Mike’s Blog: Turquoise, a Defining Element of the Southwest

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One of the most defining artistic and symbolic elements of the Southwest is turquoise, a stone that possesses a captivating quality to natives and passers-through alike. The name “Turquoise” is an iteration of “Turkey,” the country from which the first turquoise imports to Europe came. This greenish blue mineral, consisting of hydrous phosphate, copper and iron, first emerged in ancient Egypt, where it was placed in tombs around 3000 BC.

In both old and new world cultures, turquoise was/is considered a holy stone – used for protection against unnatural death and hailed as a symbol of healing for both the body and the sacred land.

In the Southwest in particular, its hue is reminiscent of rain, essential to life and rebirth in the Puebloan tradition.



The story of turquoise in Santa Fe dates back over a thousand years (perhaps further), and is a complex one. The evidence of vast trade networks, connecting thousands of miles of land through multiple states and diverse cultural groups, has been recently uncovered by new archaeological techniques. Sharon Hull, a noted archaeologist, has spearheaded this endeavor by identifying clear evidence of pre-Columbian trade, stretching all the way from Nevada to the Cerrillos hills of Santa Fe.

While turquoise can be acquired today much easier than our ancestors’ methods, purchasing a piece of turquoise in Santa Fe ties you to the deep tradition of the bartering system of times passed. Most new turquoise jewelry sold today comes from mines in Nevada or Arizona, but the modern manufacturing tradition derives largely from the work of Fred Harvey and his collaboration with native New Mexican artisans. One of the fathers of modern tourism, Harvey pioneered many aspects of modern-day tourism. His handshake deal with the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroad to build inns, restaurants, and shops with organized tours of native performers, along the various railway stops helped shape our conception of current cultural tourism. This led to what’s been called ‘the first chain restaurants,’ as well as helped define and create the modern demand for southwestern styled silver and turquoise jewelry. Examples of this antique jewelry can be found in galleries throughout town.



Buying turquoise jewelry can be rewarding and intimidating all at once. Buying jewelry directly from native artisans at the Palace of the Governors located on the Santa Fe Plaza is one option. You can meet the artisans first hand and discuss the quality and history of the jewelry directly with the Native Americans who crafted it, placing yourself in an historical continuum of hundreds of years. The difference in cost between two roughly similar shaped and sized pieces can be thousands of dollars depending on whether the stone is natural or reconstituted and stabilized. Other options are to visit many well known and established shops in town that can take out most of the guesswork, and if you wish to read up on determining the quality of turquoise yourself, read through this guide that the Santa Fe Reporter wrote.


In addition to the native artisans present at the plaza, there are several Canyon Road galleries, located close to the Inn on the Alameda, that sell wearable turquoise art. For authentic Fred Harvey wares, Canyon Road offers the buyer many opportunities, including The Adobe Gallery and the Medicine Man gallery. Sessels on San Francisco St. and Keshi on Paseo de Peralta are additional shopping venues located close to the hotel.

The Inn on the Alameda strives to be the perfect ‘base camp’ for any shopping expedition and we would be happy to point you in the right direction based on your shopping desires.

Jaune Quick-to-See Smith at Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe

Jaune Quick-to-see-Smith at Georgia O’Keeffe Museum 217 Johnson Street Santa Fe NM

It’s actually hard to remember back before the O’Keeffe Museum was here. Of course, the Santa Fe lightbulb joke asks how many Santa Feans it takes to change a lightbulb (Answer: three, one to do it and two to reminisce about how it used to be!). But, truly, a trip to the O’Keeffe is so ingrained in a Santa Fe visit now, that it seems like the museum has always been here….and for that we are very grateful.

Georgia On My Mind, Oil 1986, Collection of Yellowstone Art Museum

We are also grateful that the O’Keeffe continues to highlight the work of contemporary women artists, a commitment that one imagines O’Keeffe herself would approve. On January 26, the fourth exhibition of the Living Artists of Distinction series, entitled “Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: Landscapes of an American Modernist,” opened in the rear galleries of the museum. How perfect that exhibit shows that Smith had Georgia on her mind!

