Our six-week Spring Break 2013, 8,907 km road trip itinerary called for 24 hours in Santa Fe. Wanting to make the most of our quickie visit, we were up early to check out of the lovely Parq Central Hotel in Albuquerque and hit the road for the 90-minute drive. We wanted a full day given Santa Fe is a mecca for culture vultures like us.
Though we knew arriving early meant we’d get there before anything opened, the plan was to do some window licking before the shops opened and get a lay of the land before the hordes of tourists invaded the city centre.
The early bird gets the art!
As luck would have it, we saw a Goodwill sign on the outskirts. It was open so we decided to check it out. I quickly found five large (40” by 30’) unsigned abstract colour field paintings on stretched canvas seemingly all by the same artists. It was tough to narrow it down to two, the maximum that would fit into our already treasure-filled Nissan Altima. We chose the two deep psychotic blue pieces, one with some illegible ghost writing adding a poetic element to the painting. The second painting has an even richer blue background wash with just a few bright white markings that stimulate the imagination to develop and play with different interpretations. Oh yes, there were just $15 each.
O’Keeffe Museum / Prison
I had been looking forward all trip to seeing the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum collection and comparing her work to Canada’s goddess of art and nature - Emily Carr. I was surprised at how small the museum was; it seemed just as I was getting into the artist’s work it was over. I was also not impressed with the number of security guards, it seemed as much a prison as a museum.
That being said the museum does a good job of telling O’Keeffe’s life story and motivates one to head out and explore the desert.
The Central Plaza
The central Santa Fe Plaza is not only a National Historic Landmark, but the “heart of Santa Fe.” Many downtown plazas and squares make this claim but in Santa Fe it is most definitely true. While we were there, a military band was playing played on the bandshell with a block-long row of local artisans selling their art and crafts across the street. A wonderful array of small restaurants and shops, line the streets around the plaza, as well as museums and the iconic Cathedral making it very pedestrian friendly.
The Plaza block has been Santa Fe’s commercial, social and political center since 1610. Initially a walled fort, over time it has evolved as the city and the economy of the area changed. Like all good public spaces, it must adapt to changes over time.
Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi
Though the current cathedral was built over a 17 year period from 1869 to 1886, there has been a church on this site since 1626. Its statuesque Romanesque Revival architecture with rounded arched entrance, Corinthian columns, truncated square towers and large rose window above the entrance stands in sharp contrast to the surrounding low-rise, minimalist Pueblo adobe buildings surrounding it.
The inside the Cathedral has all the grandeur of a great European church with sky-high ceilings, rich stained glass windows and other decorative elements. As we entered, the beacon of light shone brightly above the altar while the rest of the building was shrouded in shadow yielding a heavenly, resurrection quality that was a little eerie. The church was full of interesting art and artefacts, making it as much a museum as a place of worship.
One of the most fun things (at least to us) to do in any city is window lick (the French term for window shopping translates literally into “window licking”). Most of Santa Fe’s downtown shops are upscale and to be honest, are out of our price range. We did pop into a few galleries and the two paintings we got earlier in the day at the Goodwill would easily go for $5,000 or more if they were signed and we had some providence.
As a former, public gallery curator, I know our new paintings were done by someone with experience; not the work of some “Sunday afternoon” painter. The thrill of the hunt is to find great artworks in off the beaten path places. They will tell you at the upscale galleries “you should buy what you like!” Well the true test of that is buy something at a thrift store and hang it up alongside works of major Canadian artists like Maxwell Bates, Marion Nicol and Bev Tosh or international artists like Miro, Alechinsky or Appel. It is interesting to integrate “high” and “low” brow art in your home.
Based on a hot tip from Calgary friends, we wandered just off the Plaza to The Shed. The fourth generation of the Shed family serves up some of the most creative and authentic Northern New Mexico cuisine. We opted for the traditional Enchilada Plate and the Pozole and definitely weren’t disappointed. The Shed is well known for its red and green chilli sauce. Before we left were had a tutorial on importance of always asking, “Is the red or green chile sauce the hottest today?” If you want to eat like local, order your “Christmas style” i.e. a little of both. The Shed was packed with both tourists and locals, making it a fun place for lunch and people watching.
Afternoon on Museum Hill
Located a few kilometers outside of Santa Fe is Museum Hill so named because it is home to four major museums and they sit on a hill with great views. You could easily spend all day here, but we had only the afternoon.
For us, the museum that held the most interest was the Museum of International Folk Art which houses the largest collection of folk art in the world. It did not disappoint.
We quickly found the huge Girard Wing (it could be a museum on its own) and the Multiple Visions: A Common Bond, a permanent exhibition with an astounding collection of 1,000s of toys, miniature figurines, complete villages, masks and textiles from 100 different countries. It is perhaps the most colourful, playful and delightful exhibition I have ever experienced. It is astounding how much folk art Alexander and Susan Girard collected starting in1939. Brenda had to drag me out!
And it was a good thing she did as there was much, much more to see. The Hispanic Wings Wooden Menagerie: Made in New Mexico (on until Feb 15, 2015) was a much more traditional folk art exhibition with singular, primitively carved animals and people.
The final exhibition, was Tako Kichi: Kite Crazy in Japan (on until July 27, 2014) explored the art of kite making and kite fighting. The huge floor-to-ceiling (20 foot) kites were impressive works of art with their neon colours and expressionistic designs. We don’t usually spend a lot of time watching the museum videos, but in this case, it was fascinating learning how the kites are made and the culture of kite-fighting. Unfortunately, the day we were there, there were no kite-making workshops or kite flying on the plaza; that would have added another dimension to the experience.
The other museums on the hill are: the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture (housing 70,000 artefacts from prehistoric to contemporary times), the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian (an octagonal building inspired by the Navajos hooghan i.e. their traditional home) and the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art (3,700 objects from around the world from medieval time to modern world). There is a restaurant and several gift shops, and
Dinner at Whole Foods
I am not sure what it is about Whole Foods, but ever since our Lincoln Park, Chicago Whole Foods experience, it seems wherever we go we have to check out the local Whole Foods and often have dinner there. Perhaps it is because we get tired of restaurants and just want something that resembles a simple home-cooked meal. Perhaps it is because of their quinoa salad has quickly become our favourite. For $30, we can enjoy a glass of wine or a craft beer, some interesting entrees, lovely fresh bread/roll and mouth-watering desserts.
Where to stay
Sure, you could stay downtown and pay hundreds of dollars/night for a room. Or you could check out Hotels.com and get a last minute deal like we did at the Best Western Inn at Santa Fe for $70 including breakfast and parking.
Some places, for some reason(s) have become sacred places for humans - both in the past and the present. Some places have an almost spiritual, transcendental magnetism about them. Santa Fe is often placed in this category, as is Sonoma, Arizona. Later in our road trip, someone said Livingston, Montana is their sacred place. I am not sure that Santa Fe is my sacred place, but perhaps 24 hours wasn’t enough time for Santa Fe to cast its spell on me.
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