Every town has its raison d’être. Ours is Art. We live for it, we celebrate it, we welcome it into our world like the exquisite familiar it is. Creativity sparks and leaps out from every nook and cranny of Santa Fe’s soul, and nowhere is this more obvious than on Canyon Road, the Arts and Crafts Road.
She’s a homely kind of beauty, this skinny little street of quaint old handmade adobe brick buildings hugging the curb where centuries-old magestic trees spread their branches into the topmost levels of sky. But she birthed our well-respected, world-renowned art reputation, not unlike other spectacular births that took place in humble, almost shabby environs. This is not the black and gray high-rise New York art scene, nor those of bustling, decked-out Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles.
No, Canyon Road lures us up her deceptively winding path to enter No-Time, when the first artists, a century or more ago, chose her off-the-beaten-track to launch their bohemian lives to the hilt. Will Schuster’s house remains intact a few blocks away, his distinctive signature looping across the front of it in metal, a tree growing up the middle and through the roof. El Farol is still here, where the original artist renegades sometimes spent whole nights in its embrace, ordering plate after plate of tapas, the joint jumping with live music and lively discussion. Wasn’t that Tommy Maccione, his great white mane of hair flooding into his Santa Claus beard, over in the corner, gesturing wildly and sloshing his beer as he argued with the unperturbed Georgia O’Keeffe, quietly sipping her one glass of champagne, she of the hooded eyes, the eloquent fingers? Every single one of the artists who helped to forge the art scene here in Santa Fe, their spirits linger on, drawing in new generations of artists who believe in — and pray to — the eternal Muse.
Canyon Road is the acknowledged great mother of Santa Fe’s art scene; her progeny are spread far and wide, in galleries tucked up and down the famed little street and out and around the periphery of the Plaza. Gallery owners, each hosts to their own magic kingdom, magnanimously leave their doors open to one and all, late, once a week, participating in what many of us have come to consider the most glamorous evening of the week: our Friday art walks.
As the height of glorious greening summer slowly glissandos into autumnal gold, a crisp sharpness in the air, long waning shadows hastening us into early dusk, lights wink on here and there in galleries up and down the road, bidding us through their welcoming doorways. The quality of light the artists rave about and capture, each in their own way in their Art, enfolds and envelops us.
As if to ward off the possibility of seasonal melancholy, everyone’s dressed in their theatrical best, not ‘au couture’ but whatever they want, whatever suits their mood that night—flirty bared-back little ice cream dresses, capes, starched and pleated tuxedo shirts, lax linen jackets, all of us ready to pay homage. There are galleries galore showing a galaxy-full of art mediums, everything from the gamut of contemporary possibilities to traditional landscapes and still lifes, portraits, painterly weavings, Russian impressionism and so much more, it’s mindboggling.
Each gallery showcases the work of one of its finest artists, and a giant Scene ensues. As we wander from one gallery to the next, our senses heighten as whole new parts of our brains are blown wide by exposure to new visions. Like children, we’re enthralled by this peek into an artist’s unique world. We get to participate in the artist’s dream, and we’re overcome with awe.
And the artist — that featured person in the spotlight? You’re the toast of the town tonight, standing there beaming, our tour guide into the world of your imagination, your work writ large across the walls. You’re mobbed by close friends, family, admirers and even strangers who’ve just happened to stumble into the glamour and warmth and are now enthralledly discovering your work for the first time.
All this attention and acclaim! It’s gorgeous, it’s beyond the beyond, finally! no more tedious explanations and you feel redeemed for all those solitary early morning hours you spent holed up in your studio, keening, desperately trying to understand what it is that’s wanting to come through you — are you serving it or getting in its way? Can you trust your own wayward-seeming intuition? Is all this work you’re producing just hackneyed and trite, a recycled version of what you produced when you were really cookin’ — or is this the best, most original and most accessible body of work you’ve ever done and you’re riding a high that just keeps unfolding, like an endless climax, powerful and sure and true? But wait a minute, even if you really are, now, blessed by the Muse, oh my God, how will you pay all these bills that’ve racked up in the meantime, you can’t eat your art! “Trust in your gift,” the Muse whispers repeatedly in your ear. “People need what you’re able to show them now. They will respond.”
These Friday night art openings keep the momentum building and running all through this grand finale. We all feel it, a great crescendo of Imagination’s harvest, feeding our senses, inspiring us to push back our own boundaries and see what else is possible. This is, after all, Art’s true purpose — not to gather dust hanging on museum walls or above the couch but speaking to us, maybe in a secret language, heard heretofore only in our dreams, grabbing us by the collar, showing us our secret heart in a split second, then throwing us back to ourselves to see what we’ll make of it.
Pulling on our extra layers, it’s back out into the night. We can’t not be in a good mood — it’s impossible, it’s inconceivable — and our spirits only ramp up exponentially as the exhilaration of being outside in darkness punctuated by stars high overhead stirs our teenage passions. We are Allen Ginsberg’s Howl! Everything is illuminated! All around us, gardens are going recklessly to seed, the air pungent with the fertile rot of natural compost and our breath plumes out in great gusts of pleasure, joining with the plumes of our companions, traveling upwards.
From one island of warmth to the next we wander, up the meandering road and side streets, spurred on all the while by The Art, inviting us to take refuge in its state of grace, seeking out the best in each other, the better to recognize and welcome the best in ourselves. We bask, we luxuriate.
Until, in the echoes of the last car doors slamming, we’re ready to go home, ourselves, off to bed. Maybe, if we wish for it hard enough, the Muse will visit us tonight, too. Sweet dreams.
Photos compliments of Waxlander Gallery, Ventana Gallery and Patricia Carlisle Fine Art.