ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — When Ruth Gore was working as a reading specialist in Texas, she always scoured the local art shows.
The University of New Mexico graduate had majored in art. A photographer, she had a hard time navigating a darkroom with two children under 3 underfoot.
“I’ve always been creative,” she said. “I picked up applications at shows as the beginning of my research.”
She decided to launch the Rio Grande Arts & Crafts Festival after she and her husband, Chester, moved back to Albuquerque.
The urge to host events evolved from her Illinois childhood.
“When I was a kid, my friends and I would organize little backyard shows for the” neighborhood, she said.
“I did a lot of research on the shows here,” she continued. “There were a lot of smaller shows back then in churches and schools. I went to any show that had artists.”
The idea of erecting that trademark tent generated from an English friend who mentioned that British shows often occurred beneath bolts of billowing fabric.
The tradition began at Interstate 25 and Paseo del Norte 30 years ago. Gore wrote to the landowner at the time who let her to use the space free of charge.
“We did a little better than break even,” she said. “It was a giant learning curve. I didn’t have anyone working with me. The only thing that kept me going was we had another show booked in October.
“I would’ve quit because it was so hard,” she continued. “There wasn’t a road map for it.
“It was very hard back then without the Internet,” she added. “Everything had to be driven across town.”
She and her husband created their first sign using press-on lettering on their kitchen table.
That first spring show drew about 5,000 people, she said. Today the festival lures close to 30,000 to a 40,000-square-foot tent.
“I guess it’s bigger than a football field,” she added.
As the show has grown, the artist selection has become more selective. Gore judges applications (with the required six images) on creativity, mastery of the medium and sense of artistic design.
“We also look at marketability and focus,” she said. “If it’s real Florida-style art, we’ve seen that it doesn’t sell here.”
Of close to 500 applicants in 2018, she accepted about 215.
Today Gore works with her daughter Liz King.
“It’s such a cool business,” she said. “It’s such a positive thing and people really love it. If I ever get too stressed out, I always tell myself it’s only an arts and crafts show just to calm myself down.”