Delivery alert

There may be an issue with the delivery of your newspaper. This alert will expire at NaN. Click here for more info.

Recover password

Ceramic artist on a roll

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — kelly Jo Kuchar seems to have the magic touch.

The Los Ranchos de Albuquerque ceramic artist has been on a roll over the past five years when it comes to being awarded projects.

In 2008, two designs were chose by high-end retailer Nordstrom to sell as a special edition. The retailer carried ceramic bowls, plates, serving platters and coffee cups.

Visit to learn more about Kelly Jo Kuchar’s work.

In early 2012, she was tasked with creating a official centennial plate for the Governor’s Ball.

But late last year, Kuchar spent two months in a mad dash. The ceramic artist was commissioned by La Fonda in Santa Fe to design murals that would be placed inside the showers of each room.

“This is such a big deal,” she says during an interview from her studio. “La Fonda is a well-established entity and a lot of travelers, both national and international, will be given a chance to see some of my work.”

Kuchar recently delivered the tiles to La Fonda and they are expected to be installed in each room by summer.

“It’s really good company be in,” she explains. “There is so much historical relevance when it comes to La Fonda and hopefully I’ll be adding to the history and value of the hotel. It has the potential to be seen by a lot of people and really validates me as an artist, though I’ve been working for more than 20 years as one.”

To bid for the work, Kuchar says she submitted pictures and examples to the board at La Fonda. She says the board chose nine designs – which consisted of pastoral and still life.

Each mural contains 20 hand-painted tiles and will be framed with green, blue and terracotta tiles. The total number of tiles made is 3,400 and they will make up 170 murals, which will be placed in each room at La Fonda.

“There’s been lot of work done on this project,” she says. “It’s pretty amazing to see how it’s all coming together. We’ve even got a numbering system set up to ensure that none of the tiles gets lost.”

When Kuchar isn’t helping with firing the tiles, she can be found painting the tiles – two paintings at a time.

The 3,400 pieces of tile each got one firing in the kiln before being numbered for the La Fonda project.

“I find that not only do I work faster, but it’s easier to keep it all straight,” she says. “My technique isn’t as structured as other art, so I get to free form a lot. My style is loose and expressionistic.”

Kuchar says the tiles undergo one firing in the kiln, which is set at 2,000 degrees, and then allowed to cool for nearly 24 hours.

“It’s a faster process than what we usually do,” she explains. “But I have a great team that I work with and am fortunate that they all understand my vision.”

Kuchar is celebrating 25 years of her business Kelly Jo Designs. She studied art at Southern Methodist University in Texas and has been located in Los Ranchos since 2000, though her business started in New Mexico in 1991.

For the Norstrom project in 2008, Kuchar submitted six patterns to Nordstrom and two were chosen. The company told her they were looking for an American-made retail line with an “old-world feel” that would also include a coffee and/or dessert theme.

That old-world style was familiar to Kuchar from her work for wineries across the country, she said. Her patterns competed with 20 to 25 other designers.

In addition to the La Fonda project, the studio has been generating quite a buzz in the California wine country by producing complete custom winery collections for such tasting rooms as Viansa, Chimney Rock, Peju and Ferrari-Carano wineries.

“It’s been quite a journey in getting my name out there,” she says. “All of the success is great, but I am humbled by the La Fonda project. As a transplant New Mexican, I’m proud to be able to be a part of such a historic hotel. It means the world to me to have won this project.”

Kelly Jo Kuchar created nine murals that will be installed to each room at La Fonda in Santa Fe.

Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a story about how coronavirus has affected you, your family or your business? Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? What issues related to the topic would you like to see covered? Or do you have a bright spot you want to share in these troubling times?
   We want to hear from you. Please email or Contact the writer.