David Anthony Mapes opened his eponymous fine art gallery in November of 2011. The space served as both a showroom for his New Mexico Furniture Company and an art gallery. He has revitalized the Taos Gallery Association, while helping create more community between the artists themselves.
Longtime Wilder Nightingale Fine Art gallerist and artist Rob Nightingale (a 2019 Unsung Hero himself), said he’s happy to hear Mapes is being recognized.
“Several years ago, the Taos Gallery Association had gone into hibernation,” Nightingale said in an email. “Lack of participation was a major factor. One day David came by and asked me if it was still active. I said yes, I'm just waiting for someone to step up to the plate. Well, he did. He rallied galleries and artists studios to join, re-did the website, tried effortlessly to get everyone involved with sharing events though the TGA and social media, etc. Always brainstorming on how to put the Taos Art scene ‘OUT’ there for all to see (visitors, locals and local government) and show the importance and vitality the Taos art scene is to Taos and its economy.”
“Taos has always been about the arts,” Mapes said, “and I feel the need to make certain that the focus stays there, which is why I try to be involved in all aspects of marketing Taos.”
We posed a few questions to Mapes recently, after informing him he was a 2020 Unsung Hero.
Tell us how you landed in Taos?
My father (David Mapes) brought me here with my brother Larry and sister Maria when I was 11 years old for a visit in 1969. He was introduced to Taos by his childhood friend Ken Jenkins, writer, educator and husband of the longtime, revered Taos teacher Nancy Jenkins. My father moved to Taos soon afterward and opened the toy store Tio Vivo with his new wife Kathy. As a creative soul, Taos spoke to me in ways Los Angeles never was going to. By the time I turned 18, I knew I was going to live in Taos.
Can you talk a little about your life prior to arriving here?
I grew up just north of downtown Los Angeles, in Granada Hills in the San Fernando Valley in a house my grandfather built. In the beginning it was quite rural and relatively close to the beach. The valley developed quickly and freeways were springing up everywhere.
I had a lot of freedom as a kid,
I rode my bicycle all over the valley and spent hours with my brother digging holes and playing with matchbox cars in the dirt.
Our family was involved with the civil rights fight and attended many demonstrations for equal rights and against the Vietnam war. As the police became more of an antagonizing force causing violence and riots, my parents stopped taking us as the events became more dangerous. We worked from home volunteering for the NAACP. I had my first membership card when I was 7.
I attended college, but was hell bent on starting my own business, a business that combined art and science, my two favorite subjects. After a few typical jobs as a gas station attendant and pizza delivery guy, I started working for Hillview Community Mental Health Center (formally Golden State). My mother, Eva, worked there along with a family friend of my parents from our NAACP volunteer days, executive director Carl McCraven, who eventually became my mother’s second husband. I was fortunate to have two fathers. My extended family was a bonus.
At 21 I started working for Astro Pyrotechnics (with a little help from my brother) where I met a mentor, nationally renowned pyrotechnic designer Gene Evans. Still working for Hillview, I cut my teeth on professional fireworks on weekends at the Hollywood Bowl, often shooting pyrotechnics in sync to the beat of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Eventually I became a licensed pyrotechnician and then the fireworks displays supervisor for Knott’s Berry Farm and Six Flags Magic Mountain, two major theme parks in Southern California.
During all this, at 18, after inheriting my grandfather’s woodworking tools, I had been building exotic hardwood jewelry boxes and started a business called “The Way of the Grain.” By the mid-’80s I was still longing to make Taos my home. My brother built this giant trailer from the frame of an old Airstream and he helped me move a literal mountain of stuff from L.A. to Taos.
You are a furniture maker as well as a gallery owner – how have you managed to juggle the two over the years?
When I came here I branched into furniture-making pretty quickly. First I started building for other people, but soon had my own designs and style. Things were going well until the Great Recession of 2008. I pretty much had to start over. My wholesale accounts ended overnight and it took a while to reach the retail market directly. That’s how the gallery started.
Soon after arriving in the Kit Carson Road space with many empty walls, I reached out to artists I had forged relationships with through my art-panel and stretcher business to see if they would like to show. I had a prior experience with having an art gallery in the 1990s, called “Flower Power” in a new addition to the Cantu Building. The location was very difficult for a gallery so I closed it after a short time.
But this time I thought I would go big. Initially we were on a good track, I made lots of furniture and that separated my gallery from the others. But the gallery business was changing and I wasn’t changing fast enough to keep up. Also, my enthusiasm for building furniture was waning. And I had become more active in the community.
Three years ago I enrolled back in school, this time in a great program at UNM-Taos Digital Media Arts – essentially film school.
I continue in classes today. I saw it as a potential career change opportunity as I had some experience in the industry when I lived in Los Angeles. Only now it is on the computer and I can turn my imagination into film mostly in the comfort of my own home.
You have spent the past several years marketing and promoting art in Taos. Do you feel that your efforts have paid off?
Absolutely. There was no citizen involvement other than an unofficial marketing group (Tuesday Marketing Group) that met weekly over the phone with the PR firm and a group focused on collaborative advertising.
There were successes. And the PR firm was often working in a vacuum because there was not enough input from the community. People would send details about a weekend event days before it was to occur, not with enough time to market it. Also there were a lot of relationships between different groups such that the whole marketing thing was hard to understand. It was complicated.
In the meantime, out of frustration with the lack of any real influence by the Tuesday Marketing Group, I was working on the idea of an official marketing committee sanctioned by the town of Taos.
I looked at different marketing committees and found some by-laws that could work and began re-writing them to fit a government model. Town councilor at the time, former Taos Mayor Fred Peralta, graciously agreed to help me make the bylaws work and current town manager Rick Bellis helped with the final edits while being supportive of the community involvement.
We were ratified by the town council; members are nominated by the mayor and confirmed by the council in the spirit of community involvement. The committee members are representative of the various interests in Taos. In marketing Taos we cannot and will not trample on our own cultures and risk destroying them in the process. There has to be a balance.
The committee has a history of successfully leading the Town into new marketing directions via input from the community. We have influence but we don’t attempt to micromanage the town’s director of marketing and tourism Karina Armijo, because she listens and makes adjustments based on the input of the citizens who show up, as well as from direct recommendations by the committee.
How are you holding up in these days of uncertainty?
As well as the rest of us I imagine.
For me, it took some time to get over the shock, and as is with shock, I didn’t know I had it until I got over it. Then there is the reality to deal with. When I came to realize that this is having a profound impact on society and how it will impact us for years to come, I decided in spite of the devastation and tragedy, we may come out all the better since it’s forcing us to reevaluate our lives and society. Nothing like a cold hard stop to what was madness anyways.