Art and Studio ToursEnchanted Artists’ Studio Tours throughout the Enchanted Circle
There’s a story, probably apocryphal, that one day in the mid-2000s, during one of his trips to Taos, a multimillionaire hedge-fund manager, ambled in to a certain artist’s studio during one of the Enchanted Circle’s artist studio tours, and was so smitten with the studio, or the artist, or the artist’s art, or by all three (no one can say for sure anymore what really did it), that that’s when he vowed—right then and there—that he’d someday buy a local ski area and turn it into a world-class ski resort. The rest is history, as they say.
Art can have that effect on people. So, too, apparently, can artist studio tours.
Back before the days of galleries and museums, one of the few ways to see art (aside from that on view in churches or in the homes of wealthy art patrons) was by visiting the studios of the artists themselves. And even if you knew the artist personally, showing up unannounced at their studio (the controversial pop-in visit favored by George, Elaine, and Kramer but hated by Seinfeld) could put you at not insignificant risk (no more art for you).
Artists weren’t even necessarily “artists” back then—art was just something else people did, or were good at, or liked doing. Then art became a career, artists individuated (in order to distinguish their work from other artists’ work), money and commerce stepped in, and in no time art—before someone bought it—could be seen only in galleries and museums.
Sure, there’ve been art fairs (either the high-octane ones like Art Basel and the Venice Biennale, or street art fairs, the ones where artists are usually sharing sidewalk space with pretzel vendors and As-seen-on-TV product demonstrators). But, luckily, over the past 10 or more years, there’s been an uptick in artist studio tours.
And more recently, and especially in smaller towns, people—both the art studio tourists on one side and the artists and small townspeople themselves on the other—seem to have caught on to the fact that these tours aren’t just a great way to meet artists and hang out with them in their native habitats, these tours enhance everyone’s experience when they’re also treated as a kind of focused road trip. And on road trips, you’re not just grinding it out on the asphalt, you’re stopping here, getting out there. You’re enjoying your time in Angel Fire, El Rito, Eagle Nest—all over the Enchanted Circle.
Yes, you’re taking in plenty of art, because that’s the goal, but you’re also having lunch at, say, The Bavarian, taking a tour of Taos Pueblo, checking out Red River’s Pierce Fuller House (one of five buildings there listed on the National Register of Historic Places), or going for a quick hike through part of the Carson National Forest.
Between now and October, there are several art studio tours taking place throughout the Enchanted Circle. “Many artists choose to live and work in northern New Mexico,” observes Paul Figueroa, president of the Taos Arts Council. (For the past two years, the TAC organized and hosted a showcase exhibition at the Taos Town Hall, “Taos and Beyond: Open Studio Tour and Trails in Northern New Mexico.”) “The studio tours in northern New Mexico bring cohesion and unity among creative, visual artists, through collaboration as a group. They provide exposure not only to the artist’s place but to their work environment. You see where their art is made and that opens up a conversation about how it’s made, and what’s important in the creative process. Plus, you’re not only having a dialogue with the artist but you’re in this very special location—their studios, their homes, that are often unbelievable and always very welcoming.”
“When people see the space, they tend to ask questions about the process,” explains artist Scott Messick, who’s also the secretary for the Taos Artists Organization, which is putting on the TAO Studio Tour over Labor Day weekend (September 3, 4, and 5, and which will have almost three dozen participating artists). “When they understand the process better, they appreciate the art more. For example, I do fused glasswork. You can go to the gallery and see my work but at my studio you’ll see my rack full of glass, the kilns, saws, sanders, etc. It’s far easier for someone to understand how I go from a sheet of glass to the final product when they can see the space.” The Pilar Studio Tour is also scheduled for Labor Day weekend.
