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Under the big top: Festival celebrates 30th anniversary

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Fans know the billowing white tent rising before the Sandia Resort & Casino heralds the opening of the Rio Grande Arts & Crafts Festival next weekend.

Now celebrating its 30th year, the show runs the first and second weekend in October. A kaleidoscopic collection of painters, sculptors, potters, photographers, jewelers and more will gather in time for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.

This year’s show features 200 artists from 31 states.

Corrales’ Charles and Linda Babb have been showing their jewelry since the festival began. The pair make contemporary pieces using silver, brass, copper and recycled aluminum. They also incorporate semi-precious gemstones such as amethyst, citrine, peridot, jasper, turquoise and lapis into their designs.

“I do silversmithed stuff with sterling silver and lapis, turquoise and sugalite,” Charles said. “Linda does mostly aluminum, copper and brass. She makes earrings and pendants.”

Charles Babb turned to jewelry when he was studying for an architecture degree at the University of New Mexico.

“I never got my full architecture degree because I was making more money making jewelry,” he said as he worked on a lapis and opal pendant.

“Usually I’ll start with a stone and then I’ll design around it,” Charles said. “Because there’s so much Indian jewelry in the Southwest, I try to do something with a Southwestern flavor that’s not Indian.”

Today the Babbs sell at shows in Colorado, Arizona and Texas.

“Winter Wind,” bronze and stone sculpture by Mike Greenfield.

“Winter Wind,” bronze and stone sculpture by Mike Greenfield.

Arizona-based Mike Greenfield sculpts figures using both stone and bronze.

“I’ve not run across anybody else doing that combination in 12 years,” he said.

It’s a tricky marriage. First he carves the stone. It might be petrified wood, calcite, granite, volcanic tuff or more exotic versions from Australia.

“I work in wax on the stone,” he said. The wax makes carving of facial features and hands easier, he added. Next he takes it to a foundry to pour the bronze.

“The difficult part can be making the bronze fit the stone,” he explained. He has to calculate for a 7 percent shrinkage; sometimes he has to carve off layers of stone to make the fit.

“Winter Wind,” bronze and stone sculpture by Mike Greenfield.

“Winter Wind,” bronze and stone sculpture by Mike Greenfield.

His piece “Winter Wind” shows a Native American wrapped in a flowing blanket.

The show marks his first in Albuquerque.

"Reflecting" by Brian Billow.

“Reflecting” by Brian Billow.

Colorado’s Brian Billow will bring his mixed-media fine art landscapes and giclée prints to Albuquerque.

The Englewood-based artist spent 15 years in interior design as a decorative painter. He transferred those skills and techniques into fine art after an inspirational trip to Santa Fe and Taos. He noticed a contemporary trend emerging from the standard coyote-in-a-neckerchief fare. Today he uses molten metals to create raised surfaces on both his originals and prints.

“I use two different paints to make the oxidation,” he said. “The trees (in his ‘Reflecting Trees II’) were done with acid oxidating iron paint to make them rust.

Customers can also choose from his more affordable giclée prints.

“It means they use archival inks that are not supposed to fade for 75 years,” he explained. “It’s a print on canvas of the original.”

The molten metals add a shiny, three-dimensional  texture to the surface.

“You can’t really tell the difference; the price is one-third or less than the original,” he said.

Billow often starts a piece with his own photographs. Lately, he’s been scouting necklaces.

“I have a ton of pictures of women’s chests,” he said. “I put that image in my designs. I like doing very clean and contemporary versions of them.”