The Great Divide, Oil 1987; Collection of St. Paul Travelers

A Native American artist from the Salish band of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai nation of the Northwest, Ms. Smith was born in 1940, received an M.A. at the University of New Mexico, and is a familiar presence to art-going public of the Southwest. Her modernist impulse is played out in active brushwork and expressive imagery, vastly different from O’Keeffe’s technique, but still posssessing that same sense of place found in the still landscapes painted by O’Keeffe.

Like O’Keeffe, Smith works in a variety of media, and the pastels and oils on display present a compelling demonstration of her abilities.  The artist says, “My work comes from a visceral place – deep, deep…,” and the work says so.

Trees are Burning, Pastel 1991; Courtesy LewAllen Contemporary

No doubt, viewers will have favorites.  The pastels appear more restrained, both in palette and and activity, while the large oil paintings feel agitated and full of color. I found myself in reverie by the Wallowa Water Hole pastels, with their more limited palette and simple lines. And I enjoyed the contrast of colors between two large canvases, Playground, which is painted in the primary, clear colors to which children most easily respond, juxtaposed against the lively Great Divide, soaked in the rich pinks and turqouise associated with our desert landscape.

Playground, Oil 1987; Private Collection

When I viewed the show, I headed directly to the galleries, so as to see the work with fresh eyes, then wandered back through the O’Keeffe’s. One of the things that is so enjoyable about these exhibits is how they make one notice different O’Keeffe works that one my not have been pulled to previously. After spending time in the Smith exhibit, a deceptively simple O’Keeffe watercolor and graphite piece from 1918, House with Tree – Green, suddenly drew me to a halt. Fresh eyes are a good thing!

Go see the Jaune Quick-to-See Smith show…it’s up until April 29, so you can make more than one trip and discover for yourself the pleasures of this small museum and its big mission.

The Santa Fe Show Pulls into the Railyard Santa Fe

The Santa Fe Show takes place August 12-15 and August 18-21 at El Museo Cultural, 555 Camino de la Familia, Santa Fe, NM, 505-660-4701

Such a simple title for what is surely a much more complex endeavor! Adding another major art show to the summer, in a town already full of art, is a brave and worthy endeavor. We salute producers Kim Martindale and John Morris, the organizers of the The Santa Fe Show, Objects of Art, for mixing up another color on the palette of art oppportunities for Santa Fe art lovers to enjoy! A group of prestigious partners also deserves commendation for their vision and support, especially in times when wallets are so tight. And best of all, for those suffering a bit from a surfeit of visual stimulation over the last few artistic weeks, this show sticks around for two weekends rather than just one, so there’s no need to fret about the possibility of missing the experience!

Abundance, Image courtesy El Museo Cultural

Taking place at El Museo Cultural de Santa Fe, the rambling space that over the years has welcomed a panoply of local and regional arts organizations to the City Different, The Santa Fe Show brings a thoughtfully curated group of more than 60 vendors presenting unique arts and antiques, and in the process, serves as a handsome and informative complement to the City Different’s traditional Ethnographic Art and Indian Market weekends. This is truly an embarrassment of riches for us to enjoy!  By casting a wide net to capture outstanding examples of work in a variety of media and eras, the show highlights the union of aesthetic importance and design significance of the participating galleries, artists and designers. And as befits a two-weekend show, there will be two opening events as well. The first is a preview party, taking place on Friday, August 12 from 6-9pm, and it benefits the Santa Fe Animal Shelter and Humane Society, a cause dear to pet-lovers, be they local or out-of state. A special event for the second weekend will take place on Thursday, August 18, also from 6-9pm, benefitting El Museo Cultural itself, an institution venerated by local patrons for its support of art, theater and community events, all accomplished on a veritable shoestring budget.