“It’s a casual affair,” says Taos’ Mary Alvarado, maker of mixed-media mirrors who’s been a member of Tao for nine years and who’s participated in studio tours for over two decades. “It’s educational, and what it’s done for the artists up here is bring people to Taos. It’s given the area more exposure and created a stronger network in the arts. So what you have happening now are things like The Paseo, which brings in a younger crowd, it’s more international and contemporary.”
“It provides the artists with a chance to sell pieces during the tour, and to make connections for further sales and commissions,” says Kai Harper, owner of Penasco’s Sugar Nymphs Bistro and one of the participating artists in the 19th annual High Road Studio Tour September 17-18 and 24-25. “People really enjoy seeing where an artist works. Guess it's part of the mystique of it all.”
It’s that mystique element that artists seemed to foster for so long. Until that distance between themselves and their potential buyers—a distance almost enhanced by the middleman presence of galleries, which tended to build up artists’ “mystique”—almost to their detriment. “Hearing what the work is about first-hand, with who created it, is not an easy task nowadays,” says Taos artist Greg Moon. “Now we are going back to the original roots of the Taos colony...many of us choose to interface directly with the public.
These artists’ studio tours are particularly attractive to those artists who don’t have—or don’t want to be in—a gallery. “For artists who don't have a space in downtown Taos, as I do, these tours are an opportunity to get our work in front of collectors,” says Moon. “That means they can sell some work, get some press, and maybe secure representation with a gallery.”
“I don’t choose to go the gallery route,” says Sylvia Luftig, a Raku artist based in El Prado. She and her husband, Dennis, also a Raku artist, invite visitors into their studios during the TAO Studio Tour over Labor Day weekend, going so far as to serve up green chili and cold drinks. “Partly because of the large markup, partly because I have a small inventory of work, and partly because I like meeting the people who buy my work.”
That last reason being one of the more appealing benefits of these tours—for the tourists.
“In addition to everything else,” says Messick, “the art is generally more affordable during the tour. You are buying straight from the source, and many artists view this as a chance to work down their inventory.”
Or show off where it is they’ve chosen to live and work. “These tours bring people to areas they wouldn’t go to as willingly,” says Taos watercolor artist Diane Binder.
“The tours are one of the only ways that people can discover these little villages in northern New Mexico,” says Harper. “And they bring some prosperity to the communities through tourgoers buying from local businesses. People who come up here for a tour are probably more inclined to return after seeing how beautiful it is here and learning more about the area and what it has to offer, such as skiing, hiking, eating in small local restaurants, and visiting numerous farms in the area.”
“They might fall in love with be with the area and buy property,” says Angel Fire artist Jennifer Cavan. “One never knows.”
As a kind of artist-studio-tour appetite whetter, you might want to get prepped for the actual tours with a visit to the Angel Fire ArtsFest, July 8-10. Less than a month after that, Questa kicks off its Questa Studio Tour, August 6-7 from 10 am – 5 pm, where artists open their doors along with shows at venues like OCHO, Art Questa, and Rael’s Market. Then, on Labor Day weekend, September 3-5, there’s the TAO Studio Tour, which will feature dozens of artists opening up their workspaces to visitors. Happy art-touring!
Pictured: Sylvia Luftig, Tiny Conversations, raku, 9 3/8 x 6 5/8 x 14 3/8
Greg Moon, Illumination on Martyr's Lane, Oil, 16 x 16
Jennifer Cavan, Fortitude, oil on canvas 48 x 48
Northern NM Studio Tours At-a-Glance:
Questa Studio Tour
August 6-7, 2016
Taos Artist Organization (TAO) Studio Tour
September 3, 4 and 5, 2016
Pilar Studio Tour
September 3 – 4, 2016
Rio Costilla Studio Tour
September 9, 10 and 11, 2016
High Road to Taos Art Tour
September 17 – 18 and 24 – 25, 2016
El Rito Studio Tour
October 1 – 2, 2016
Abiquiu Studio Tour
October 8, 9 and 10, 2016
34th annual Dixon Studio Tour
November 5 – 6, 2016