Arts

Stayin' alive with Taoseño Chris White's creativity

Local delight

Posted 11/14/18

Sculptor and jeweler Chris White knows well the challenges of being a Taos son, an artist, a husband and father of two young boys. Of course it helps that he was born and raised in Taos to jeweler …

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Arts

Stayin' alive with Taoseño Chris White's creativity

Local delight

Posted

Sculptor and jeweler Chris White knows well the challenges of being a Taos son, an artist, a husband and father of two young boys.

Of course it helps that he was born and raised in Taos to jeweler mother Anne Forbes and the late, great woodworker Lee Driver - both of whom influenced his formative creativity to such an extent that he took a blue ribbon in an art show for "Eagle Dancer with Concha Belt" when he was in the 8th grade, just one year after enrolling in a carpentry class - thus starting his wood-sculpting career off with a bang.

Bryan's Gallery owner Bryan Steger saw White's piece in the show, bought it and brought White into his stable of artists that same year, and where he has been represented now for almost 30 years. Not bad for a kid just starting Taos middle school at the time.

He's most grateful to Julian Romero, brother to famous Taos adobe artist Carmen Velarde. Romero was the Industrial Arts instructor who introduced White and his young classmates to santo-making, encouraging the youngsters to look into traditional woodworking. Santero Romero held up a check from a customer who paid for a carving, showing the kids you literally could take such an activity to the bank.

In the late 1990s, White carved santos alongside Carmen Velarde doing retablos, during the first years of the Arroyo Seco Fourth of July parade, when traditional arts were more a feature along the parade route than nowadays. In 2007 he took first place at "Taos Today Show."

"Jean Mayer at Hotel Saint Bernard buys a sculpture for each of his guests, so that's why some of these are carved with skis," White explained in an interview at the gallery last week, pointing to male and female santos carved with a stylized pair of skis, emphasizing the ski experience offered at the St. Bernard.

"And since skis come in all shapes and sizes, I can imagine guests saying, 'Oh those look like reverse-camber skis,' or whatever, and I say 'Yeah!' It's the most exciting to see what people create after you've finished creating your artwork." This passion he passed along to students in his UNM-Taos woodcarving classes for a number of years.

Though primarily known as a santero, as a child White also assisted with his mother's inlay-jewelry work, teaching himself silver casting in the process. While he continues to help her with some of her artistic heavy-lifting, he has recently officially branched into his own silver work, creating weighty 4.5-ounce or more silver wrist cuffs, styled similar to Navajo sandstone-cast works, which he also shows at Bryan's Gallery.

By age 16, White had helped his father build an Earthship, a type of passive solar home made of natural and up-cycled materials, pioneered by Taos architect Michael Reynolds. Fueled by that experience, since age 18 White has built his own up-cycled home, incorporating found objects, timber, rocks, adobe, post and straw bales.

Not content with being a multi-media sculptor, in 2004 at age 30, he graduated with honors from the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City and is one of six culinary artist chefs in winter months at Hotel Saint Bernard in Taos Ski Valley. So White is accessible both in the Ski Valley and in town at the gallery.

Since 1982, first on Taos Plaza in the Historic Taos County Courthouse (in the same spot as Steger's dad's coin and Indian jewelry shop), and now a block east of the Plaza at 121 Kit Carson Road, Bryan's Gallery is one of the last remaining Taos galleries to specialize in local and regional artists of New Mexico.

Over the years, Bryan's represented Tom Noble, Bill Rane, Ed Morgan, Michio Takayama, Mary Witkop, Miguel Martínez, Bob Rohm, Laurie Hill Phelps, Bernadette Tracks, Robert Shorty and John Suazo, among others.

They also have represented up to three generations of artistic Pueblo families, including the Tracks family of Taos Pueblo, the Quandelacy and Quam familes from Zuni Pueblo, the Toya family of Jemez Pueblo, and the Gutierrez and Naranjo families of Santa Clara Pueblo.

Though specializing in emerging artists, Bryan's also serves as an estate buyer, buying gold, silver, Indian jewelry and old Taos art.

For more information about White's silver and wood sculpting or the gallery, see bryansgallery.com or call (575) 758-9407.

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