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Western wears at annual arts fest

A belt buckle by Patti Leota Genack, who will be showing her works at the Rio Grande Arts and Crafts Festival.

A belt buckle by Patti Leota Genack, who will be showing her works at the Rio Grande Arts and Crafts Festival.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Patti Leota Genack makes jewelry for the cowgirl in us all.

The Beulah, Colo., artist’s glass creations will be available at the 26th Annual Rio Grande Arts and Crafts Festival next weekend at EXPO New Mexico.

A showcase for artists from around the country, this year’s version represents 200 artists from 25 states in dozens of mediums, including sculpture, photography, jewelry, textiles, ceramics, wood, metal and glass art. Visitors can browse and buy to the accompaniment of music, entertainment and food. The festival lures more than 20,000 visitors annually.

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For Silver City’s Donna Foley, the topography of fiber became a map of her own spiritual journey. The tapestry weaver knew she was born to interlace texture and color from the time she sat before her first loom in an Adirondack Mountains classroom 25 years ago. She raised her own herd of Angora goats on 35 acres of abandoned farmland before trading them for the lustrous fiber of Lincoln longwools.

A necklace by Colorado artist Patti Leota Genack.

A necklace by Colorado artist Patti Leota Genack.

Foley moved to New Mexico a year ago, a state she had visited annually to see her husband’s relatives.

“New Mexico’s always been my mecca of weaving,” she explained. “Coming here to weave is like coming home.”

She sold her sheep before heading west, but still hoards a 30-year supply of wool. She’s expanding her palette to include churro through the Mora Valley Spinning Mill and experimenting with natural dyes made from indigo, cochineal and chamisa.

Foley’s designs evoke the Southwest’s jagged and geometrical landscapes, Navajo stair-steps paired with her own spiritual symbology.

“Mainly they’re meditative pieces of both inner and outer landscapes,” she said. “Weaving is a spiritual practice for me.”

“Elemental Transitions” by Donna Foley is of hand-dyed woven wool.

“Elemental Transitions” by Donna Foley is of hand-dyed woven wool.

The weaver often creates “opened windows” in her compositions by leaving the warp uncovered and exposed. Stones and feathers add a sense of mystery and texture. Foley recently expanded her line to include handbags as well as scarves, shawls and tapestries.

When Leigh Gusterson moved from New Jersey to the Taos area at 25, she had been rigidly and formally trained in the Hudson River School style. Soon her palette and landscapes mutated in an explosion of color and light.

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“I discovered color when I moved to New Mexico,” said Gusterson, who now lives near Peñasco on the High Road to Taos. “I was very formally trained to paint at Hudson River School. It’s very grey and dark. (Now) my Hudson River School teacher won’t even talk to me.”

As she continued to paint outdoors, local motifs surfaced in her work – a dilapidated pickup was a constant, along with adobe buildings, sheep, horses and churches.

Gusterson won her first art award in kindergarten.

“It’s definitely a language,” she said of her painting. “It’s a form of self-expression. I created my own little world in color and shapes. I grew up in a family where I wasn’t able to express myself very noisily.”

The Rio Grande show marks glass artist Genack’s first Albuquerque appearance. The artist creates a line of Western beads, including horses, cowboy boots, cowgirls in chaps, steer skulls and cowboy hats, as well as petroglyph beads.

She turned to beadwork while she was making mixed-media sculptures and decided to embellish them with rings and ruffles.

“One year later, I realized I had become a glass bead-maker,” she said in a telephone interview. “Glass is very easy to sculpt.”

Genack studied under various glass artists, even spending two weeks in Murano, Italy, under Italian glass master Lucio Bubacco.

Leigh Gusterson’s paintings will be featured at the Rio Grande Arts and Crafts Festival next weekend.

Leigh Gusterson’s paintings will be featured at the Rio Grande Arts and Crafts Festival next weekend.

“It was incredible,” she said. “These skills have been handed down for generations.”

For the Albuquerque show, she created a large beaded glass belt buckle, complete with an Appaloosa prancing across a craggy landscape with tiny seed beads forming a mosaic of color and light.

“It’s really inspired by Georgia O’Keeffe’s landscape,” she said.

Her Western work includes three-dimensional horse pendants, as well as pieces inspired by petroglyphs.

“I have boots and cowboy hats and birds and a series of pendants on the Indian pueblo pottery,” she added.

Armed with a master’s degree in printmaking, Genack’s first love was lithography. Her training included a stint at Albuquerque’s Tamarind Institute.

She grew up in New Jersey, just nine miles from New York. When she was 8 years old, her dentist asked what she wanted to be when she grew up. She replied, “A cowgirl.”

Today she lives in a ranching community, owning neither horses nor cows. But she can accessorize in both equine and bovine finery.

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