Santa Fe Art to Drive You Crazy (Photos)

(Last Updated On: May 30, 2021)

Santa Fe artSanta Fe art will drive you crazy. You’ll go mad if you try to see it all. You will go bonkers if you try to avoid the art, which is everywhere. Also, you’ll be insanely desperate to own dozens, no hundreds, of things you see. And where yet other artworks are concerned, you’ll be certain that the artist must have been a lunatic!

Santa Fe as a Destination

Santa Fe, New Mexico is a small town with a big footprint. There are less than 68,000 people in the city plus an equal number in the surrounding metro area. Nevertheless, it has an incredible range of things to do. Here are just a few:
– You can walk through tidy botanical gardens or along natural mountain trails.
– Bike, river raft and snow ski.
– Visit historic sites and national parks.
– Meet Native Americans at their festivals and dances.
– Veg out in a spa.
– Ride horses through hills and river valleys.
– Enjoy popular music of all kinds in the Plaza and throughout the city.
– Attend world-class opera, chamber music, choral music and jazz concerts.
– And, finally, shop your feet off!

In the cultural department, Santa Fe is home to 12 major museums, almost 300 art galleries and over 5,000 working artists. This Santa Fe art is the subject of today’s blog.

If you plan a visit to Santa Fe, TripAdvisor lists 127 hotels, inns, B&B and specialty lodging. Want a less commercial lodging? VRBO lists 669 vacation rentals in Santa Fe. When you get hungry you’ll find over 400 restaurants as well as countless catering trucks. Moreover, after dinner there are great lounges for listening to music and dancing.

Art and Nola in Santa Fe

Since the early 1970s, I have visited Santa Fe every summer and sometimes in other seasons. Currently, Nola and I schedule two weeks each summer to see opera and attend at least one major market. Here are some of those market events:
– Early July: International Folk Art Market1.
– Late July: Spanish Market2 (traditional and modern arts and crafts).
– Early August: Museum of New Mexico Navajo Rug Auction.
– Mid August: Ethnographic Art Show3.
– Late August: Indian Market, the largest native arts show in the world, about 100 years old.
– Late September: Wine and Chile Fiesta.

Each market event is juried, to limit the participants and the artwork to the best available. BTW, Santa Fe is the second largest art market in the United States, behind New York but ahead of Los Angeles.

Through the years, we have shopped at all these venues and found some treasures. In so doing, we have acquired equal measures of fine art, folk art and junk. All of it reminds us of great times in Santa Fe. Alas, I sold my Malibu house several years ago and then had too little room for the art, therefore much of it was given to friends or donated.

A Photo Sampler of Santa Fe Art

I hope I have conveyed that there is simply too much going on in Santa Fe to capture in one, or many, blogs. However, our circuit of a half-dozen art venues during the past week greatly impressed me. As a result, I wanted to share a few photos with you that hint at the breadth and depth of Santa Fe art. The selection might also reveal my taste in the local art.

Therefore, here’s an outline of this selective essay about Santa Fe art:
– Spanish Market: modern works executed in traditional Hispanic style.
– International Folk Art Museum: an immense collection of folk art from all over the world.
– Museum of Art: a downtown museum showcasing the last hundred years of Santa Fe painting and sculpture.
– Georgia O’Keeffe Museum: another downtown venue, presenting paintings by beloved artist Georgia O’Keeffe and related artists.
– SITE Santa Fe: Santa Fe’s contemporary art museum.
– Meow Wolf: a Santa Fe art complex, new this year: it’s both a theme park and an art exhibit.

Santa Fe Art: Bultos at Spanish Market

The Diverse Heritage of Santa Fe

Santa Fe is home to three cultures:
– Native American (primarily Pueblo tribes).
– Hispanic, resulting from the Spanish and Mexican occupation of this area from 1598 to 1848.
– Anglo, due to U.S. control following 1848, magnified by in-migration and tourism.

One of the charities Nola and I support is the Spanish Colonial Arts Society4, which maintains a major museum. In addition, the Society sponsors three major annual art markets. These markets host artisans who work with traditional Hispanic subject matter, using traditional tools and materials. The summer market, late July in Santa Fe, is augmented by a Contemporary Market5 that permits radical departures from tradition.

Spanish Market Setup

Santa Fe art

As with all the major art markets in Santa Fe, setting up Spanish Market involves a lot of work. First of all, Santa Fe blocks traffic from the downtown plaza and surrounding streets beginning several days in advance. Hundreds of ten-by-ten foot tent booths are erected in the streets for artists and food vendors. In addition, the plaza gets a large stage for musical performances and additional booths for youth artists.

