Sign Me Up Santa Fe

The story of my time in Santa Fe starts during Thanksgiving of 2012. I flew into New York after my first 5 months of living and traveling abroad (2 months in Nepal, 3 months in France). I stayed in Brooklyn with a friend for a few days of jet-lag and reverse culture shock (“US dollar bills are so weird. Why do they look so weird!?”). Just a few quick days later, I was back on a plane, but this time with a domestic destination – Santa Fe, New Mexico. Drew’s brother and fiancé were living there at the time, and we planned to spend Thanksgiving with them…

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It was a lovely long weekend of reuniting with friends and family, eating delicious food, and enjoying the amazing landscape of northern New Mexico. Growing up primarily in the southeastern region of the States (and sticking pretty close to the east coast in general), there’s something about the American southwest that is so alien to me – so beautiful and intriguing. I love it there.

Taking a walk around a small reservoir not too far from the center of town, dumbstruck by the beautiful winter colors…

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And on a beautiful hike through the Kitchen Mesa trail at Ghost Ranch (where Georgia O’Keefe often summered and made much of her work)…

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While abroad, I had received word that I had been accepted for a month-long residency at the Santa Fe Art Institute on a full scholarship (yippie!), but it wasn’t scheduled to begin until December. So, although it was -admittedly- highly impractical, at the end of our Thanksgiving weekend, I found myself back on a plane headed back to the east coast – this time to Philadelphia. I know it doesn’t make much sense – ‘just stay the extra week in Santa Fe with Drew’s brother and his fiancé!’ you say. But I needed to get into my storage space in Philadelphia to re-pack my bags with winter clothes, I had doctors appointments and other important errands to run, yadda-yadda. And to be honest, I really just missed my beloved city – beautiful and gritty Philly…

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This little side-trip home also gave me the opportunity for the slightly surreal, yet funnily ‘V.I.P.’ experience of watching the Wanamaker Organ Christmas light show from ‘backstage,’ so to speak…

The organ light-show from the perspective of the audience...

The organ light-show from the perspective of the audience…

... and the organ light show from my 'backstage' perspective...

… and the organ light show from my ‘backstage’ perspective…

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A good friend of mine works on the organ, and treated me to this strange and wonderful viewpoint of this famous Philly holiday tradition. Random to report here, I know, but it is one of my favorite memories from that year, so why not?

Check out this quick VIDEO so you can get a sense of what it was like being back there, so close to the (almost) deafening sound of the world’s largest functioning pipe organ.

After a great (and busy) week of running around town visiting with friends and tying up loose ends, it was time to head back, ONCE AGAIN, across the country to Santa Fe. Upon arrival, I went immediately to my new ‘home’ at the Santa Fe Art Institute (SFAI)…

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SFAI’s building is beautifully designed, with clean lines and geometric shapes in the quintessential New Mexico style…

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The main section of the building is laid out like a square doughnut – an open court-yard the ‘hole’ in the center, with corridors along the interior connecting in a loop. The natural light floods in from the many windows and the walls are flanked with artworks donated by resident artists from years past…

The center courtyard...

The center courtyard…

... and the corridors...

… and the corridors…

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I was happy to find some hair in the hallways in this piece by Jen Raimondi ('Untitled,' 2006)...

I was happy to find some hair in the hallways in this piece by Jen Raimondi (‘Untitled,’ 2006)…

There’s a shared kitchen, as well as dining and living room areas – resident artists are expected to cook for themselves. (Goodbye to the days of having a French chef cook for you every night! This new reality had me missing my time at CAMAC quite a bit)…

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The bedrooms are sparse and modern – it felt a bit like living in a hotel (another far cry from living in the quaint French country rooms at CAMAC for the past two months), and this turned me off at first. But once I realized that the floors in this room were heated (what?! Heated FLOORS, you say?!), I quickly came around and began enjoying my new digs…

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The studios are located in a large room that is divided by movable walls…

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The skylights near my little corner provided excellent natural light and although I was a little worried about not having privacy in this communal studio set-up at first, I actually ended up really liking working there…

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Located on the campus of the Santa Fe University of Art and Design, SFAI is tucked away in a (surprisingly) quite corner of what is otherwise a busy intersection of two four-lane roads, smack-dab in the middle of Santa Fe’s ‘strip-mall-landia.’ Not the ideal place to be living for a month without a car, I must admit, BUT I could safely walk to the grocery store, and believe it or not, it is possible find beauty in the parking lot of a strip mall if you’re paying attention…