Cowboys & Indians Booth

Theodore Casey Gallery Booth

Sissoko Tribal Arts Booth

Exhibitors at The Santa Fe Show have been vetted as specialists in their fields and encompass a broad swath of the USA, ranging from the urban coasts of  New York and Florida to our Texas neighbors and out to the sunny western shores of California. Huber Primitive Art, specialists in pre-Columbian works will be on hand for those who like to look way back to a more primitive era, as will local favorite, Economos Works of Art, one of America’s most noted Native American galleries.  The eyes can feast on museum-quality works from ancient civilizations presented by Cassera Premieres, and respected expert, Robert L. Parsons Fine Art will be showing antiques, textiles and jewelry, and furnishings and decorative arts from around the globe. And those are just a taste of the treats to be savored by or sold to discerning collectors!

Acoma Jar, Westside Trading Post

Bracelet: Antonio Pineda, Maestros de Taxco

Admission to The Santa Fe Show is $12 per person or $16 for the run of the show (a bargain for those who like to ruminate and return), with children under 16 admitted free. Visitors to downtown Santa Fe can ride the free “Santa Fe Pick-Up” shuttle service to The Santa Fe Show, and the New Mexico Rail Runner Express train’s Santa Fe Depot stop is just a block from the venue. Ample parking is available at the Railyard’s nearby underground garage, and refreshments will be available at The Santa Fe Show’s Café. The location of El Museo also offers a choice of many Santa Fe restaurant options scattered throughout the Railyard area for those who want to turn the images they’ve just seen into a lively discussion over a leisurely dinner. Need a hint? Just contact the Inn’s concierge and let us help you decide where to dine!

Riding the Railyard

You Know It by the Water-Tower!

Railyard Walkers

The appreciation of art is not a luxury, not in any economy…it feeds our souls and our imaginations and makes this world a better place. So make your Santa Fe vacation a better memory – and maybe even go home with an actual memento – by taking time to enrich your sensibilities at The Santa Fe Show.
Images courtesy of The Santa Fe Show and the Railyard Corporation, and all usage rights are reserved.

Santa Fe Art This Summer

Santa Fe richly deserves its artistic reputation, and summer is a season that brings many opportunities to learn why. Free Friday evenings at the museums, First Friday Artwalks at the Railyard and Last Friday Artwalks in the West Palace and GALA Arts District, right off the historic Santa Fe Plaza, may be at the end of the week, but they are just the beginning of an arts experience!

The Santa Fe Plaza: Green Heart of our Town

ART Santa Fe

Now in its eleventh year, ART Santa Fe brings contemporary artists from around the nation and the world to the attractive and welcoming Santa Fe Community Convention Center. At 72,000 square feet, with state-of-the-art amenities, what a change this venue has brought to this particular art scene! Taking place from July 7-10, the broad schedule of events includes a gala opening night Vernissage, as well as the informative and entertaining Art Santa Fe Presents lecture series that features noted art-world critics and cognoscenti.

Art Santa Fe Returns to the City Different

International Folk Art Market

Santa Fe is already renowned for the fantastic collection at the Museum of International Folk Art, and the weekend of July 9-10 brings the International Folk Art Market to the Milner Plaza on Museum Hill. The goals of economic stability and cultural sustainability for global folk arts combine to create a positive inter-cultural exchange that unites artisans and aficianados from around the world. During this festive two-day event, more than 120 select folk artists from more than 45 countries will travel to Santa Fe, where fortunate fans can peruse and purchase unique folk art direct from these diverse artisans.

Santa Fe International Folk Art Market from David Moore on Vimeo.

Spanish Market

No summer in La Ciudad Real de Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asis (Santa Fe’s official moniker) would be complete without this annual celebration of traditional and contemporary Spanish arts. Celebrating its 60th anniversary, the Spanish Market has grown to include far more than the beautiful retablos and straw applique of yester-year; today, collectors can encounter La Guadalupana rendered in computer circuitry or find a pair of far-out bottle-cap earrings. Held on July 30-31, this event is a consistent contributor to the lively Plaza scene.

