Fiesta dancers / photo: Jack Parsons

Fiesta dancers / photo: Jack Parsons

By Tony Tedeschi

Perhaps it was just a very pleasant anomaly: the opera set in Spain, with libretto in French, at the open-air opera house at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

Cigar Store Indian, Santa Fe / photo: Tony Tedeschi

Cigar Store Indian, Santa Fe / photo: Tony Tedeschi

I managed to get the last two seats, for my wife, Candy, and me to the Santa Fe Opera’s season-opening performance of “Carmen.” Two seats in the nosebleeds, one row in front of the last row in the mezzanine. But, I was told there is not a bad seat in the house, and that was definitely the case, these two, dead center.

In the front courtyard, before being summoned to the performance, we sipped wine alongside men in tuxedos accompanied by women in evening gowns; men in suits, boots and cowboy hats with women in western regalia – the cultural elite of this part of the country. I am a habitué of the cultural meccas of America: New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, Washington, i.e. the big cities, which have a supposed monopoly on artistic experiences. But if Santa Fe is not on your list, then your list is incomplete.

Vendors on Santa Fe Plaza / photo: Tony Tedeschi

Vendors on Santa Fe Plaza / photo: Tony Tedeschi

While it may seem odd that artists, writers, musicians, movie stars and other cinema elite would choose this place far from the congested streets of big cities, the area’s big sky, dry climate and breathtaking landscape has, nonetheless, been a magnet for decades, even centuries, for those who create their particular art and those who would visit to experience their work.

Santa Fe Plaza

For the past four centuries, the Santa Fe Plaza has been the heart of the city. You can just about take your chances that something will be going on in the small park, defined by the four streets that run at right angles around it, whether it be an Indian or Spanish market, scheduled concerts or any manner of impromptu musical performances, community gatherings, political face-offs and more.

Handbags at Santa Fe Plaza / photo: Tony Tedeschi

Handbags at Santa Fe Plaza / photo: Tony Tedeschi

Permanent establishments in the buildings on the opposite sides of the streets that define the plaza, as well as the streets that radiate from it, sell a great range of products, from tourist tchotchkes to very high-end fashion and jewelry, much of it special or one-of-a-kind designs you will not find in even the more expensive department stores around the country.

If boots, belt buckles, vests, neckerchiefs, hats or any other manner of western wear is something you’ve always wanted or simply a matter of succumbing to an impulse buy, you will find it here. If you are prepared to wing it with sidewalk vendors selling jewelry, Indian fashions, pottery, dolls, and souvenirs of many stripes, you will find a block-long row of them beneath the eaves of the Palace of Governors on Palace Avenue, all licensed by the city of Santa Fe.


Courtyards of the New Mexico Museum of Art / photo: Tony Tedeschi

New Mexico Museum of Art / photo: Tony Tedeschi

Just a short walk from the Plaza is the New Mexico Museum of Art. Based on the design of a 300-year-old mission, and originally built as a gallery in 1917, the museum houses an extensive, permanent collection of the work of Southwestern artists.

From its earliest days, the museum encouraged artists to exhibit their work, even attracting them from across the country. The upshot was a blend of

Native American, Hispanic, and European-based cultures, resulting in a unique body of work.   New exhibitions that cover a wide representation of works by contemporary artists are always being mounted.

A short walk from the Museum of Art is the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and for fans of the prolific artist, who all but defined this part of New Mexico in her work, this museum is a must stop. It contains the largest collection of her art in the world, and given that her paintings, when they come up for sale, invariably command prices in the millions, this museum’s collection is nothing short of staggering.

Plaza Area Boutique / photo: Tony Tedeschi

Plaza Area Boutique / photo: Tony Tedeschi

The museum also includes photographs, displays and narratives that place O’Keeffe into context. For those who have experienced her work just peripherally, or were merely curious, you will leave the museum a fan. O’Keeffe’s home in Abiquiu, about an hour’s drive north, is an extremely enlightening addendum to your visit to the museum.

Located downtown on Cathedral Place, the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts is home to the largest collection of contemporary native art in the world. If you want a bona fide purchase of some of the finest contemporary native art, the museum’s store provides many wonderful examples.

There are other museums and many galleries, the combination of which makes a strong case for the importance and sheer elegance of this western influence on North American art.

Santa Fe Railyard

Santa Fe Railyard / photo: Tony Tedeschi

Santa Fe Railyard / photo: Tony Tedeschi

The Santa Fe Railyard is a magnet for locals coming to browse its stalls and mini-boutiques for clothing, handbags, shoes, jewelry and all manner of other items. There is also a Farmers’ Market, now open on Tuesdays, in the heart of the Railyard, where you can stock up on fresh vegetables, fruits, eggs, milk, cheeses, meats, baked goods, chile, teas, herbs, original crafts, body care products, and much more.

For entertainment, there are film festivals, musical performances at local establishments, open jams, open mics and karaoke. On specified evenings, there is Doggie Happy Hour with reduced prices on drinks and treats for the pooch.

A 10,000 square-foot warehouse, right in the heart of the Railyard District, is the base for Santa Fe Clay, where my wife and I have bought fabulous pieces of pottery over the years. The Ceramic Art Center gallery, at the warehouse, offers everything from one-of-a-kind bowls for your onion dip to incredibly detailed works of art.

Fashions at teh Railyard / photo: Tony Tedeschi

Fashions at the Railyard / photo: Tony Tedeschi

You can wander through the studio and watch potter/artists at work. There are also year-round classes and workshops providing an inspirational and creative environment for students ranging from children to adults, from beginners to professionals. The Summer Workshop Program features nationally recognized artists, offering fascinating insights for prospective ceramicists or those just interested in how it’s all done.

The Santa Fe Convention and Visitors Bureau is very helpful in providing advise on the cultural aspects of a visit, including information on the opera, museums, railyard and plaza. We stayed at the Courtyard Marriott, which was convenient to downtown and also a short hop to roads leading to Abiquiu and the Santa Fe Opera.

If you go:

Santa Fe Convention and Visitors Bureau
201 W Marcy Avenue
Santa Fe, NM 87501
Tel: (505) 955-6200

Marriott Courtyard Santa Fe
3347 Cerrillos Road
Santa Fe, NM 87507
Tel: (505) 473-2800