Santa Fe just got voted best small art town in America for the third year in a row by AmericanStyle Magazine, muchas gracias, and the art you see everywhere, on cars and houses, flowerpots and front doors, is what makes it such an entertaining place to live. One of my favorites is an ordinary mailbox resting on two big sculpted hands. All that inventiveness and creativity shows up in three stores in town in particular known for eclectic, wonderful "objets," as the Japanese call them. The Yiddish word "chotchke" seems more warm and affectionate, but there's just that trace of a dismissive tone in there. Maybe the French say it best: "bibelot" can cover anything from the silly souvenir to an artisan-made masterpiece.
Whatever the word, Doodlets, a beloved Santa Fe institution on Water Street, Poem, a small bijou of a store tucked away in Sena Plaza, and Casa, a mini-caravansary off St. Francis Drive, all showcase decorative, one-of-a-kind goods for the home, for kids, for you, for collectors, for gifts, and just for fun. Prices range from modest on up, so you won't break the piggy bank. Plan on plenty of browsing time, bring along a sense of humor and prepare to unleash your imagination to really enjoy them.
Walk into Doodlets (owner Theo Raven's childhood nickname) and get into loads of mischief. There's the yodeling pickle, for instance, or the Last Supper lunch box. The fat chicken purse is so laugh-out-loud funny one lady from Texas bought twenty of them. Aside from all the hilarious divertissements, there's a marvelous selection of books and stuffed animals for children, along with whimsical toys that both kids and grown-ups love, especially whatever winds-up, warbles, wiggles, hops or yodels (see above).
Doodlets carries a lot of folk art too, like sterling angel wings from Ecuador, bright Mexican retablos, and hand-painted tin cutouts of hearts and flower nosegays. There are hooked rugs and small woodland creatures made from bark and pine needles. The store always celebrates every holiday with unusual and nostalgic keepsakes. Plus much more, of an assortment, charm and originality to please anyone who enjoys having their fancy tickled.
Poem is the kind of store where you tell yourself you're buying that enticing something as a present for somebody else. Really. Going into Poem is like stepping into a picture book of Paris, or at least a French-inflected version of gracious living. You can become an instant Francophile with a table-top Eiffel Tour of silver glitter, glassware with French inscriptions, and scrolled gilt wall sconces.
Owner Diane James' own collection of vintage white linens create a crisp background to silver-plated gallery trays, a variety of John Derian decoupage, and all manner of tableware, from salad servers to candlesticks. For children there's coloring books, old-fashioned games like jacks, and treasures like a ladybug bicycle bell. The leather accessories deserve attention, and the beautiful gift wrap for sale reinforces the notion that you are really only shopping for a gift. Poem smells good too; the lovely scents wafting out from the soaps and perfumes and sachets add to the feeling of reveling in luxury.
You can do some serious globe-trotting at Casa. Owner Susan Ohori travels widely, and has collected artisan-made crafts, décor and clothing that you won't find anywhere else. Artists and decorators in Santa Fe say they like to go to Casa because it's inspiring for the way it displays things together, mixing ethnic with contemporary design. Embroidered slippers from Uzbekistan, reverse-glass paintings from Senegal, one-of-a-kind carved wooden implements and stools from Africa, and a plastic dachshund light represent a sliver of what's there. The books, toys and accessories for children are just as colorful.
Casa also carries high-end antique Japanese tansus, Chinese furnishings, and textiles from everywhere: ralli quilts from Pakistan, hand-woven silk or woolen scarves and shawls from India and Thailand, and silk ikat chapans from Afghanistan. The jewelry is popular, especially earrings made by artists from London, New York, California and Mexico. Whenever you visit, music pulses through the air. Ohori hosts a world music radio show, "Beyond Borders," Monday nights at 9:00 PM on KSFR-FM, and the store sells a thoughtfully culled cross-section of CDs from everywhere in the world.
So there you are: an introduction to three more reasons that help explain why Santa Fe is called the City Different. After all, you didn't come here just to buy the t-shirt, did you?