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And I was lucky to be on the premises of a small, quiet university campus in the midst of this mass of strip malls and traffic – and even luckier that the campus was empty of students at the time, all gone on winter recess. I spent a lot of time during breaks from my studio roaming around in the snow, taking photos. There’s something about Santa Fe -and especially Santa Fe in the snow- that’s just so easy to photograph…

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My residency at SFAI was quite a productive and exciting time for my work. It turns out that being in the middle of ‘strip-mall-landia’ has its advantages – there are very few distractions! And having left my big dollhouse embroidery project behind me in France (waiting to be finished upon my return in the Spring), I was free to explore other ideas that had been brewing in my mind for some time. It was here that I began making drawings for my “Planning: Childhood Drawings Revisited” series (which I ultimately finished and exhibited during my year-long residency at 40th Street A.I.R. in West Philadelphia when I returned from sabbatical). Using my own childhood drawings as source material, I recreated images of housing floor plans using single strands of my hair and handmade hair paper. Here are some pictures of these drawings in progress in the studio…

First, the original childhood drawing was enlarged and printed...

First, the original childhood drawings were enlarged and printed…

... then I traced the lines of my childhood work onto large sheets of watercolor paper (look closely and you'll see them!)...

… then I traced the lines of my childhood work onto large sheets of watercolor paper, making only slight indentations in the paper (look closely and you’ll see them!)…

... and then, I glued single strands of my hair and pieces of my handmade hair paper onto the indented lines...

… and then, I glued single strands of my hair and pieces of handmade hair paper onto the indented lines, creating the final image…

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(You can see the completed series of drawings on my website, if you’d like.)

In addition to this work, I had some time to experiment as well. Thanks to my dear friend, Simon de Aguero, architect and Santa Fe native, I got a tutorial in architectural paper model-making. We selected one of my childhood floor plans and over an afternoon, Simon taught me the skills to create a 3-D paper model using my plan. It was challenging for me, as I am very much a 2-D artist, but it was also really fun – I enjoyed the challenge and the detailed process of making the model…

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First, Simon and I picked one of my childhood 2-D floor plans and discussed how we would ‘translate’ it into three dimensions, starting with small folded test models on butcher paper before moving on to the good (aka expensive!) paper…

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Using tracing paper, we created a plan for the 3-D model directly from my enlarged childhood drawing. Then, I traced that plan onto the final paper…

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… the next step was to cut out these final plans (one for each floor of the house) with an x-acto knife…

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… and then I began the slow process of carefully folding and gluing, folding and gluing… (we chose this folded method so I could easily unfold and pack the model for travel – there are other ways of making a more permanent paper-model).

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Et voila – after a few days working, the basic structure of my house was finished! It doesn’t look like much, I know… but making these two (stacked) boxes was a lot of work!

Eventually, I finished detailing the model according to my childhood floor plan back in Philadelphia and exhibited it alongside the hair drawings at the 40th Street A.I.R.’s AIRSPACE Gallery…

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In Santa Fe, I also dabbled in an idea that planted the seeds for what I have been exploring further here in Nepal in recent months – working with domestic textiles. While in residence at SFAI, I began a set of four place mats with handmade hair paper inlays…

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It turned out to be a very busy time, indeed – it’s hard to believe that I got it all done in just one month! But I wasn’t the only busy artist at SFAI – there were other artists-in-residence working away in their studios too, of course.

My residency was a bit strangely timed with the upcoming Christmas holiday, so artists were coming and going at an unusual schedule. This meant that it wasn’t quite as a cohesive group like the one I experienced at CAMAC, but it was still a lovely group of folks. A few people drifted in and out, but I can tell you a bit about the ‘core’ group that I came to know…

Loren Erdrich is a Brooklyn-based artist that was finishing a 3 month residency at SFAI when I met her – a great conversationalist with a wonderful laugh…

IMG_1189 5.24.36 PMWorking primarily in drawing and painting (and a bit of sculpture as well), Loren creates powerfully visceral and sometimes playful imagery that (for me) addresses issues surrounding sex, relationships, the body (body image), and the invisible spaces that we find in between them all…

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Loren's studio...

Loren’s studio…

Of course, this is her work from almost 3 years ago! Please check out her website for newer work.

Miguel Arzabe was also finishing a 3-month residency at SFAI when I arrived. Thoughtful and hard-working, Miguel has a sly smile that often makes you wonder what he’s thinking…

IMG_1192He works in a variety of mediums – painting, video, performance, and more…

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Photo of a tiny video projection in the bottom corner of a dark room...