Santa Fe’s Spanish Heritage


Many art-lovers are already aware of the annual SOFA (Scultpure Objects & Functional Art) shows that take place in New York and Chicago, and three years ago, SOFA arrived in Santa Fe seeking western exposure. Taking place from August 4-7, SOFA West brings international, gallery-curated exhibitions of work that present the very best in contemporary fine art and design. This year, the Intuit Show of Folk and Outsider Art will come along for the ride with SOFA West, adding the leading dealers of outsider and non-traditional folk art to this exciting artistic mix.

Indian Market

If you haven’t already made your reservations, attendance at the 89th annual Santa Fe Indian Market will require some timely effort on your part and could even necessitate a stay in Albuquerque, as Santa Fe hotels frequently sell out! There is nothing quite like seeing the diverse Native faces from around the nation, all gathered in one place to celebrate their arts and culture. Silver jewelry flashes, beads jingle, and lots and lots of wampum changes hands in a very short period of time. This year’s market takes place on the weekend of August 20-21, and if you already have all your travel plans in place, include making advance dinner reservations as part of your planning – we can help!

The Many Faces of Indian Market: Photo SWAIA

The Houser Compound

If you have a car, we encourage a visit to the Houser Compound, the home of the noted Apache artist, Allan Houser. Located about 20 minutes south of downtown Santa Fe, this pristine plot showcases a treasure trove of works by the late sculptor in a gorgeous landscape setting. And it can even be reserved for private events, such as weddings and birthdays!

We Sing the Praises of the Houser Compound


For sculpture closer to town, just seven miles north in Tesuque, you’ll find the Shidoni Sculpture Garden, which holds work by many local and national artists, all arrayed in a petite river valley just minutes from the Plaza. The Shidoni Foundry also invites visitors to observe bronze pourings, typically on Saturdays, although the schedule is not always firmed up until the Friday before.

We invite you to enjoy an artistically engaging stay in the City Different!

Simply Santa Fe South of Town

The Allan C. Houser Compound is located at 26 Haozous Road, 22  miles south of Santa Fe on Highway 14


“Simplicity appeals to me in a land where the simple things are respected and appreciated – simplicity is a way of life.” Allan Houser

Simplicity IS appealing, especially in our increasingly complicated, task-filled lives. Sometimes we become so habituated to our routine and our surroundings that we neglect to simply visit our neighbors. A good illustration of ignoring what’s in your own backyard? The Allan Houser Compound and Sculpture Garden! Fortunately, my neglectful behavior has recently been rectified by a morning spent exploring this stunning piece of land, enriched in every direction by the sculpture of the late Apache artist, Allan C. Houser, whose hours of painstaking work were distilled into deceptively simple forms.

Mr. Allan C. Houser, Always on the Property

Born as Allan Haozous in 1914, this renowned New Mexican (whose name change came courtesy of the US government) was a member of the Warm Springs band of Chiricahua Apache, originally based in the area near Truth or Consequences, NM. Led by Geronimo himself, the Warm Springs tribe, driven south to Mexico, eventually surrendered to the US Army in 1886 and was speedily transported acroos the country to a prison in Florida as retribution for their recalcitrant refusal to acknowledge superior firepower. The Haozous family itself  is descended from the great Mangas Coloradas, a leader of the eastern Chiricahua in the late 1800’s. The Chiricahua were scattered in locations around the southern states; Allan’s father was among those jailed in Florida, and his mother was born in a prison camp in Alabama where surviving members of the tribe were sent in 1887. The remainder of the Chircahua were sent to Fort Sill, Oklahoma where they remained as captives for what have been 23 very long years. Finally freed in 1914, members of the tribe returned west to join with the Mescalero Apache, for whom a reservation had been carved out of public lands in south-central New Mexico. Allan’s parents, however, were among a small group that elected to remain in Oklahoma, and Allan was their first child born out of captivity. From these roots of struggle and privation arose a talent that continues to inspire generations of artists, Native and non-Native alike.