Artists stock their booths with anywhere from a dozen to a hundred works of art. As a result, avid collectors line up as early as 6:00 a.m. The artist arrives at 8:00 a.m. and begins to sell the work. Booths remain open from 8:00 to 5:00 Saturday and Sunday.

Why do people come to these markets? Because they offer a unique experience for anyone interested in the arts and crafts. First of all, it’s easy to see an immense variety of high quality work that is vetted as handmade, not factory knockoffs. In addition, you can meet artists and learn about their creative process. You can even buy some art, knowing that you are providing direct support to an artist and the artist’s family. As a result, once a person experiences this type of market, shopping in a store can’t compare.

Santa Fe Art at Spanish Market

This year’s Spanish Market program listed 160 artists’ booths, with work in 19 different categories. To give you an idea, some of the categories were: furniture; precious metals (principally jewelry); tinwork; straw applique; retablos (religious images painted on wood); bultos (carved wood statues, usually of saints); pottery; ironwork; weaving. The booths were distributed through the Santa Fe plaza area, augmented by 46 booths featuring Youth Artists and 134 booths of the Contemporary Hispanic Market6.

Nola and I attended the Members’ Preview, because it gives a chance to get close to some of the best artwork. The market itself is fun to walk through, but extremely crowded with visitors. In contrast, the preview is busy but more relaxed. (If we had been big-time donors, we could have gone to a more sparsely attended pre-preview.)

I am personally a fan of skillfully carved statues. As a result, through the years I have bought a dozen beautiful sculptures, enjoyed them immensely, and then donated them. Although my fine pieces are now in museums for others to view, I still love seeing this creative and skilled art. Therefore, of all the fabulous Santa Fe art represented at this market, the photos in this section are of work in just this one category.

Santa Fe Art: Bultos

Here are some of the painted bultos that caught my eye. Several of them won ribbons in the Spanish Market competition.

Santa Fe art - Spanish Market

“Our Lady of Guadalupe and Saint Juan Diego” (artist: Carlos Rael)

Santa Fe art - Spanish Market

“Saints Carry Us All” (artist: Arthur Lopez)

Santa Fe art - Spanish Market

“An Alphabet of Saints” (artist: Marie Romero Cash)

Santa Fe art - Spanish Market

“Our Lady of the Blue Corn” (artist: Frankie Nazario Lucero)

Santa Fe art - Spanish Market

“Cruising Heaven” (artist: Gustavo Victor Goler)

Santa Fe Art: the Folk Art Museum

Santa Fe’s Museum of International Folk Art7 is the largest folk art museum in the world. As a result, it owns well over 100,000 folk art creations from over 100 different countries.

The largest part of the museum’s collection was donated by collectors Alexander and Susan Girard. This couple traveled the world for 40 years, buying it seems everything that they saw. Alexander, a designer for Herman Miller Inc., then designed the museum’s display of their collection, and it occupies an entire wing.

I did not individually caption these photos because there are so many different traditions represented. Instead, they give an idea of what you would see when walking through the museum. BTW, the museum has guidebooks available that explain each exhibit.

Santa Fe art - Folk Art

Santa Fe art - Folk Art

Santa Fe art - Folk Art

Santa Fe art - Folk Art

Santa Fe art - Folk Art

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Santa Fe art - Folk Art

Santa Fe Art: New Mexico Museum of Art

The Museum of New Mexico manages a family of cultural institutions:
– The Museum of International Folk Art highlighted above.
– A pair of history displays: the History Museum, and the Palace of the Governors on the Santa Fe Plaza.
– The Museum of Indian Arts and Culture.
– The New Mexico Museum of Art.
– It addition, it maintains six historic sites scattered across the state of New Mexico.

The Museum of Art, the subject of the following group of photographs, was known prior to 2007 as the Museum of Fine Arts. The institution’s current name embraces a wider scope of art created in New Mexico. (The new name avoids pre-judging whether the art would be considered to “fine” by some remote authority.)

Contemporary Wing

The oil painting below, by native artist Fritz Scholder, welcomes visitors to the contemporary exhibit in the west wing of the museum.

Santa Fe art - Museum of Art

“Arts Faculty at the Institute of American Indian Arts at 4:15 pm” (artist: Fritz Scholder)

The current contemporary exhibition is a tribute to lowriders, the sleek customized cruisers of young and young-at-heart Hispanics. Its opening wall features a poem by artist Marie Romero Cash honoring lowrider culture.

