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Albuquerque: Stellar Vistas by Man and Nature

Story and photos by Robin Tierney

“We moved here because of the views,” says Cindy Hoffman, as we watch the sunrise over the Sandia Mountains. They loom beyond her Albuquerque lawn in sharp contrast to the molehills that surrounded her previous homestead in suburban Maryland.

After exploring Sandia cliffs and an 11,000-square-mile panorama by sky-tram, we return to ground-level to survey manmade sights. Downtown, the KiMo movie palace beckons with an amazing Pueblo Deco restoration. Steps away at Sumner & Dene Gallery, Roy Sumner Johnson—mastermind behind the Taos and Santa Fe art festivals—spills the beans about “Local Treasures,” a new annual celebration that debuted this past September.

“The state’s first trade was art, in the form of blankets and rugs,” says Johnson, explaining how one designs an event for “a city that thrives with flavor”—an event as colorful as the city’s famous October Balloon Fiesta.

Local Treasures inspiration runs the gamut: Pueblo lore, radicals free and imprisoned, sacred geometry, wild horses, native architecture, indigenous tin work—and those awesome summits. One ceramist glazes with West Mesa volcanic ash, a sculptor hammers laughter out of steel. When not re-envisioning local landscapes, painter Frank McCulloch can be found performing old New Mexican folk songs with Su Amigos.

Chattering beneath “Diarmud: Celtic God of Love,” a wonderfully wicked doll of fabric, beads and metal bits, Johnson erupts in anecdotes. Like the one about the wife and colorblind husband who paint on one canvas, amending and appending each other’s work.

In Albuquerque, artists are as plentiful as red ristras—bunches of dried chili peppers adorning buildings residential and commercial.

The adobe chambers of the delightful Hacienda Antigua Bed and Breakfast, managed by ever-jovial Robert Thompson and his wife Susan, are festooned with all manner of art and craft.

Hand-carved wood “Santos” (saints) line mantels and life-size sculpted pigs and other animals fill nooks and crannies. They mix and mingle pleasingly with the carefully tended gardens and fountains of this urban sanctuary. No wonder the thick guest books are jammed with exaltations. It’s as if each guest is trying to out-praise the others.

Dog-walking in the newly revitalized downtown leads to “Goddess Garb” designer Ginger Quinn. Gabriel Garcia-Chambers beelines to Visiones Gallery, displaying the nonprofit Working Classroom’s mixed-media sculptures of exploited animals.

The 17-year-old crafted an emaciated backyard hound from wood and tape, studding the skin with kibble.

Venturing a few minutes south to the National Hispanic Cultural Center is more than rewarded. We just missed a live flamenco performance, but the sprawling art gallery astounds. Striking works include a hulking mixed media/video installation dubbed “Maybe,” in which Elnar and Jamex de la Torres jolt the viewer with visual puzzles, verbal jabs and a jeering Olmec head. It’s a novel way to explore the cultural border clash between blacks and Hispanics.

Due north, Jan Jackson displays brilliant pastel-on-black animal fables in Dreamscapes Gallery, opened earlier this year. “Thingmaker” Leighanna Light teaches found-object birdhouse-building.

So many venues vie for eyes that monthly First Friday art gallery openings must be supplemented by Third Friday Artscrawls rotating between the city’s arts districts.

In Old Town, we bump into Johnson again at MoRo Gallery, where owner/painter Angus Macpherson’s New Mexico stormscapes swirl and envelop wine-sipping Artscrawlers. Hearing of hospitality shown to out-of-town browsers, he smiles. “We try not to be prejudiced to those not lucky enough to live here.”

Albuquerque trip planning

* Albuquerque travel and tourism
* Summer Nights—June through August outdoor festivals
* Local Treasures, the September arts and culture festival, and other art events
* ¡Globalquerque! world culture celebration in September
* Balloon Fiesta in October
* Sandia Peak Tramway (year-round)
* Hacienda Antigua Bed and Breakfast
6708 Tierra Drive NW, Albuquerque, NM 87107
* National Hispanic Cultural Center
1701 4th St SW, Albuquerque, NM 87102
* Sumner & Dene
517 Central Ave. NW, Albuquerque NM 87102
* MoRo Gallery
806 Mountain Rd. NW Albuquerque, NM 87102
* Dreamscapes Gallery on Fifth
1523 Fifth St. NW

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