Warm Springs Apache Man: Allan C. Houser

Although he was raised in an agricultural lifestyle, Mr. Houser became interested in imagery at an early age and soon tried his own hand at creative endeavors. His artistic fire was further fueled by a 1934 notice for an art school located on the campus of the Santa Fe Indian School. Thanks to his talent and the hard-working ethic of his forebears, Allan became the most notable graduate of the Dorothy Dunn School, and by 1939, his artwork was being exhibited around the country.

Mr. Houser was a Painter First!

Mr. Houser and his wife, Anna Marie Gallegos, moved to Los Angeles in 1941 with three young sons, where Allan found work as a ship-builder during the busy years of the Second World War. This was a fortuitous decision, since it was here that he honed 3-dimensional skills that would later serve the sculptural forms of his work, and at the same time, encountered museums rich with the work of European modernists that satisfied his desire for a greater knowledge of art and art history.

Horse: Allan C. Houser

In 1951, the Houser family moved from L.A. to Utah, where Allan taught art at the Inter-Mountain Indian School for the next eleven years, all the while continuing his own work on canvas and in wood. In 1962, his family heritage came full circle with a move to New Mexico, when he agreed to join the Santa Fe faculty of the newly created Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA), currently the only four-year institution with a fine arts degree dedicated to Native arts. Mr. Houser created a sculpture department from the bottom up and in the process, turned his own artistic focus toward three-dimensional work. By the late 1960’s, exhibitions of his sculpture became a regular occurrence, and both national and international recognition grew along with his output. In 1975, after having influenced several generations of Native artists, Mr. Houser finally had the opportunity to retire and devote himself to his own work, producing close to 1,000 sculptures through the next two decades. His dedicated work ethic never left him, as he continued to create right up until his death at age 80 in 1994.

Wood Ceilings and a Welded Circular Staircase Inside the Houser Home

The compound itself is perched between the villages of Cerrillos and Galisteo on 109 acres of pinon- and juniper-studded land 22 miles south of downtown Santa Fe off Highway 14, the Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway. The property was originally discovered in 1976 by Allan Houser’s son, Phillip Haozous, who invited his father to settle there and who faithfully and respectfully maintains his father’s work and legacy. Phillip, a quiet, modest and self-effacing gentleman, deserves much credit for planting the seed that grew into this beautiful artistic environment, as well as being responsible for the handsome landscape design. Father and son collaborated on the layout and construction of a group of studios and residences, slowly adding the sculpture gardens, as well as dance grounds and outdoor amphitheaters.

The Dance Grounds at the Houser Compound

In addition to the ten acres of sculpture gardens and gallery, in 1995 the compound was expanded to include the Allan Houser Foundry, a traditional lost wax process operation, begun to help the Houser family complete Allan’s lifetime work. By casting works of select artists since 2002, the foundry has grown to be  a welcome presence in the Santa Fe art world.

This is Where It All Happens: The Foundry

Although the Allan Houser Compound is a private facility, owned and maintained by the family and staff, throughout the year, tours can be arranged by appointment only, weather permitting. In addition, the grounds and select buildings are made available for those who want to create a special event that will be both unique and memorable. For more information or to treat yourself to a spot where the spirit of art flows with the breeze through the rocks and trees, call (505) 471-1528; you will leave feeling richer in spirit than when you came.

Navajo National Monument and a hike to Betatakin

The Betatakin cliff dwellings, tucked under a monumental arch

Santa Fe, New Mexico, occupies a unique position in the spacious geography of the American Southwest. We bask in the invigorating climate of the Southern Rockies, which mount up to our north and east. The great rift valley of the upper Rio Grande opens south of us, into the classic Basin and Range country so characteristic of the more arid parts of the West. Further east: the High Low Country of the Great Plains, stretching off seemingly forever like an ocean, treeless and lonely. And to our west, a short drive brings you into a landscape unique on the planet, hauntingly familiar to all Americans – the warm glowing mesas, buttes, and spires of the Colorado Plateau.

