Since Land Water People Time launched in 2014, more than 20 individual artists (including those featured here) have been profiled in the Art Characters series, providing a glimpse into the creative worlds of some of New Mexico’s most gifted artists. From work in paint and prints to clay, wood and music, this year’s selection of Characters once again represents the extraordinary talent that abounds here.
AnaMaria Samaniego (painter, printmaker)
Whether incising delicate grooves into the surface of shiny copper plates or pulling prints by hand to create one-of-a-kind etchings, collagraphs, linocuts and monotypes, award-winning landscape artist AnaMaria Samaniego “had no idea I would pursue art as a career until my last year in high school,” she explained in a recent interview. That encouragement came from a favorite teacher, Lupe Casillas, who introduced the young artist to an array of genres. “She had us experimenting with as many mediums as possible,” Samaniego recalls fondly.
An insight came from photographer David Scheinbaum, with whom she studied. “Work on what you know,” he professed. “I chose to work from who I am. My upbringing had a lot to do with the agricultural land around me, and that led me to painting landscape.” The artist describes her work as “peaceful, serene, meditative and honest, inspired by the landscape in all its forms: light, growth, the seasons, birds, animals, culture. Life!” Inspiration also lies in the work of Degas, Monet, Rothko and Van Gogh, in the canvases of many fellow New Mexico artists, including Tony Abeyta, Sergio Moyano and the late Janet Lippincott.
Samaniego’s preference for working late into the night, “when all the day’s disturbances are out of the way,” is married with her skill at taking “optic snapshots” while driving, then translating those visual memories to the canvas. “These are quick impressions,” she explains, “and are the start to actual work.”
Standing in the middle of Samaniego’s booth at a recent local art fair, surrounded by hand-finished prints of bright yellow chamisa (Amalia), wide, winding rivers (Rio Grande) and snow-dusted evergreens (Azucarado), it is evident that her eidetic approach is working. Just one more step toward the canvas and the doors of El Santuario de Chimayó will surely open (Criatura de Dios); the shadow of a passing cloud will bring a momentary coolness as we trek toward a still-summery mountain tree line (Armonia); the scent of pine will envelop us near the forest’s edge (Hogar de Verano).
Plump, ripe vegetables wait to be picked in Samaniego’s Salsa Collection, a series of etchings that pays homage to her family’s history as migrant farmworkers in her hometown of Mesquite, in southern New Mexico near Las Cruces. The quartet of rectangular panels is popular with Samaniego’s booth traffic. Visitors comment on the artist’s mastery of line and light, and the way she so lovingly captures the intricate details of the fruits of the field.
Samaniego is a member of the Santa Fe Society of Artists, and her work is part of the New Mexico State Capitol’s permanent collection. She has twice been the official poster artist for Santa Fe’s Contemporary Hispanic Market, where she won a blue ribbon for her hand-pulled prints. Gallery representation includes Giacobbe-Fritz Fine Art in Santa Fe and Fyre Gallery in Braidwood, New South Wales, Australia.
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Lone Pin͂on (acoustic conjunto band)
Summer in New Mexico has always been a time for celebrating its many musical traditions. As the high desert days stretch into warm, lingering evenings and cool, starlit nights, the best musicians and vocalists in the state take to the stages and sometimes to the smooth, poured-concrete floors of Santa Fe’s favorite Railyard pub, as was the case on a recent Friday evening.
With songs like “Al Cortar Una Gardenia,” “Bernalillo Boogie” and “Valse Chimayó,” Lone Pin͂on’s lyrical tapestry is woven in English, Nahuatl, Purépecha and Spanish. The signature sound of Lone Piñon — comprised of Santa Fe’s own Leticia Gonzales, Albuquerque-born and -raised Noah Martinez and Missouri/New Mexico-bred Jordan Wax — is fed by the mastery of their respective instruments and by their deep reverence for New Mexico’s most time-honored musical histories, including canciones and rancheras norten͂as, orquesta tejana, huapangos, huastecos and New Mexican and Mexican swing.
That kind of commitment “always takes collaboration,” explains Wax. “Traditional music takes a community. Each instrument has a role to play and fits into the whole in a particular way. Learning to work well as a trio is a process of finding that place for each instrument, getting comfortable with it and learning how to [retain] freedom and creativity within the boundaries of what makes the tradition strong.” For Wax, finding that place is accompanied by his work on accordion, violin and vocals.
Gonzales — mandolist, percussionist and fellow violinist to Wax — elaborates on the importance of finding that balance between adherence to tradition and self-expression. “There’s a wealth of space and diversity and flexibility within each of these ‘fixed’ roles. If I’m struggling with my part, I have to change how I’m listening: pay more attention to Noah’s moving parts or hear only the bigger beats and listen for Jordan’s phrasing. The most important part of being committed to a fruitful music-making process is remembering that it is a process, and change is inevitable.”
