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New Mexico's new folk art furniture.

Drenched in color, with motifs ranging from carved and painted chickens to cactus and bucking broncos, it is moving into homes near and far from its source in northern New Mexico. Highly decorative and often playful, the region's contemporary folk art furniture fits surprisingly well into a variety of architectural styles, which may explain why it seems to be selling like hot tortillas.

New Mexico's artisans have long been known for crafting massive furniture of natural wood. But in recent years, they have been rediscovering and renewing a traditional penchant for vivid color and whimsical design. Local showrooms and galleries often feature the brightly painted works alongside more subdued designs.

Here's an overview of New Mexico's contemporary furniture scene, several of its practicing artisans, and some shops in Taos, Questa, and Santa Fe where you can see their works. Telephone area code is 505.


Mary Shriver, owner of Country Furnishings of Taos (534 Paseo del Pueblo Norte; 758-4633), pointed to a checkerboard-painted trastero, a tall cupboard or armoire, and stated that such pieces are works of art as well as furniture. On the rustic wooden frames, artists use latex paint, then often tone it down with antique finishes before varnishing. "Some people buy a single piece as an accent," she says. "But we have furnished whole bedrooms--headboards, nightstands, trasteros--and it works very well."

In Shriver's showroom, a 4-foot-high trastero with a carved and painted trout or truck by Pedro Chavez costs $420, while a larger, wardrobe-size trastero painted inside and out by Cynthia Roberts costs $600. Christine Waszak's hot pink banco, a straight-line bench, sells for $550. Carved-and-painted tissue boxes cost $39, and mirror frames range in price from $65 to $95. Browsers are welcome from 10 to 5 Mondays through Saturdays and noon to 5 Sundays.

Shriver credits Taos artist Jim Wagner with helping spark the current interest in folk designs and color. "Jim began building and painting folk art furniture in the early 1970s," she says. "But the inspiration goes back much further, of course, to Hispanic artisans wanting to cover the knots and imperfections in the wood with green, red, or turquoise paint."

Examples of Wagner's furniture, such as a 5-foot-long sideboard decorated with blue and coral fish ($900) and a 4-foot-high trastero with leaping rabbits ($550), can be seen at the Clay and Fiber Gallery (126 W. Plaza Drive; 758-8093).

At Lo Fino (201 Paseo del Pueblo Sur; 758-0298), owner Kathy Green shows the work of 30 artisans, more than half of them furniture makers and, of these, several enamored of color. She accepts only finely crafted pieces and enjoys showing examples of expert mortise-and-tenon construction. "It has to be built to last," she says simply. As for color and design, she emphasizes that "this is a tri-cultural land--the early Hispanics had been in Mexico, the Indians have always used color and stylized motifs, and people from back East brought more ideas."

Color, design, craftsmanship, and attention to detail are evident in the work of artisans such as James and Angela Triche, Roberto Lavadie, Richard Earnheart, Teresa Swayne, and bucking bronco specialist John Thomas. Prices reflect the quality, with nightstands beginning at about $400, trasteros selling for about $2,000, and sofas in the $2,000 to $3,000 range. Custom work accounts for the bulk of Lo Fino's business. Showroom hours are 10 to 5 Mondays through Saturdays.


About 20 miles north of Taos in Questa, second-generation woodworker Michael M. Vigil is one of some 15 members of Artesanos de Questa, an artists' cooperative that was started to buffer job instability at the local mining enterprise.

Adjacent to his workshop beside the post office, a small house serves as showroom for Vigil's finished pieces. A rose- and blue-stained pine ropero, or freestanding closet ($1,000), and a weathered barn-board hutch ($800) decorated with orange and yellow stained glass by his wife, DeAnn, show his search for a new style. Appointments to see the Vigils' work can be made by calling them at 586-1258.

For a free brochure listing the coop's artists and their telephone numbers, write to Artesanos de Questa, Box 462, Questa, N.M. 87556.


In Santa Fe, examples of contemporary folk art furniture can be found in numerous shops and galleries, but its creative aspect is particularly evident in the work of the Streck family. Their work runs from antiqued reproductions of old New Mexican furniture to innovative new pieces with painted- or punched-tin decoration.

After years in New England, the parents, Clem and Pat, and their eight talented children have adapted to New Mexico with enthusiasm and energy. Clem, who has a background in design, runs the gallery with Pat, and helps where needed in the nearby workshop. Youngest son Kyle, 21, does most of the tinwork, while brothers Mark and Jim tend to the woodwork. Painted-tin chandeliers ($400 to $950) have proved to be popular innovations, while reproductions of old-style beds in queen-size frames (about $2,000) and various custom tables and cabinets keep them busy.

To achieve the distinctive look of his tinwork, Kyle first sketches a design onto the tin with a pencil, then places the sheet on a rubber mat and punches in the lines, dots, and curves, one hammer stroke at a time. A chemical wash gives the tin an aged look, or it is painted. "After painting," he says, "we bring down the color with antique finishes."

The Streck Family gallery (541 W. Cordova Road; 986-1201) contains a variety of styles in new and restored furnishings. Hours are 9 to 5 Mondays through Saturdays. Visitors may also visit the workshop (805-D Early Street; 984-8265). Custom orders are welcome.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Sunset Publishing Corp.
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Fleming, Jeanie Puleston; Chan, Roxanne E.
Article Type:Column
Date:Oct 1, 1992
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