Photo of Miguel’s tiny video projection piece in the bottom corner of a dark room…

Miguel's studio set up for the filming of his video piece...

Miguel’s studio set up for the filming of his video piece…

Again, the work I’m showing here is quite old by now. So please check out Miguel’s website for more!

Fidencio Duran is a Mexican-American artist that lives in Texas. He’s a gentle soul, soft spoken and kind…

IMG_0864 3.05.10 PMHe paints very realistic representational work, but sometimes with a surrealist edge. He has made quite a career for himself as a muralist in Texas and other areas in the southwest, and often makes work depicting various aspects of Mexican and Mexican-American culture…

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Fidencio's studio...

Fidencio’s studio…

Check out Fidencio’s website for more work HERE!

Cynthia Hooper arrived from California about half-way through my residency, SFAI’s official ‘Visiting Artist,’ there to finish work for an exhibition in SFAI’s gallery the following month. At first she came off as a bit quiet and timid, but given some time to warm up, it became quite clear that she has many interesting (and often hilarious) things to say. I miss our conversations and her warm smile…

IMG_0870 3.05.10 PMCynthia works primarily in painting and video on projects regarding environmental issues, particularly modern water management (and waste) in the American West and Mexico. At SFAI, she was working on highly detailed illustrative paintings that were accompanied by informative text (note: this work was still in progress at the time these photos were taken)…

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Cynthia's studio...

Cynthia’s studio…

Be sure to check out her website HERE!

Denise Kumani Gantt is a Philly-born, Baltimore-based poet and playwright – strong, pensive, playful, and quick to burst into laughter. We bonded over our mutual love of our gritty east coast cities and the soundtrack to the musical “Hair.” She’s got a beautifully powerful voice, and we had a few late-night sing-a-longs that warm my heart to think of to this day…

Denise (standing) reading a scene from her play with the help of some friends...

Denise (standing) reading a scene from her play with the help of some friends…

She doesn’t have an official website, but you can check out this great video of Denise reading one of her poems HERE. I hope you take the time to watch – hearing her read is truly a lovely experience.

Faith Purvey is a Michigan-born, L.A.-based community and mixed-media artist and educator who quickly became my closest friend at SFAI…

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A serious goofball who loves to laugh, she is also an extremely committed, hard-working, and ambitious artist that managed to make several works of her own AND run a multi-week workshop with middle-school aged students that culminated in a charming multimedia installation about imaginary cities of the students’ creation…

Shots from the student's installation...

Shots from the student’s installation…

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And some of Faith's own work...

And some of Faith’s own work…

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Faith's studio...

Faith’s studio…

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Faith’s studio was adjacent to mine, separated only by those thin moveable walls. I have such fond memories of us both working into the night, talking about life over the walls and belting out Beck tunes together. It’s hard for me to listen to Beck’s music now without thinking of her, actually – or to look at anything bright orange, for that matter. A truly warm and genuine soul, she makes her mark when you meet her. Please be sure to take a look at her website HERE!

Near the end of my residency, SFAI hosted its monthly Open Studios event, at which each resident artist gives a five minute presentation about their work (or whatever else they want to talk about, really)…

Loren giving her presentation...

Loren giving her presentation…

Afterwards, the studios are opened up to the public…

(Photo by Katie Avery)

(Photo by Katie Avery)

Miguel worked very hard putting together a great pop-up exhibition in the gallery during Open Studios at which he, Loren, Faith, Fidencio, and I hung some of our work…

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(Photo by Miguel Arzabe)

(Photo by Miguel Arzabe)

Although my time at SFAI was much too short, it was productive and fruitful both in terms of my work and the lovely people that I was privileged to meet there. Whether it was cooking together, taking ‘field trips’ to local museums and galleries, heading out to bars for live music, singing our hearts out in the living room, chatting over studio walls, or sharing potluck dinners, we managed to have fun in the midst of all our hard work in the studios…

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A month well spent, indeed!

Coming up on this (admittedly ridiculously belated) ‘post-sabbatical report’ of mine: More about exploring the Santa Fe area and Christmas with cacti… Stay tuned!

4 thoughts on “Sign Me Up Santa Fe

  1. Beautifully done, Brenna; I learned so much from it about art, photography, blogging, and life. I expect to remember it as I look at one of your pieces that I’ve owned for a year or so.

  2. Pingback: Exploring the Land of Adobe / Christmas with Cacti | Home is Where the Hair Is

  3. Pingback: Hibernation Days | Home is Where the Hair Is

  4. Pingback: Aller, Rentrer, Retourner | Home is Where the Hair Is

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