ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — When surrounded by 200 artists and their work in a multitude of media, creative inspiration comes easily.
“If you’re concerned about American innovation in arts and crafts, all you have to do is take a look around,” says Corrales jeweler Charles “Chip” Babb, who with his wife, LindaRae, makes original designs from sterling silver, gold, niobium and more. “Some of the best art you’ll ever see is at these shows. It’s a chance to see how cool the art really is. It’s a feast.”
Babb, who has an architecture degree, says he began making jewelry in the 1970s when Southwestern jewelry exploded in popularity. He first sold his work at a fair and still finds fairs are the best place for insight into his customers, his competition and fellow artists.
|If you go
WHAT: 25th annual Rio Grande Arts and Crafts Festival Spring Show
WHEN: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday, March 8, Saturday, March 9 and March 10
WHERE: Expo New Mexico, Manuel Lujan Exhibit Complex
HOW MUCH: General admission $7, kids are free. For more details and discount coupons visit www.riograndefestivals.com/festivals/spring-show
Babb has been with Rio Grande Arts and Crafts Festival for all its 25 years and he has high praise for it.
“I was encouraged to continue,” he says. That kind of support carried him through the mid-’90s when the jewelry market crashed and during the recent economic downturn.
Ruth Gore says gathering 200 artists locally and from across the country for juried festivals three times a year has become a family affair for her and her husband, Chester, her daughter and her parents.
Along with the art, attendees can listen to live music, snack at food vendors and relax with their children at the Kids’ Creation Station.
Although Gore says she never imagined organizing the festivals as a career path, that’s what they’ve become. The fairs are consistently rated in the top 100 across the country in industry magazines like Sunshine Artist, she says.
All kinds of artists are represented, favorites from previous shows as well as newcomers, with jewelry, art glass, paintings, ceramics, wood, sculptures and more, she says.
“We are seeing a lot more young artists entering the shows than we’ve seen in the past 25 years,” she says. “It’s very exciting to see such a renewed interest in this way of life as a self-employed artist.”
Nature photographer Philip Sonier of Albuquerque, who has been showing his work with Gore since the first festival, finds contact with other artists and people who admire his work refreshes him.
“For me, it’s important to that I keep my work fresh, new and interesting,” he says.
His award-winning images range from hulking bison to petite hummingbirds. He’s always eager to talk to people at the show, because the one-on-one connection is rare and valuable.
“I enjoy this conversation tremendously,” he says. “It’s become an important part of the show for me. It’s fun sharing my work with those who enjoy it and with those who cannot get out … to experience nature. My photographs and nature stories hopefully fill a gap for them.”
Metalsmith and jeweler Elizabeth Huffman of the East Mountains says the show helps inspire her to create new contemporary designs in silver and gold.
A long time hiker and explorer, she tracks her love of working in metal to a bundle of discarded aluminum wire she found in the mesa one summer: “I love the feel of working with metal in my hands.”
She finds unexpected stones and twists of silver to help recreate that sense of discovery in the Southwest desert.
One triangular pendant features a Sonoran sunrise stone, a mix of minerals, with copper bearing layers of cuprite topped with chrysocolla, a light blue stone with dark blue veins running through it.
New to New Mexico, but not to art, Kurt Merkel will bring to the festival his inner visions abstracted into oil on birch with raised aluminum circles and other calligraphic-inspired shapes. His work has been shown around the country and hangs in corporate and private collections.
Merkel says his art is an interpretation of feelings, a language that most people understand, even if words to name those feelings are elusive.
Merkel, who hails from Florida and New York, says he sees festivals growing in popularity across the country:
“It’s an opportunity for the artist and the customer to work directly.”
Coming from Seattle, painter Juli Adams, a veteran of other art shows and galleries, is making her New Mexico debut.
She’s happy for the festival and eager to explore the artistic offerings of New Mexico, she says.
Her surreal oil paintings feature figures from times past in unexpected circumstances. A vivid dreamer since childhood, Adams says she brings those dreams to her canvas.
“I love the Victorian and Edwardian era,” she says. “It seems creepy, innocent and stylish all at once.”
Placitas painter Johanna Hartenberger says the festival is her first and she’s excited to show her work with faces and figures, mostly oil on canvas, in a collection called, “Face, Facade and Fiction.”
She works with colors that convey mood and emotion with erasure and loose, very wet paint, she says. “Underneath the identities or faces I paint is the breaking down of the individual’s facade and the fiction they want to hide or project.”
“The most exciting thing for me in art shows is the real one-to-one interaction with my audience,” she says. “Hearing their stories inspires the process.”
Landscaper painter Joan Hoberg, a 25-year veteran of the festival, says the show has allowed her the opportunity to meet people from around the world.
Hoberg, of Albuquerque, has also won awards for her work: “Painting has been a means of bringing the beauty of the landscape into our lives.” Her work, she says, is inspired by “lakes and meadows, mesas and mountains.”