Artist Randall Davey's murals grace both the exterior and interior of his house in Santa Fe, now home to an Audubon Center and Sanctuary.
AN ARTIST'S AERIE
After turning from pavement to dirt, Upper Canyon Road squiggles so far into the Sangre de Cristo foothills that the first time I drove it, I feared I was lost. But no, the destination appeared precisely where the road ended: at the Randall Davey Audubon Center, a pastoral mix of history, art, the great outdoors, and the avian sciences.
“It’s a true gem of Santa Fe,” says Julie Weinstein, executive director of Audubon New Mexico, while working in the onetime stable of Davey, a polo-playing standout of the Santa Fe Art Colony. One of his heirs transformed the horse barn into a gallery–cum–meeting space overlooking a native-plants garden that attracts deer as easily as birds.
The history of this bucolic nest goes back to an early path connecting Pecos Pueblo to Santa Fe–area pueblos. In 1847, the U.S. Army built a sawmill on the site to prepare lumber for Fort Marcy’s not-so-nearby quarters. Frontier entrepreneur Ceran St. Vrain later used it as a gristmill, grinding flour for the soldiers’ bread. It then passed among various hands, including those of a onetime Indian agent who hoped to create a resort around some since-dried-up hot springs. One day in 1920, just after the birth of the Santa Fe Art Colony, artist Sheldon Parsons put his good friend Davey on a buckboard to check out some tempting acreage east of town.
“We have no idea what the condition of the property was and we can’t find the deed for what Davey paid,” says docent Kim Strauss. “One record says fifty dollars.”
Even if it was actually 10 times that, Davey scored a deal on 135 acres of prime forest in the heart of the Santa Fe watershed. Just beginning his career, the New Jersey native eventually found national fame as a painter, sculptor, and printmaker, but most especially as a portraitist. The property he renovated in eccentrically artistic fashion bears a host of his works. Visitors can step inside the onetime mill, which he converted into a living area furnished with a mishmash of Victorian and Spanish Colonial antiques (his wife, Isabel, liked the former; he liked the latter) and a tucked-away Prohibition-era speakeasy. He added a second floor for a sitting area, a kitchen with a kicky olive-green stove, and a suite of bedrooms, one of which bears Davey’s perplexingly inaccurate murals of tropical birds. Next door, his studio still holds his brushes, paints, and canvases—a still-life homage to the maker behind the art.
Strauss likes telling people how Roger Vadim filmed part of a 1988 remake of And God Made Woman here, with Rebecca De Mornay. The property also starred as a Santa Fe art colony in Twins, the Danny DeVito/Arnold Schwarzenegger romp. Keep close to Strauss and he’ll fill you in on Davey’s love affairs, divorce, remarriage, and fatal car crash in 1964 en route to see a (much) younger (and married) paramour.
You’ll also learn about which birds appear when, where the nature trail goes, and what intoxicating adventures a person could have had hanging out with the Daveys. “I met a woman a few years ago from Taos, who told me about the time her family came to visit the Daveys when she was nine years old,” Strauss says. “They were invited to a picnic, and all the Daveys brought were deep-dish apple pies and thermoses of martinis.”
Randall Davey Audubon Center & Sanctuary
1800 Upper Canyon Road; (505) 983-4609; randalldavey.audubon.org
- Self-guided tours of the grounds, 8 a.m.–4 p.m., Monday–Saturday, free.
- Docent-led tours of the Davey house and studio, 2 p.m. Fridays, $5.
- Bird walks with experts, 8:30 a.m. Saturdays, free.
THE UNKNOWN MUSEUM
First the iron bars, then the lead door, and don’t forget the computer code. Getting into the collections vaults at the School for Advanced Research takes a few tricks, all of them worth it. Behind the security, a premier collection of mostly Southwestern Native materials crowds onto shelves, fills up drawers, and swings from hanging rods. Some 12,000 objects in all—baskets, weavings, jewelry, pottery, paintings, and effigies—began arriving in the 1920s, thanks to the fabled White sisters and friends like Edgar Lee Hewett, creator of the Museum of New Mexico.
Intrepid travelers and eccentric entertainers, Amelia Elizabeth White and Martha Root White built their adobe compound on Garcia Street, not far from Canyon Road. They named it El Delirio (“The Madness”), after a bar in Seville, Spain, that they claimed always gave them their geographic bearings during foreign rambles.
