The unsung heroes of art in Taos are the collectors. Taos has a number of collectors who immerse their homes in art. Most of the attention is given to the museums, galleries and artists among us, yet without the patrons of the arts, we might not exist as an art colony. It’s wondrous to walk into someone’s home and notice the artworks someone has collected through their years in Taos.
How does someone get the “art bug” in Taos? Begin by visiting art galleries. It may be a plus to know artists, but the knowledge a gallery owner can share with you is essential. Go to opening receptions where you’ll meet other collectors, artists and gallery owners. Being well informed and reading about art is another part of becoming a collector. Making decisions of what to collect can be difficult. Most of all, don’t be afraid to ask questions and use your eyes.
“If you don’t go into a gallery, you don’t know what’s going on. Besides young artists, what I really look for is people who have a unique voice, and that’s difficult – to convey the passion. The work has to stand on its own,” said Gus Foster on collecting. In 2013, Foster donated a large portion of his Taos art collection to the Harwood Museum of Art. He said he enjoys the process of learning about and sharing his knowledge of the artwork in his collections.
Upon her arrival to Taos, Millicent Rogers began purchasing the paintings of Dorothy Brett, the beginning of an important relationship and collection. “Yesterday, a woman called ‘Mrs. Rogers’ came to see my studio and bought a painting for $300. Isn’t that wonderful?” Dorothy Brett (1947) said to her brother, Viscount Esher. In 1950, she wrote to him, saying, “Millicent Rogers is, needless to say the fairy godmother to it all” (excerpts from “Taos Artists and Their Patrons 1898-1950” by Dean Porter, 1999, University of Notre Dame).
Getting to know artists and visiting galleries — sometimes as much as every week — may help collectors make informed decisions on what to purchase. “It’s almost impossible to not collect art if you live here. You’re surrounded by it. There aren’t that many communities across the country where you can immerse yourself with this much art,” stated longtime Taos art collector Barbara Thomas.
She explained her passion for collecting. “Art is a necessity, not a luxury. Pieces speak to you. Whether you have room or not, you’ll find a place for it.”
Charlene Tamayo is another true art collector. She has a story and knowledge about each piece in her home and what it means to her. As she put it, “It’s just wonderful to have these memories all around me.” On whether to think about a purchase for a few days, she suggested, “It can be gone if you think too long. Better to put something on layaway, which most galleries are willing to do.”
Both Thomas and Tamayo also spoke about their love of a range of Southwest styles and how they meld together in Taos. The spirituality of their collections is evident in the three cultures mixed together. A love of folk art is a dominant theme in their collections, with Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) imagery a primary focus. Local Hispanic folk art bultos and retablos (respectively, three-dimensional sculptures and two-dimensional paintings on wooden planks) create strong statements in these collections. Enhancing their collections are works by contemporary Native American artists, many of whom they’ve been collecting since early on in these artists’ careers.
David Blickenderfer was a teacher, school principal, musician and partner in the art gallery Hunter-Meeks here in Taos. In 1955, he began collecting primarily works by Taos modernist painters. The walls of his “studio” room are filled with his painting collection. A visit with Blickenderfer can become magical as he turns on the stereo to play vintage jazz records of the 1960s. Listen to the music as the abstract paintings all around you seem to come to life, playing off of each other, creating a moment in time.
Some local art collections are not all about Taos artists. Some people collect during their travels. John and Prudence Abeln have been more inclined to purchase art during family trips, bringing those memories back to Taos. Over their years as the owners of Dreamcatcher Bed & Breakfast, they’ve also been collecting art in Taos. They are an example of how people share their collections with friends. During a gathering at their home, they’ll show guests around, telling stories and remembrances of each and every artwork.
Trudy A. Healy’s ongoing passion for art collecting led her to open her gallery, Rancho Milagro Collection. “I grew up in Taos and was surrounded by the arts and as an adult opened my own gallery in the late 1980s,” she said. “At that point, I started my own collections. It’s always fun if you get the opportunity to meet the artist. There is no better way to get to know the artist than through their work. If you’re lucky, you get to meet them in person. The artists are the record keepers and offer the world a historical perspective through art. Art is a kind of intimacy that you can’t live without.”
Marylin “Tumbleweed” Welch has a story for everything in her home. She offers anecdotes about it all and how it came to be a part of her life. On one visit to her home, everything was meticulously displayed. On another, it was all rearranged perfectly. Rather than become a gallery owner, she has been offering art salons, bringing artists and collectors together at her home a few times each year.
“We collect because we want to be surrounded by beauty and want that to be part of our home,” collectors Richard and Pamela Oestreicher stated.
They also strongly suggest speaking with gallery owners and artists, which will help collectors and aspiring collectors make informed decisions. “Try not to make assumptions that gallery owners are all snobs sizing you up on whether or not you can afford the artwork there. Engage them and ask questions.” Richard Oestreicher spoke about visiting galleries this way: “It’s harder than people think. A gallery experience can be impersonal; all are not necessarily conducive to wanting to make a purchase at them.” Overall, their experiences have been positive. He also said, “Buy what you really like, learn more about it, then go out and buy more.”
A collection may include artworks by well-known artists and by artists no one has ever heard of, but it has to be something you love and want to live with. Taos is a place where you’ll be invited to friends’ homes and become immersed in their world.
Art is a major part of many people’s lives here. Each person curates their surroundings in their own unique way. You may or may not have a painting by Tony Abeyta on your wall or a Thom Wheeler, but you might just fall in love with the work of a particular Taos artist and another and then another. You could find yourself collecting the prints of Gene Kloss, or perhaps you purchased an artwork at an artist demonstration or studio tour where you were able to meet and speak with an artist you admire.
Either way, you may have just caught the art bug here in Taos. These collectors all agreed on an axiom: “Purchase what you like.”