THERE’S A DRAGON in Clayton. The seven-foot-long red metal beast slithers in and out of the exterior of a long-vacant building in the center of town. The four-piece dragon was designed, fabricated, and installed by Albuquerque businessman and artist Bennie Duran in the mid-1990s, when he purchased the building with the intent to open an art gallery. A dragon writhing across it, he reasoned, would be the perfect attention-grabber. He was right about that. Locals wondered whether a Chinese restaurant was moving in. Travelers pulled off the highway to admire and photograph it. But he was wrong about the gallery. The dragon wasn’t enough to entice people into the building, which in previous incarnations had been a nursing home, New Mexico Motor Vehicle Division office, barbecue joint, and clandestine gambling hall. Duran, who owns Desert Blooms, in Albuquerque, abandoned the gallery idea and instead opened a trading post, which he says was successful until 2001. He closed the business and the structure has stood empty ever since. Duran has it on the market, but a sale is conditional. “I get lots of calls from people wanting to buy just the dragon,” he says. “But I want to sell it with the building.” 

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Bennie Duran’s dragon sculpture can be found at 315 N. First Street, Clayton.