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August 19, 2011 > Santa Fe, Indulgence in Art

Santa Fe, Indulgence in Art

By Denny Stein

New Mexico is a magical place. Go. Fly into the Albuquerque airport, rent a car with big windows, head north on Highway 25. The horizon stretches to infinity before you. Whether you're from the east or the west coast, the sky is so much bigger overhead that the clouds actually seem proud, afloat like masterpieces hung in the clear blue. Drive for about an hour and you'll arrive in Santa Fe, an international destination for art, music and literature. You'll find Native American carvings, opera, painting and writing.

Like most historic cities, Santa Fe has its modern neighborhoods plus the old part of town surrounding the historic town center. The Santa Fe Plaza goes back to 1610. The oldest structures, the Palace of Governors and San Miguel Mission, were built in the 1600s. Today the Plaza is home to restaurants, shops, art galleries, cafes, and museums. Even if you are only here for 2-3 days, there will be plenty to do within walking distance of the Plaza.

There are many beautiful hotels in Santa Fe, with an assortment of accommodations. On this trip, I stayed at La Posada de Santa Fe (a Rock Resort), located about two blocks off of the town center. Lush landscaping and original sculptures create a garden of secrets in this oasis behind the hotel's adobe wall. La Posada has nurtured an historic and yet personal quality that I have not experienced in other places. Originally built as a private residence by Abraham Staab, a German immigrant merchant who made his fortune selling supplies to the Union Army, La Posada's three-story main house was designed in the Second Empire French style, to mirror his bride Julia's original home. Over the last 130 years it has been a private residence, an artist colony, a hotel, and now a world-class resort and art gallery. Each metamorphosis adopted a new vision or added new buildings. But Julia Staab's love of the old house remains and some say her spirit still inhabits the rooms.

One and two level adobe rooms, casitas and suites surround the now two-story brick building. Rooms are furnished comfortably, with first class sheets, lavender and lemongrass amenities, fluffy towels and bathrobes. Many have the indigenous kiva fireplace; free newspapers are delivered each morning, room service is available and Wi-Fi is included in a reasonable resort fee.

Through the windows, paths are visible that wind through six acres where tall metal wind sculptures stand alongside flowering fruit trees and stone statuary seems to spring naturally from the ground. But there is much more to La Posada de Santa Fe than the peaceful grounds and comfortably furnished rooms. The hotel houses a first-class rotating art collection, featuring the paintings and sculptures of established American artists. Multi-talented and elegant Sara Eyestone, artist and writer, is the resident curator. Her mission is to showcase emerging and recognized artists, to help them sell their work and make a name for themselves in the art world.

Unlike commercial galleries, artists, whose work is hung throughout La Posada's dining rooms, library, saloon, hallways, and offices, sell their pieces at studio prices. La Posada does not mark up the artwork. Thus, buyers are rewarded with affordable prices, painters and sculptors sell many more pieces, and the hotel is a gathering place for paying guests and regular gallery visitors.

Ms. Eyestone knows her artisans well; she can describe their style and mode of painting, as well as the story of their personal lives. For example, Kathleen Frank paints her entire canvas red before even starting her picture. She then pencils in a grid and fills in the details from a sketch she has made. The resulting work has a richness and warmth that is hard to identify, but definitely reaches out to the viewer. Another painter, Betty Nance Smith, OPA, sets up her still life and paints each item in the order in which it will wilt: flowers and fruits first, then backgrounds and foregrounds of vases, tables or drapes. Ms. Eyestone makes you feel "let in on the secret" so that each canvas comes alive, whether you "like" it or not. There is no pressure to purchase a painting, but if you do you'll get a 50% discount on your next visit.

Dining at La Posada was a satisfying experience. Eric Hall is a creative, veteran chef who can twist a new dish out of an old standby. Though there is an upscale dining room, Fuego, the Patio Restaurant was always available and irresistible given the perfect weather. Chef Hall's lunch menu included Green Chile and Carnitas Polenta Fries, Green Chili Kobe Cheeseburger, Bacon-Wrapped Scallops, and even a Club Sandwich for the unadventurous. A bevy of desserts competed with Mexican Chocolate Creme Brulee and a Summer Banana Split. If there had been a green chile sundae I would have ordered it.

The wait staff, in fact the entire staff at La Posada, is exceptional. I travel quite a bit, but have never been treated with such kindness and competence. My needs seemed anticipated, "I'll move this umbrella to shade your face. Of course I can give you a lift into town. A table will be here for you when you finish in the spa. I guarantee it (with a smile)."

If you can pull yourself out of the La Posada cocoon, walk to town and around the Plaza. Any free guidebook from the hotel or the airport will point you toward the historical and cultural sights. For a "local" take on shopping, ask Ms. Eyestone for her private list of recommended shops. And be sure to hit Lucille's clothing store, a totally "real folks" experience: good clothes, excellent prices, informal. And if you didn't come in with friends, you will certainly leave with them. Lucille even gave us a ride back to the hotel! A stroll through the old town is as good as visiting a museum; art galleries on every block. But the museums are right there also - old adobe structures wonderful just for escaping the sun and cooling off.

One of the most important cultural experiences in New Mexico is seeing, touching and sometimes buying Zuni fetishes. It's important to shop at authentic outlets. One such is KESHi (kay-SHE) on Don Gaspar Street. Established in 1981 as a co-op for Zuni arts and crafts, KESHi has carefully guarded their relationship with native carvers, jewelers, and potters. When you find a carving or piece of jewelry that won't leave your hand, buy it, the Zuni are speaking to you. I promise you will be pleased.

Though Santa Fe is known for its restaurants, you still have to be careful about where you eat and what you order. A recommended lunch place, the San Francisco Bar & Grill was disappointing. The Shed, a dinner destination with singing wait staff doing Broadway numbers was quite good, but stick with the local fare: delicious green chile enchiladas and flan. For cooking aficionados, go to the Santa Fe School of Cooking for classes, ingredients or just useful kitchen supplies; it's on the second floor at 116 W. San Francisco St. Finally. Don't miss Doodlet's, 120 Don Gaspar Street. It is a mecca for affordable funny-goodie fantasy delights, cards, toys, bumper stickers, silly books, and anything else that will make you laugh. I'm sure I could find a card that says, "How can I miss you if you don't go away?," a "No place like home" bag, or a tee shirt exclaiming, "We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto."

And that's the moral: Go away so we can miss you, you'll be a more interesting person when you return, and let me know what it's like in Kansas 'cause I'm not going there soon.

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