As an artist, Claire Brandenburg has painted landscapes, been a silversmith, and worked with fabric and glass. She had an art card business for a while, traveling around the state selling mostly wholesale. “I’ve done a lot of different things,” says Brandenburg with a smile.
When she became interested in learning to paint traditional Orthodox Christian icons, Brandenburg found herself on a spiritual journey that ultimately led her to join Holy Trinity Orthodox Church in Santa Fe, even though she was living in Taos.
“I thought, ‘Can I go to Santa Fe? This isn’t very practical,’ and then I thought, ‘How can I not?’” she says. “Every time I’d come home, I’d just be filled for the week and have ideas and fuel for a much richer life than I was having before.”
Brandenburg began attending Holy Trinity in 1996, and after years of driving to Santa Fe, started working toward having a church here in Taos. About two years ago, Brandenburg opened Heavenly Ladder as an Orthodox chapel and bookstore, which she manages for Holy Trinity, who owns it.
“The business is totally supporting the church,” says Brandenburg. “And actually, donations are a big part of what we’re doing too.”
Heavenly Ladder recently moved to a larger location.
“This gives us room to expand it and make it more imaginative,” says Brandenburg. “The layout’s perfect.”
The space consists of connecting rooms; one is full of Orthodox magazines, for instance, and another is a family room with tables and chairs, and children’s toys and books, some of which were written and illustrated by Brandenburg.
“We want it to be something that’s fun,” she says, “that kind of encourages children to read, explore ideas.”
In other parts of the store there are CDs and DVDs, gift items and books, not all of which are strictly Orthodox. “We like to mix in some classic stuff with the Orthodox books,” explains Brandenburg.
Heavenly Ladder also carries Russian crosses, hand-painted Christmas ornaments from Greece and jewelry, some of which Brandenburg crafted herself.
The space is a gallery as well as a bookstore, with an abundance of reproductions of traditional icons on display. These are for sale at remarkably reasonable prices. Icon painting supplies such as pigment minerals for egg tempera are also available.
“The icons are very very powerful,” says Brandenburg, “and they really are windows to God.”
If all that weren’t enough, Brandenburg also offers snacks like cookies and cream cheese bagels as well as a staggering variety of high quality herbal teas, many of which she gets from an Indian company.
“I ran into someone who had a tea store in Texas,” she explains, “and he said, ‘I’ve looked all over the world for teas and these are the best.’”
Brandenburg realizes she’s offering “an interesting mix,” but there’s a method to the madness.
“Basically, it’s the concept of something ‘other,’ of another world,” she says. “And it’s a wonderful place for unusual gifts. We’d love to have people come and see even if they’re not interested in Orthodoxy. Just come and experience what we’ve got.”
The new chapel just began holding monthly services with Father John Bethancourt, who comes up from Holy Trinity. There is also a daily 9:30 a.m. “reader’s service” focusing on the saint of the day.
“We do a reading and a reflection about that saint,” says Brandenburg. “I think it’s very special, and it would give someone the flavor of Orthodoxy.”
Brandenburg loves being able to bring her faith into a business. “It feels kind of like the culmination of everything I’ve done,” she says, “which is really incredible.”
Susan Carpenter Sims writes exclusively to create awareness of the critical role entrepreneurship plays in our community.