Santa Fe art - Museum of Art

Entrance to the exhibition Con Cariño at New Mexico Museum of Art (click to expand)

The exhibit area is dominated by a piñata that resembles a full-size car.

Santa Fe art - Museum of Art

The exhibition Con Cariño: Artists Inspired by Lowriders

On the far wall are two installations of carved and painted wood, borrowing from the bulto tradition. By artist Luis Tapia, each depicts the instrument panel of a car, plus the view through its windshield.

Santa Fe art - Museum of Art

“Santa Cruz” (artist: Luis Tapia)

Santa Fe art - Museum of Art

“Chima Altar, Bertram’s Cruise” (artist: Luis Tapia)

In addition, the History Museum is concurrently showing a historical exhibition on lowriders.

Other Exhibits

The second floor of the museum displays the permanent collection of twentieth-century Santa Fe artists. Returning to the ground floor, the east wing is devoted to changing exhibitions. When this blog was first published (August 17, 2016) the changing exhibition was titled “Alcoves.” Every seven weeks, a new set of five artists was featured. The startling staged portraits shown here are photographic C-prints by artist Christina Dallas.

Santa Fe art - Museum of Art

C-print portraits by artist Christina Dallas

Santa Fe art - Museum of Art

C-print portraits by artist Christina Dallas

Santa Fe Art: Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

Another downtown venue for Santa Fe art is the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. It is one of a handful of major world museums that are devoted to a single artist.

O’Keeffe’s work was varied, prolific and well-loved during her long career. As a result, her museum has no trouble maintaining constantly changing exhibitions of her visual art. These two examples will serve to remind you of O’Keeffe’s beautiful use of color and abstraction.

Santa Fe art - Georgia O'Keeffe Museum

“Pedernal, 1941/1942” (artist: Georgia O’Keeffe)

Santa Fe art - Georgia O'Keeffe Museum

“Black Hollyhock Blue Larkspur 1930” (artist: Georgia O’Keeffe)

Santa Fe Art: SITE Santa Fe

SITE Santa Fe began in 1995 as the host of biennial international exhibitions of contemporary art. Their current exhibition, SITElines.2016, is one of a series focusing on art of the Americas. The photos below show the museum entrance and views of the various installations now showing.

Santa Fe art - SITE Santa Fe

Santa Fe art - SITE Santa Fe

Santa Fe art - SITE Santa Fe

Santa Fe art - SITE Santa Fe

Santa Fe art - SITE Santa Fe

Santa Fe art - SITE Santa Fe

Santa Fe Art: Meow Wolf

Meow Wolf is an art complex 4.6 miles (7.4 km) southwest of the Plaza in Santa Fe. In 2015 it acquired a disused bowling alley with the assistance of author George R. R. Martin. After intense preparation, it opened to the public in March 2016.

Meow Wolf describes its work as “a combination of jungle gym, haunted house, children’s museum, and immersive art exhibit.”

Today, Meow Wolf houses three venues:
– The principal visitor attraction is the House of Eternal Return. The house is a Victorian mansion containing secret doorways that lead to a large fantasy world. The installation can be explored by walking, but you can also crawl through tunnels and scale sketchy ladders. Think of a haunted house built for children, without the scariness.
– There’s also “MAKE santa fe,” a maker space. It provides tools and venue for “collaborative creativity in art, craft, industry, and science.”
– In addition, there is a learning center called “Chimera.” There, Meow Wolf artists offer classes, workshops, summer camps and internships for young people.

Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return

The House of Eternal Return is basically a walk-through theme park. There’s no map to the place, it’s designed for self-discovery. It’s noteworthy that this part of Meow Wolf is a profit-making business. In contrast, the other two ventures (maker space and learning center) are tax-exempt nonprofits.

How effective is Meow Wolf’s sort-of haunted house as a Santa Fe art destination? Fairly good. Nola and I spent about an hour exploring the house. We did not obsessively try every interactive display but we were able to see just about everything. It was interesting and in many parts quite creative, and worth its admission fee ($18 adults, $16 seniors, $10 kids).

After a while we felt that we “got it” and the continual visual stimulation began to be repetitive. Around every corner was something that was different; however, eventually the “differentness” began to look much the same. Therefore I rate the House of Eternal Return an A+ for an initial visit and likely a B+ for a visit repeated several years later. Nevertheless, children who spend time with the interactive exhibits and the room of video games will find it worthy of more repeats.

