and jewelry making, or even some serious cooking classes. But for those who just want a fun artful afternoon, there is little that can beat a fused glass workshop with Delinda VanneBrightyn of the Taos Institute for Glass Arts.

Delinda starts the workshop with an explanation of the process and materials used in fused glass. The designs, ranging from simple geometric to intricate, are formed using everything from frit (fused granulated glass) that can vary from ground colored glass powder (always use a mask) to coarse pebbles. There's strands of color from thin spaghetti to noodles, to hunks of glass that can be cut to size. And the array of colors outshines a rainbow. So many possibilities vied for my attention that I ended up using a bit of almost everything to create a chaotic and quite colorful glass plate.

Delinda offers Tapas on Glass as well as Sushi on Glass workshops. And they are exactly what you think. Included is instruction, all materials, firings, mailing and delicious food served, of course, on Delinda's gorgeous fused glass plates. The workshops last about three hours and guests can linger over the delicious drinks and food.

Where to Stay in Taos

For lodging in Taos, there's little that can surpass Palacio de Marquesa. This intimate eight room inn is located in a tranquil garden-filled setting near Taos Plaza. The rooms meander along paths giving the feel of a private residence. The decor of all the rooms is light, bright, with whites, greys, and silver tones predominating. A full and delicious breakfast is served in the great room with a colonial Spanish feel.

The Taos Inn is famous and historic and the Doc Martin restaurant (named after Dr. Thomas Paul "Doc" Martin who came to Taos in the 1890s) offers thoughtfully prepared regional dishes focused on local and fresh ingredients. Try Annabelle's New Mexican Chile which does have some heat, but is one of the best, as is their Blue Corn Chicken Enchiladas.

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Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author

Published: 28 Jul 2014

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