Heart of the Art–Santa Fe, New Mexico

It’s really the best time to go to Santa Fe; meaning anytime from fall to spring when it’s not too hot and you can likely avoid the tourists if you skip the major festivals.  But, of course, the art is still happening constantly because it is a living thing that knows no season and it’s the heartbeat of Santa Fe.  I’ve been to Florence, Venice, New York, and Paris and I love them.  I’d go back anytime and certainly they have new art being created but it’s not the same.  Those places have a lot of old art and a deep history with new art happening.

Decorative Gourds

Decorative Gourds

Santa Fe does have old art and a history but it’s tied into a vibrant, humming and alive art scene that is happening everywhere, all the time.  You can’t walk down an alley in Santa Fe without seeing a mural.  You can’t even look at a tree without finding a Madonna carved in it.  Santa Fe is the intersection of Indian Art, Hispanic Art, and Western art and they constantly dance, intermarry, and party till all hours.  As someone who likes to paint and draw, I go there to recharge because the place is like an energy source for a creative person.

And of course, the food, architecture, culture, history, and fashion intertwine with the art so that it’s a feast for all the senses.  Among the things that hit you in the senses are Indian drumming and dancing, green chilies roasting, distinctive zing of New Mexican food, colorful woven rugs, and the feel of a new skirt.  It’s difficult to find an ugly hotel room (possible, but difficult).   There will most likely be a Technicolor sunset that makes you realize the landscape painters were not overdoing it.  You’ll see people more fashionable than yourself, some of them definitely artisans and artists running around busily. Or simply feasting your senses by walking into gallery after gallery with jaw-dropping, I’ve never seen anything like this, art.


Santa Fe Shopping

Santa Fe Shopping

And, of course, there’s the shopping–shopping in the sense of spending extravagant amounts of money, if you’d like. If I were in the position to waste a considerable fortune I would head straight for Santa Fe but the more sensible can still have a wildly good time there. You can wander in and out of furniture stores, boutiques with Santa Fe style fashion, leatherwork places, and other establishments that will provide you with an artistic coffee mug or a complete new wardrobe and hand-tooled cowboy boots.


indian-painting-smOr you can just go to the museums, which feature old and very new Indian art, Hispanic art, Western art, and so on and gaze at all the art you want without any danger of over-spending except perhaps at the excellent gift shops.  The museums have a blend of traditional art, modern art that incorporates the traditional, and entirely new art. Here is a list of 18 museums in or near Santa Fe.

Let me warn you the gift stores in the museums have a variety of wares including terribly expensive things and very affordable and fun items that make great souvenirs or gifts.


Sante Fe Indian Market

Sante Fe Indian Market

I suppose we should have a word about the festivals. Sure, they’re crowded and there are too many tourists and too few hotel rooms.  You have to wait to get into restaurants.

  • Admittedly, the Native Treasures Indian Art Festival on Memorial Day weekend is the best and brightest of invited Indian artists with museum quality art to be had.
  • The Santa Fe International Folk Market in mid-July is amazing because it’s global in scope and features food and dancing with the art.
  • The Santa Fe Spanish Market in late July has the best in Hispanic art and crafts, but frankly, the winter one is great and you avoid the heat.
  • The Santa Fe Indian Market in late August is noteworthy because it has about 1000 intertribal artists from all over the US and Canada presenting their art for hordes of international collectors and visitors.
  • In early September there is a rather odd event called Santa Fe Fiesta which is the oldest party they have and incorporates Indian, Spanish, and Western traditions for a bit of a blow-out. My favorite part of that fiesta is the burning of Zozobra, an enormous marionette because doing so will rid us of all our worries.  Aside from dispensing with worry, the point is to dance, sing, eat great food, and play around with art.

Any of these festivals would be a lot of fun, as would the Indian festivals.   If you want to go to a specific festival just remember to book months in advance because there’s the danger of not finding accommodations if you wait too long.  Particularly for the big festivals, think five or six months in advance.  Alternatively, stay in Albuquerque and take the Rail Runner Express train to Santa Fe. In case you are wondering about the omission of hot air balloon festivals, they are in Albuquerque, Taos, and other spots in New Mexico.  To be fair, Taos, and Albuquerque are well worth their own article or an epic road trip where you hit Albuquerque, Taos, and Santa Fe, though preferably in the fall when fall colors are ablaze and the heat has died down a bit or in the winter when it’s more peaceful.

Photo Credit: Southwestern Association for Indian Arts


The Santa Fe Opera House is a stunning open-air venue for its productions of both classic operas and contemporary world premiers. Make sure you get to at least one performance there. Additionally, numerous restaurants and bars feature live music from Indie, Latin, Native American, and Western Swing to Rock, and Blues. Honestly, if you like music, you can find it in Santa Fe.


santa-fe-steps-smAt 7,000 feet in altitude, Santa Fe, New Mexico is the highest capital in the US (be sure to wear a hat and sunscreen). It is also the oldest capital in the US, founded in 1607; it was the capital of the northern territory of Mexico before the land became part of the US.  For those who are used to a mishmash of architectural styles, Santa Fe offers a coherent picture of beautiful adobe buildings.  Be sure to tour the St. Francis Cathedral, the Loretto Chapel to see its miraculous staircase, and the adobe Palace of the Governors built in 1610.

Indian Pueblos

Taos Pueblo

Taos Pueblo

Many different Hopi live in pueblos around Santa Fe.  Visitors are welcome at times, depending on religious festivals scheduled, and the pueblo’s general views on visitors.  Because this is where people live, practice their religious rituals, and lead everyday lives, it’s best to do some research to time your visit.  However, if you get the opportunity, the Pueblos have amazing ceremonies and incredible art work.  Some of these ceremonies are open to the public, while others require an invitation.

Photo credit: Skartoy.ru

Many years ago, I was invited to the Shalako ceremony at Zuni Pueblo and will never forget the sight of the giant Shalako dancing in at sunset (they’re like enormous Kachina, more than human-size).  A variety of food was offered at several houses selected to be open to the community.  This ceremony is now closed to non-native people but you can visit the Zuni Pueblo at other times and you should be sure to see Our Lady of Guadalupe Church with an interior mural by Alex Seowtowa, a noted Zuni artist that is done in glowing oils. It’s spectacularly beautiful.

This is just a sample of what you might experience depending on the day in any given Pueblo.  There are many ceremonies that are open to the public, but do check in advance to make sure your visit will be a convenient day and time. Pueblos are living communities, and just like your own, they value privacy.  There are 19 Pueblos in New Mexico, eight of which are in northern New Mexico and could make for an interesting day’s excursion from Santa Fe. The National Park Service has a nice brochure with more information about visiting Pueblos.

Final Word

If you have never experienced the southwest and southwestern art, it is time to do so. And if you have visited before, it may be time to go again because the Santa Fe art scene continues to grow and flourish.

If you visit Santa Fe or the pueblos, be sure to send us a photo. We may feature it as a Best of the Week photo. Happy travels!

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