By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — Sometimes an artquake can sneak up on you, virtually in your own backyard.
Ten studios and galleries will participate in Saturday’s first Camino del Arte tour, which participants hope will become a popular trek from 11 to 3 p.m. the second Saturday of each month.
It’s also a chance to see the wonderful old adobe buildings in what was once part of the legendary El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, one of the longest, oldest trails in the Americas, where indigenous peoples blazed footpaths that would become the route used by Spaniards and later settlers.
In 1849, Pablo Melendrez got some rawhide rope and patiently laid out a grid for the original Las Cruces townsite. Not too long ago, I was discussing Pablo and his colorful era with Carlos Melendrez, who’s among the descendents of those original founding families who still live in — or have returned to — the historic neighborhood.
When I decided to visit all the Camino del Arte gallery owners, I realized I already knew most of the people and/or sites on the tour.
I think my first Mesquite Street contact, almost two decades ago, was probably Tony Pennock, creator of our dramatic water tank murals, whose studio is on the tour.
Several years ago, I walked through a crumbling adobe with artist Sina Brush, someone I knew in Santa Fe and re-met here, when she was working to restore what would become Catherine and Don Brenner’s beautiful Unsettled Gallery.
Sina had a vision. She thought Mesquite Street could become an artistic mecca. We both love Santa Fe’s Canyon Road, and Sina clearly held that thought when she was researching the best ways to restore her property. She saw it as her own possible home and studio someday.
The Brenners shared her vision and as Catherine told me last week, they “bonded with the old adobe.”
The same attraction has enticed artists from around the U.S. and around the world, including Diana Ayres and her Australian-born husband Dean, who settled in across the street at what is now Mesquite Street Studios.
In recent years, studios were opened by multimedia artist Joyce T. Macrorie, who restored a cozy old adobe on San Pedro, and sculptor John Northcutt, who established New Dimension Artworks on Pinon Street.
One of the area’s newest galleries is the fulfillment of a long-held dream of a family with deep roots is the Mesilla Valley. Tina Gallegos’ dream came true with the opening of Nopalito Galeria.
“My mom has wanted to start a gallery in this house for a long as I can remember,” said David Gallegos, leading a tour of art-filled nooks and nichos next door to the family’s popular Nopalito Restaurant.
Nearby is the light-filled, contemporary Southwestern home and studio of Gabriella Denton, a Santa Fe transplant whose work I’ve admired for years in City Different shops and galleries.
Recently, she put me in touch with the only three Mesquite tour artists I hadn’t met.
Belgian Yanick D’hooge was still unpacking and arranging some lovely fin de siecle (that’s the fin of the 19th, not 20th century) wrought iron pieces she’s restoring while transforming another old adobe into a stylish, Europe-meets-Nuevo Mexico home and studio. She’s a talented photographer and videographer. She shared her intriguing Andy Warholian documentary on the many moods of our Organ Mountains. I also enjoyed a nice tête-à-tête with her chic and trés amical Weimaraner, who understood my high school French, or graciously pretended to, and bid me a fond adieu as I left Studio 308 and headed for Mesquite Art Gallery.
There, I met Mel Stone, another recent transplant who is enjoying a new career as a fine art photographer and gallery owner after nearly three decades as a “one-man band,” writing, shooting and editing TV features for Fargo’s NBC affiliate.
I felt like I’d come full circle on my surprisingly cosmopolitan backyard tour, when I met Las Cruces native Michael Poncé, who’s back after worldwide travels and impressive artistic accomplishments in San Francisco, New York, Mexico and Great Britain. He’ll borrow a site at 130 N. Mesquite St. for Saturday’s tour before opening his own gallery at 508 N. Mesquite St.
Take some time to investigate Camino del Arte. I bet you’ll be surprised, too, by the artistic treasures evolving in our own backyard.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at (575) 541-5450