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One-on-One with Matt Rembe

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Perhaps Matt Rembe would have become a specialist in 20th-century Latin American art regardless of the incident with his elbow. Maybe not. But there’s no doubt that an unfortunate day on the high bar at Gold Cup Gymnastics redirected him.

“I was a serious gymnast in Albuquerque,” Rembe says, still with some nostalgia. “I won state championships and we would travel as a team – it was Ed Burch and Trent Dimas, Chaney Humphrey and all those guys that won (Olympic) gold medals, and then I got injured. I separated my elbow, and I was forced to quit for a year. … And it was devastating for me ’cause I loved it. So I just asked to go away to school, and my parents let me go … in eighth grade.”

Rembe, who is now co-owner with his family of Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Cultural Center, would be 30 years old before returning to New Mexico. In between, he was an East Coaster, first as a student at Suffield Academy in Connecticut, then at Syracuse University in New York.

THE BASICS: Born Matthew McVay Rembe in Albuquerque on July 26, 1970; bachelor of arts degree in Spanish from Syracuse University and master’s degree in business administration from Thunderbird School of Global Management in Glendale, Ariz; married to Teresa since May 12, 2001; sons Mateo and Max; no pets.
POSITION: Executive director and co-owner of Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Cultural Center
WHAT YOU DIDN’T KNOW: “I was a competitive breakdancer. I had like a real troupe, I mean I had like a real club, me and all these black guys at this boarding school I went to.”
Also, “at one point I got run over by a bus at (school) and I had a compound fracture that went through my jeans. … I was in traction for three months, and then I had to wear a whole body cast from my chest all the way down to my ankle. And as soon as I got out of the hospital, my mom had a party and invited all these artists to do work all over my cast. And so I think I had an R.C. Gorman thing on there, and by the time they took the cast off, it was so disgusting we couldn’t keep the thing. … But there were all these cool little drawings and signatures and paintings all over my cast.”

“And the more I was on the East Coast, I identified more as being a New Mexican,” he said. “‘Cause you start really appreciating where you’re from, you start really appreciating what it’s all about.”

For him, that meant becoming fluent in Spanish, studying Latin American art and working in New York at both Sotheby’s Auction House in the pre-Columbian art department and with Mary-Anne Martin/Fine Art, which specializes in such renowned artists as Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.

“It was all related to New Mexico. It was related to growing up in this environment,” said Rembe, sitting in Los Poblanos Inn’s newly renovated Ventana Room where guests have breakfast.

Though Rembe has been a driving force behind the various businesses on the 25-acre North Valley property famous for its 1930s John Gaw Meem Territorial Revival Style architecture and more recently, its lavender products and organic cuisine, he was once just a boy growing up in a place he felt to be special but didn’t know why.

Along with his two brothers and sister, he would play on rope swings over ditches, make ramps and rafts, and do farm work that included everything from weeding and painting to taking care of pigs and chickens.

“We had, I think, an 8 to 4 schedule (designed by his parents, Penny and Armin Rembe), but we did have an hour off for lunch,” he recalls of summers. “We’d rush back to make our sandwiches so we didn’t miss like a minute of “Bonanza.” And there were three brothers in “Bonanza,” and so we all identified with a different brother, and I was Little Joe.”

Because of Rembe’s parents’ passion for New Mexican art, even weekends were largely instructive, with trips to local antique stores instead of drives to Little League games.

“(My dad) was collecting old New Mexican furniture and objects, and so we just kind of learned about New Mexico through these objects or through the farming. And so we just developed a profound interest in New Mexico. … It was wonderful to grow up here.”

Q: What is your first passion – art, architecture, agriculture or business?

A: My wife. … Um, that’s a tough question. To me, they’re so intertwined. Probably art. And to me, all those other things are just forms of art. You know, really good cooking is a form of art, but I do like the plastic arts. I’m definitely moved by the visual arts, and I think that sort of goes into architecture and goes into all these other landscapes. So, my dad, both my parents were lovers of art and New Mexican objects and instilled that in us. … So we got exposed to all that stuff early on. …whether it was old collectible piggy banks or paintings or New Mexican saints.

Q: What was your first job outside of the work you did at Los Poblanos or other family businesses?

A: I took a job chopping down trees for a new golf course on Cape Cod. … Out there, even as like a sophomore in high school, I could get paid like 16, 18 bucks an hour.

Q: What had you planned to do professionally when you got out of school?

A: I really wanted to become an expert on Latin American business in general. I loved the Latin American culture and art, but I also liked the business side of it. So I had an idea to start kind of an import/export business bringing stuff from Latin America. … So when I finished business school, I actually started that business, and it’s still here on the property actually. It’s called máXimo Art and Design Research. And we represent the estate of a really important mid-century designer named Alexander Girard and all his work is at the folk art collection in Santa Fe. … It became more of kind of a licensing (and design manufacturing) business really associated with … Girard.

Q: People stay at Los Poblanos to get away. Where do you go?

A: I was just ordered by my family to get off the property. … Getting all the construction done (for $5 million in expansions, including 13 new guest rooms) and making all the decisions, and we have four different businesses on the property – it just was sheer hard work, 80 hours a week for the last five years. And I haven’t really got off the property. We … just basically finished. So we had a family board meeting, and I was ordered to go take a vacation. So I am gonna go visit a place called Blackberry Farm in Tennessee, which is like a Los Poblanos but in Tennessee.

Q: If and when you have free time, what do you like to do?

A: I usually just go to Santa Fe with my family. Probably my wife and I do more food-related things. Like we plan our trips around eating at hole-in the wall restaurants, or going to really great restaurants or going to farmer’s markets. We seem to be very food-driven.

Q: What is your favorite food?

A: My favorite food is probably (from) the two places that I grew up going to that I have to eat at all the time. One of them is the chicken enchilada, green, at Duran’s, Tuesday and Fridays. Or The Shed (in Santa Fe), #5. … And I’m not even sure if it is the best New Mexican food, but to me it is the absolute best.