A Walk Through the House

In any case, here’s a gallery of photos that show Meow Wolf’s version of Santa Fe art:

Santa Fe art - Meow Wolf

The former bowling alley housing Meow Wolf Art Center

Santa Fe art - Meow Wolf

Meow Wolf’s welcome desk channels a theme park or cinema

Santa Fe art - Meow Wolf

The maker space at Meow Wolf

Santa Fe art - Meow Wolf

A Victorian house serves as portal to the House of Eternal Return

Santa Fe art - Meow Wolf

This ancient toilet displays a video image in its drain

Santa Fe art - Meow Wolf

Some rooms are unusual in one way or another

Santa Fe art - Meow Wolf

Secret doorways lead from the house into a cavernous world

Santa Fe art - Meow Wolf

Enigmatic displays abound

Santa Fe art - Meow Wolf

An archway of fluorescent trees leads who knows where

Santa Fe art - Meow Wolf

This creepy monster blinks its video eyes at you

Santa Fe art - Meow Wolf

Light, color and pattern are the rule

Santa Fe art - Meow Wolf

In this dark room, visitors intercept laser beams to play electronic music

Santa Fe art - Meow Wolf

Some exhibits are interactive, others are impossible to figure out

An Apology for Stopping Here

I’m enthusiastic about Santa Fe and about Santa Fe art as you can see. These photos show only a thin slice of the visual art, and art is only one of the city’s attractions. When you add music, food, ethnic culture and people-watching, Santa Fe is a great vacation destination.

Because of these factors, I never tire of visiting Santa Fe. If you haven’t been there, I encourage you to give it a try. Your personal mix of favorite activities will be different from mine, and that’s part of the fun.

And now I’ve said so much that this blog post needs to end. However, I’d be happy to answer questions.

Here’s to Santa Fe art, with a hope that you may enjoy a vacation here too!

Image Credits: All photos by Art Chester, taken during July and August 2016. Taken with iPhone 6, sized with Adobe Photoshop, optimized at

Bonus: Santa Fe art in the heavens

Santa Fe art in the sky

Santa Fe morning, west looking from La Fonda hotel roof, 6:30 am on 8/2/16

Santa Fe art in the sky

Santa Fe sunset, west looking from La Fonda hotel roof, 8:15 pm on 7/28/16

Other References:


Santa Fe Art to Drive You Crazy (Photos) — 10 Comments

  1. Art – One other aspect of Santa Fe that should be mentioned is how magical it is around Christmastime. Buildings and pathways are lined with farolitos (apparently a locally-favored term) or luminarias (a more common term). Crisp winter weather (actually a treat for Californians), hot tortilla soup (and other more exotic kinds) to warm the innards. For a number of years we rented a condo within walking distance of the downtown square, and it was truly unforgettable.

    • Agreed, Bob! The city is especially scenic at Christmas. I have also enjoyed skiing during winter visits, both at the local Santa Fe area and at Taos Ski Valley.

  2. Very nice article about Santa Fe. Indeed Santa Fe has driven my wife crazy too :-). She goes there several times a year. Takes me along too. 🙂 We ended up with several weeks of timeshares. We almost bought a second home there until we realized it would sit empty most of the year. Santa Fe fill up one’s soul and eyes.
    The sky during sunset is another natural art, that we do not get at Southern CA.

    • You’re right about the sunsets, Metin. In fact, the sky is fantastic just about any time of the day. You’ve inspired me to add two photos at the end of my blog, many thanks!

  3. Lovely, most interesting photo sampling of the vast amount of art you and Nola must have seen, Art! We tried very hard to get to Santa Fe while you were there but, just couldn’t make it this year. And, what about all the delicious food? Any photos of our favorite….The Shed? I am sure your article will inspire many to travel to Santa Fe in the coming months……will let you know when we finally make it!

    • Lydia, we’re sorry that we missed you, but we hope we can sync better next year! We did indeed visit The Shed and many other fine venues. If you go to my Facebook page and click the Timeline tab and scan down, you’ll find a number of posts from Santa Fe, including some favorite foods!

  4. Thanks, Art! I am inspired. Haven’t been to New Mexico in 30 years. Maybe I can manage a last minute winter getaway to Santa Fe in the coming years.

    • Santa Fe is great in any season, Dot! I’d be happy to offer suggestions depending on your druthers.

  5. To my Facebook friends: This blog is a photo essay about Santa Fe. I didn’t post it as a Facebook photo album because the blog format allows a smoother flow of text and images. So please click this link and enjoy the photos!