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The Times Shopper: Santa Fe

Studio-Hopping for Arts and Crafts Lovers

August 21, 1988|JENNIFER MERIN | Merin is a New York City free-lance writer .

SANTA FE, N.M. — Famous for fabulous galleries and an active cultural scene, Santa Fe has a new arts trail that buyers or browsers may follow into the studios of working artists.

Visitors can arrange individualized itineraries of studio-hopping around town through Studio Entrada (P.O. Box 4934, Santa Fe, N.M. 87502, (505) 983-8786), a local tour operator and artists' representative.

Linda Morton, founder and owner of Studio Entrada, conducts the tours. She works with a roster of 15 area artists and crafts people who make appointments for her to take potential customers into their studios and homes to see and discuss their work.

Morton develops an itinerary to suit each client's likes and style preferences, be they figurative or abstract, and in media ranging from oil paintings to ceramics, and sculpture to collectible jewelry.

To determine the itinerary, Morton shows portfolios with representative works by participating artists. Clients usually spend 30 to 45 minutes in each artist's studio; an average of three studios are covered in one itinerary, and a maximum of six guests are taken on the tour. Clients who don't know each other, but whose interests are compatible, may be grouped on the same tour.

Typical Itinerary

Fees vary with the length of the itinerary. A typical itinerary costs $25 per person. If the itinerary is a long one, a lunch stop will be built into the tour. Guests are under no obligation to buy, but if they do, contracts are signed through Studio Entrada.

Studio Entrada guests are escorted from atelier to atelier in a comfortable van. Between studio stops they are briefed in an anecdotal manner about the next artist's background, patrons who have collected and shown the artist's work, the artist's techniques, current projects, quirks, and reputation in the arts community.

Most of the studios are not arranged as showplaces. In fact works-in-progress, a good amount of clutter, the smell of paint, even thick alabaster dust usually fill the studios. But the sense of elegance and refinement you feel in a gallery or museum setting is replaced by the thrill and excitement of being on the spot.

Participating artists are screened to make sure they really do enjoy meeting the public and showing their work in their work places. As a result, discussions can be entertaining as well as informative.

Participating artists' work is varied enough to appeal to many style preferences. Here are descriptions of several Studio Entrada artists' work:

Even if you don't collect jewelry, you'll be fascinated by designer Denise Wallace's one-of-a-kind pieces in silver and semi-precious stones. Wallace is of Aleutian descent. She learned silver work in the Southwest, and uses techniques and materials commonly used in Southwestern American Indian jewelry.

But Wallace draws on her native Aleut and Eskimo cultures for inspiration. This blending of influences is fascinating. Aleut mythology is filled with tales of humans who are transformed into animals or other supernatural spirits and back again.

Transformation is a common theme in the work, and Wallace handles it in an intriguing and playful manner. Many pieces represent highly stylized figurines at work or play, dancing or picking berries, and there are mothers and babies, shamans, dolls. Each features a removable mask. Hinged parts reassemble to form secondary figures within the same piece. These works of art are complex kinetic sculptures realized on a miniature scale.

One piece is a mask belt (recently commissioned for $12,000; a similar belt that was sold three years ago for $7,500 was recently resold for $15,000) in which masks may be detached and worn as brooches. The belt is made of silver with cream-colored, black and gray woolly mammoth tusk (Wallace said that this extinct creature inhabited Alaska about 2,600 years ago; tusks found on the tundra are rare and considered precious by Aleuts and Eskimos), turquoise, coral, onyx and other semiprecious stones.

Belts made of figurines, which are detachable to be worn individually, cost $15,000 and up. Pendants of individual figurines cost $1,800 and up. And "transformation earrings," cast in limited editions and hand-finished, cost $65 and up.

Bronze Figures

Sculptor Karen Wight's figurative pieces are made of solid bronze, but contain a great deal of movement and often suggest some type of transformation. There are free-standing figures of dancers with lean, wing-like arms, and heads of women whose flowing, crowning hair makes them appear to be lionesses. Hanging figures are designed to dance across walls. Wight captures movement in her "quick sketches" of fired clay.

Much of Wight's bronzing is done in her studio. Bronze pieces, usually 15 to 20 inches in diameter, sell for $2,000 and up.

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