Blessed with this address – and not to mention the unique cultural charms of Northern New Mexico – Santa Fe makes the perfect base for a visit to the Southwestern States. Short day trips will take you to wonderful examples of each of the landscapes I’ve mentioned. But a longer trip has to include a tour of the Colorado Plateau and the Four Corners with all its scenic splendors. Many of these are well known: The Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Monument Valley, Canyon de Chelly come immediately to mind. Some treasures, however are far less visited, and can offer the creative traveler access to landscapes and archeological sites of amazing power. One of these treasures is Navajo National Monument, in Northern Arizona.

Tsegi Canyon in the heart of Navajo National Monument

I made this trip in mid-September, the perfect time to explore the Four Corners country, and my notes remind me that a mid-morning departure from Santa Fe left time to set up camp with plenty of light. In the picture above, you can see the sunset lighting Tsegi Canyon, a short walk from the campsite after a cup of tea.

Navajo National Monument is on the Navajo people’s ancestral land, and as such, requires you to arrange guides or backcountry permits – supplied by the National Park Service – to explore its canyons and cliff dwellings. The walk down and back to Betatakin, one of the great cliff dwellings of the Americas, must be made with a guide, but the walk is free, and I think I learned more from our Navajo guide, Cassandra, than I have from any other ranger I’ve ever had.

The morning of the hike to Betatakin

Cassandra’s great-grandfather was a Navajo shaman – or doctor – and she seems to have inherited much of his knowledge and intuition. The walk down the steep setback walls of the canyon was transformed into journey through a natural healing cornucopia of herbs, lovingly described. One aspect of their use particularly struck me: the gatherer of medicine asks the healing plant for its help, and then harvests one just like it, after leaving a small offering. Any partially used herbs are put back, with a thank you. Contrast that with Western pharmacological medicine!

The hike down Tsegi Canyon is beautiful.

A monumental wall of Navajo Sandstone

Natural sculptures abound:

An oddly shaped outcropping. What do you see?

Trees take on special significance simply by virtue of their shape and setting:

An ancient pinyon pine

Soon you reach the staggering sandstone arch that embraces the village of Betatakin, as Cassandra would refer to it.

The great arch over Betatakin

No cliff dwelling I’ve ever seen has a setting like this. Cassandra explained that ‘BeTAT’ ‘a kin’ meant ‘tucked in’ ‘4-sided home’. She was also quick to explain that ‘Ah NA suhzi’ – Anasazi – referred to ‘ancient other people’, rather than ‘ancient enemy’, as one often hears translated further east.

Ruined dwellings in Betatakin

The sandstone walls near the village are covered in petroglyphs:

Rock art near Betatkin village

The glyph on the left is the symbol of the Deer Clan. (Cassandra is a member of the Bitterwater Clan) The handprints could mean ‘life – we are here!’, or they may simply mean ‘water here’. In this country, that’s about one and the same thing. You can see some loom holes just to the right of the deer symbol. In those times, men wove. There are many circular designs like the one you see on the right. They are frequently divided into four quadrants, representing the four seasons, the four directions, or perhaps the four worlds. Even now in matrilineal culture of the Navajo People there are four clans, although these families came long after the Anasazi had mysteriously departed.

Approaching Betatakin

The ground around the cliff dwellings is littered with broken fragments of pottery. There are entire aprons of rubble covered in large painted shards. For those of us who grew up back east and might have found an arrowhead once, this abundance of artifacts is almost overwhelming. In fact, another cliff dwelling, much further back in the canyon, is called Keet Seel>, which means ‘broken pottery’.

There is no lodging immediately near the Monument, but you can find good motels in Kayenta, Arizona, which makes a perfect stop for a next-morning drive through Monument Valley in any case. Navajo National Monument has an excellent campground aptly named Sunset Campground, and I highly encourage you to try and make such an arrangement – either tenting or in a travel trailer – if you can. The most magical times in the plateau country come at sunrise and sunset. Or – as in this evening, Palm Sunday, linked to the lunar cycle in an ancient resonance – a full moon rise:

Moonrise at Navajo National Monument