Noah Martinez, Lone Pin͂on’s master of bajo sexto, guitarrón, quinta huapanguera, tololoche, and vihuela, rounds out the group’s shared sentiments on collaboration. “Once you find the people that play what you like, you gravitate toward them. You share the research and inspirations you’ve had with each other. When you play music together, you are responding to each other as in a good conversation. It’s about respect. You’re finding what works and what doesn’t. You’re listening equally. That’s when it comes to life.”
Lone Pin͂on has recorded two CDs, Trio Nuevomexicano and Dias Felices. Their third compilation, Dalé Vuelo, is set for release in summer 2018. Catch them playing at venues in Northern New Mexico.
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Jason Garcia (ceramic artist/potter, graphic artist)
Born into a family of acclaimed Santa Clara Pueblo potters, Jason Garcia was introduced to clay early in his childhood. He soon mastered the traditional techniques necessary to pursue a full-time career as an artist, and, as noted in his biography, “I really don’t know much else.”
Garcia’s earliest influences naturally came from this artistic familial environment, where ancient sources of creativity were part of daily life. Gathering raw materials from nearby hillsides to make clay; shaping jars and vases by hand from smooth, moist coils; burnishing dry vessels to glasslike finishes with stones passed down from generation to generation; firing outdoors in accordance with the ancient ways: it was all in a day’s work for the young, learning Garcia.
Growing up on the reservation during the contemporary Indian art movement’s formative years Garcia also took inspiration from over-the-top 1970s superhero cartoons and comic books and color-saturated 1980s video games. Likewise, the pulpy deluge of graphic novels in the late 1990s poured fresh creative ingredients into the artist’s already rich mix of self-expression. From this elemental fusion, Garcia’s now instantly recognizable style emerged: flat clay tablets made with traditional clays, mineral paints and firing techniques but reading like comic book pages.
“Jason has changed the perceptions of a simple clay and made it his canvas,” says pottery aficionado Charles King. “His painted surfaces tell modern stories of the Pueblos and give voice to the untold history of the Pueblo Revolt. On a personal level, they also tell the story of his life as an artist.” His work ranges from elegant, cylindrical vases and steady, bold jars to smooth-edged tiles to detail-rich drawn and painted images that provide a Lichtenstein-esque “pow!” but never drown out the Pueblo conversation.
Garcia’s accolades include top awards at the Santa Fe Indian Market and the Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair and Market in Phoenix. His work has been collected by the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri. He is represented by King Galleries in Santa Fe and Scottsdale, Arizona.
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Miguel M. Chavez (traditional New Mexico furniture maker)
Miguel M. Chavez was born in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and began his art-making journey under the mentorship of his father and grandfather, “building, remodeling and repairing things around the house and for other people.” Those childhood lessons eventually inspired a full-time commitment to a career in the arts. “I was 18 or 19 when I decided to become a woodworker,” explained the artist in a recent interview.
Using traditional carving tools to transform native New Mexico woods into objects of useful and lasting beauty, Chavez works in one of the oldest Spanish colonial art forms, one that has been part of the Land of Enchantment’s creative legacy for more than five centuries. Through astutely observed, time-honored practices, ordinary household items such as chairs, tables and doors are elevated to the extraordinary. The artist’s gift for working in the centuries-old genre — selecting the best kind of wood for the project, carving delicate arches and angles into the chosen variety, hand-finishing the surface to heirloom-quality perfection — produces one-of-a-kind works of art.
In 1992 Chavez was one of 15 New Mexico furniture makers selected to build “art furniture” for the Capitol Building’s permanent collection. Each of his pieces was designed, constructed and hand-finished in the New Mexican/Spanish colonial style, with bold patterns and delicate rosettes carved into naturally colored or richly stained wood. His other projects include restoration of the doors and trim that grace the Professor J.A. Wood House, a historic property in Santa Fe. He also served 12 years as a city council member and county commissioner, striving to develop the city’s arts, culture and tourism attractions.
For Chavez, who takes influence from the decorative persuasions of early New Mexico, making things the old way, by hand, one at a time, is not up for compromise. “I have a small studio in my backyard where I produce a limited production of handmade doors and furniture,” he concludes. “I hope those will get passed down to the next generation.”
Chavez is represented by Chavez Wood Works, in Santa Fe. For details, contact email@example.com.
RoseMary Diaz (Santa Clara Pueblo) of Santa Fe spent much of her childhood in Northern New Mexico and started writing in the second grade. Hundreds of her poems, feature articles and artist profiles have appeared in Native Peoples, Beadwork, Collector’s Guide, Edible Santa Fe, New Mexico Magazine, North Dakota Quarterly and The Santa Fean, among others.