The festival, which will be held the first two weekends of October during Balloon Fiesta, is now so well-known and so well-respected that it is ranked sixth in the country by Sunshine Artist magazine, a leading trade publication that rates arts-and-crafts shows.
“For Albuquerque, that’s pretty cool because we compete with larger cities like Chicago, L.A. and New York,” said Ruth Gore, the festival director.
“I started the show. I feel like I’m really lucky that I have a job I really love.”
The festival is presenting 280 juried artists and craftsmen in various media, and two of this year’s artists are painter James Tsoodle and metal sculptor Greg Gowen.
Gowen, a Rio Rancho resident, traveled nationwide for the last 18 months to find the best shows and best markets for his sculpture. “In New Mexico the Rio Grande Arts and Crafts Festival is one of the better, and better run, ones in the country,” he said.
He creates sculptures primarily out of copper, bronze and brass, but also in steel and stainless steel.
On some of Gowen’s pieces, including his popular copper plates, he will “take a flat sheet of copper, press it into a 1940s lathe and hand-spin it into whatever shape I want. The plates can be 18, 24 and 30 inches in diameter.”
After that stage, he will do multiple applications on the metal with an acetylene torch to generate colors and patterns.
Asked why the plates are so popular, Gowen thought it is because they’re not completely Southwestern.
“The imagery can be a lot of different genres. It can be Southwestern but it can be more abstract” as a modern, contemporary piece, he said.
Other work Gowen will display at the festival includes his panels and “rug” sculptures. The latter sculptures combine weaving with torch-cut metal silhouettes.
The panels have a ground-steel background behind abstract relief work in copper, brass and bronze, he said.
For all of his art, Gowen spends a good deal of time sketching ideas on paper.
“I try to visualize how they come out as metal. Then I sketch on the metal itself with a Sharpie,” he said.
Gowen, who is 45, exhibited his metal sculpture at his very first art show when he was 10. It was in the White Sands Mall in Alamogordo.
“By the time I was 15 I swore I’d never be an artist,” he said. “At 18, I realized that’s what I was best at and what I enjoyed most.”
Assisting Gowen in his Studio G7 are Stephen Maresco and Gowen’s three sons, Kyle, Wesley and Noah.
Like Gowen, Tsoodle has been creating art since he was a young boy.
Tsoodle started with pen and inks, then moved to watercolor, then he did children’s portraits in pencil. For the last eight or nine years, he’s been doing landscapes and captivating portraits of Native Americans using a combination of acrylics and gouache.
“My work is contemporary/traditional,” said Tsoodle, who is Kiowa and Taos Pueblo.
“I do (people of) the tribes I’m familiar with. My focus is on the northern and southern Plains people. They are the people I grew up with.”
Those are such tribes as the Comanche, Kiowa, Osage, Pawnee, Blackfoot, Lakota, Cree and Mandan.
Tsoodle, an Albuquerque resident, said he presents his subjects in the historically correct manner, showing how they would have had their hairstyles and braiding, their warpaint and beadwork and the way they would have worn their feathers.
An artist who knows his subject well can portray people “the way they’re supposed to be,” he said.
Among the pieces Tsoodle said will be in the arts-and-crafts festival are a Kiowa medicine man and a Southern Cheyenne Dog Soldier titled “The Eyes of the Yellow Hand.”
At the show, he expects to be working on a portrait of member of a Mandan young warrior society known as the Ravens.
One reason Tsoodle, 45, got into art was to cope with what would later be diagnosed as dyslexia.
When kids in middle school made fun of his difficulties reading, “I got good at fighting and the other was drawing and painting,” he said.
The 45-year-old Tsoodle credited a special ed math teacher Sandia High School for recognizing his talent as an artist. That recognition inspired him “to take it up a notch.”