The High Road to Taos, and the town of Chimayo, burst at the seams with artistic beauty. On the trip between Santa Fe and Taos, we made our first stop at Theresa’s Art Gallery & Studio, which I had stumbled upon during my earliest visit to the area. What an unexpected treasure!
Theresa Montoya warmly welcomed us to her brightly lit, art-filled space (temporarily closed, as of May 2022), wearing a brilliant pink shirt and a chunky turquoise necklace. She curates and showcases exquisite work, from carvings and weaving to tin pieces and pottery. They reflect Spanish Colonial, Native American and Jewish folk art.
Over the years, the family’s own creativity has become well-respected and collected, with displays in numerous churches, museums, and galleries, including the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. and the Los Angeles Folk Art Museum. Montoya paints with oils, while her husband, Richard, has crafted modern takes on traditional retablos (small, colorful oil paintings, often made on tin, which historically depicted saints, Jesus, or the Virgin Mary), for many years. A big Beatles fan, he has immortalized them on numerous retablos, snapped up by enthusiastic collectors.
Montoya knows the background of every piece she displays, such as when lines on pottery indicate the ups and downs of life. International customers are especially interested in the highly coveted polished black pieces that she carries, from Santa Clara Pueblo. Each pot is coiled and pinched by hand. It’s typically the nation’s most collectable, yet most expensive pottery. “I don’t have overhead and I'm a small businesswoman so Native Americans sell me pieces for less than half of what they sell for in Santa Fe,” says Montoya.
In the heart of Chimayo we stopped, briefly, at Ortega’s Weaving Shop, where the inventory of woven art has grown enormously since my first visit. I recalled the first rug that I bought here, more than 30 years earlier. A little larger than the size of a placemat, but with a much heavier ‘feel,’ it had a smoky gray background with black, white, and magenta designs that included a small bird.
Our next stop was Centinela Traditional Arts, where we encountered large skeins of freshly dyed yarn, drying on a clothesline, in the sun. During my first visit, with a travel writer group, we met co-owners and spouses, Irvin, and Lisa Trujillo.
Irvin bounded into the room and greeted us with all the enthusiasm of a kid in a candy store. Centinela is simultaneously his playground and workspace – a place where he shares the art that has infused his spirit with joy and satisfaction for more than 50 years. His wife, Lisa’s quiet yet welcoming presence provides calm counterpoint to Irvin’s ebullient spirit.
Continuing a seven-generation family tradition of weaving Chimayo blankets, Irvin has fulfilled commissions for Japanese clients, to Ralph Lauren. He was also a National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellow 2007 and held a 2009 show at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe. Lisa is expert in the art of Colca – Spanish regional embroidery – and her saltillos, which take three months to complete, sell for more than $15,000.
Since 1982, the Trujillos have showcased their craftsmanship and that of several dozen additional cottage and consignment New Mexico and Rio Grande weavers. Most of these artisans create their one-of-a-kind fiber art on homemade looms. You’ll find rugs and blankets with striped designs influenced by Mexican serapes, and modern styles with bands of peach, rose, and aqua.
During our most recent visit, we were the only travelers at Centinela Traditional Arts. Lisa wasn’t in, but Irvin allowed us to briefly watch him work on a loom in the back room. We could easily see that he was ‘in the flow,’ while creating his singular art.
Please note: As is common in the travel industry, I may have received accommodations and other compensation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this post, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.
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