Designed by artist William Penhallow Henderson, their main house resembles Laguna Pueblo’s church, but the objects of worship were art, anthropology, Irish wolfhounds, and some of the most outrageous costume parties the city had ever seen. The ladies ran with the Santa Fe Art Colony, joined archaeological expeditions, bolstered the careers of artists like Acoma’s Lucy Lewis and San Ildefonso’s Maria Martinez, and promoted Native art around the globe. From those travels, they returned with ornate chandeliers, wrought-iron gates, a church bell, and an enormous Guatemalan altar screen that likely featured saints unfamiliar to the Whites.
“I don’t think they were church ladies,” SAR director Michael F. Brown drily observes. “So their friend Gus redid the paintings.”
The more fancifully secular designs that “Gus” designed are just one legacy of famed artist and printmaker Gustave Baumann. On a nearby wall, his whimsical map of the property includes details like “Lindbergh’s Shadow Played on This [Tennis] Court.” Drinks for all were served by a butler at 5 p.m. sharp in the house’s ballroom, adorned with art beneath a latilla ceiling painted to resemble a Navajo rug.
Amelia Elizabeth White bequeathed the compound to SAR upon her 1972 death. Over the years, the organization slowly altered a few things and oh-so-quietly opened to the public. Visitors today can stroll the eight landscaped acres (which include a well-populated wolfhound cemetery), tour portions of the Whites’ home, and step into those fabulous vaults in the separately housed Indian Arts Research Center, with either a docent or the center’s director, Brian Vallo. “Everyone comes,” he says. “The art collectors, the tourist who happens to stumble onto our property, occasional anthropologists and archaeologists, and, thankfully, more and more Santa Fe residents who discover that the place on Garcia Street that looked a little spooky is actually open.”
The center’s collection runs a span from Ancestral Puebloans to cutting-edge creators, many of whom score an artist-in-residence gig and repay the honor with donated works. The center works closely with Native peoples to ensure that sensitive materials are held respectfully and with limited access. A new program uses some of those items in a therapy program for Native women and children who experienced abuse. A prize of the collection, Cheyenne chief White Antelope’s blanket, is hidden from all. Worn as he sang his death song during the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre, it returns to Colorado every other year for tribespeople to give it their honor.
Although the center loans items to museum exhibitions, it opens mainly to researchers seeking to piece the past to the present—and to inspire artists in residence. “Some might have no interest in Southwest art,” Vallo says of artists from other regions, “but while they’re here, they discover this art, connect to it, and find ways for it to influence their work.”
School for Advanced Research
660 Garcia St.; (505) 954-7200; sarweb.org
- Docent-led tours of the Indian Arts Research Center, 2 p.m. Wednesdays, $15; reservations required at (505) 943-7205.
- Docent-led tours of the historic campus, 10 a.m. Wednesdays and Fridays, $15; reservations required at (505) 954-7213.
- Private tours, $20 per person.
CHANGE OF HEART
Ernest Thompson Seton came to New Mexico as a hired wolf killer in 1893, but the wild beauty of the place so transformed him that he grew into one of the world’s greatest conservationists—as well as an artist, author, and co-founder of the Boy Scouts of America. In 1930, when he began building his oddball castle south of Santa Fe, in Arroyo Hondo, or what he grandiosely dubbed “the last rampart of the Rockies,” Seton couldn’t have known the seeds of further transformation he would sow.
For years, the surrounding Seton Village benefited from the founder’s embrace of artists, writers, thinkers, and Native reenactors (who today would fairly define “politically incorrect”). But by the time the Academy for the Love of Learning acquired the “Indian Tudor” castle and its 86 acres in 2003, neglect had given tragedy a deadline.
The nonprofit wanted to use the site to expand its workshops aimed at energizing the way teachers, children, elderly people, and others harness their creativity to refashion their lives. David Gordon, an artist and the center’s development director, was two years into dutifully renovating the castle’s ramshackle parts when the place caught fire. In two hours, it was gone. Only a few stacked-rock walls remained.
After the shock wore off, Aaron Stern, who co-founded the academy with legendary conductor Leonard Bernstein, began rethinking the project, the enormous costs of rebuilding Seton’s whimsy to modern-day standards, and the program’s growing needs for even more room than the original plan would have provided. With Gordon, he dreamed up a new campus—a LEED Gold–certified compound combining 39 geothermal wells, five solar arrays, rain runoff, and locally harvested, sustainable materials. It opened in 2011 and just happens to have the ruins of a nearby castle for eccentric effect.
“A lot of our work incorporates the arts,” Gordon says as he points out his own sculptural water wall and an eighth-century bodhisattva statue in the bright and soulful main building. “They’re a metaphor for a way of learning.”
Seton’s wildlife artwork—considered on a par with that of Audubon—earned a gallery in the building. Inside it, his handmade and fancifully decorated furniture shares space with paintings, drawings, drums, and Seton’s correspondence with like-minded folks, including Theodore Roosevelt. Curator David L. Witt is there the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month, ready to share the Seton story with drop-in visitors.
Other tours cover the building, with its womb-like meeting-and-meditation rooms; the xeric landscape and its rich orchard of apples, pears, cherries, and peaches; and that castle. Its ragged walls reinforced with steel supports, it satisfies the curious with its oddly splayed layout, carved-snake gate, totem-like charred pillars, and Seton’s murals of kachinas and a peacock that somehow survived the inferno. “Everything was blackened here,” Gordon says of the rock wall holding the murals. “It’s part of the mystery of New Mexico, but the two kachinas got whiter.”
Occasionally, the academy invites the public to hear Seton stories around a campfire and under a full moon. Gordon holds out hope for using the castle ruins as a backdrop for poetry and plays. On August 13, Seton’s birthday celebration will include a new gallery exhibit and family activities designed to motivate change.
“Seton was a role model of transformation,” Gordon says. “He went from killing animals to a real conservationist. We’ve come full circle with what we’re doing here.”
Academy for the Love of Learning
133 Seton Village Road; (505) 995-1860; aloveoflearning.org
- Self-guided landscape and castle tours, 9 a.m.–5 p.m., Monday–Friday, free.
- Building and gallery tours by appointment; donations welcome.
THE HOUSE ON THE HILL
Stand in the governor’s backyard and you can see all the way to Sandía Peak, in Albuquerque—a fitting visual reach, given the occupant’s job. Perched atop a hill north of downtown Santa Fe, the Territorial-style home has hosted governors since 1954. (Previous residences were the 1610 Palace of the Governors and an 1870 neoclassical building so neglected that it essentially collapsed in 1950.) You can’t peek into about a third of the sleekly designed 12,000 square feet; governors do deserve some privacy. But the public areas—living room, sitting room, dining room, kitchen, and yard—offer a reason to visit that’s even more compelling than the vicarious thrill of spying on an elected official.
One of the perks of the state’s top job? Getting to choose art from pretty much any museum or gallery you want. You can switch it out at will, too. That makes a visit to the Governor’s Residence both a cool art stop and an opportunity to connect each era’s politicians to their personal tastes.
“That’s a 17th-century bench you’re sitting on,” docent Frances Fernandes tells a visitor, before leading a group of them to Bear Lake, a 1931 Georgia O’Keeffe painting. Four Gustave Baumann prints adorn one wall, and pieces by Ernest L. Blumenschein, Willard Ayers Nash, and Will Shuster crop up on others. A massive Alan Houser bison sculpture commands the yard. Glass sculptures by Elodie Holmes, a favorite artist of Governor Susana Martinez, appear in nearly every room. Images by Martinez’s favorite photographer, Amadeus Leitner, nearly cover a dining room wall; his uncle Arturo Chavez’s Luminous Twilight painting graces another.
Perhaps the neutral tones in the living room’s décor play a role in calming partisan disputes. While relaxed, one hopes those politicos pay attention to the architectural details as well. Architect John Gaw Meem, patron saint of Santa Fe Style, designed the one-story building with classically assertive lintels and baseboards. The ceiling beams in the dining room are intricately painted in the style of El Escorial castle in Madrid, Spain. A colonial-style tin chandelier gleams upon a pine table that can seat more than 20 people. Throw in the backyard space and you could invite 150 of your closest friends to a bash here.
And people do just that. Big-time people. King Juan Carlos and Prince Charles have stepped across the entryway’s Great Seal of New Mexico rug and surely puzzled over the state’s Crescit Eundo motto (“It Grows as It Goes”—whatever that means). Actors Harrison Ford and Calista Flockhart got hitched here during Bill Richardson’s administration.
Fernandes, a member of the commission that oversees the residence and raises money for its upkeep, loves giving tours to people from all over the world, but especially schoolchildren. And even more so in winter, when the regular tours go dark. During December, the commission offers two especially family-friendly open houses, with bizcochitos, five decorated trees, and a pianist playing sing-along Christmas carols. People don’t just attend, she says. “They take their Christmas-card portraits in front of the trees.”
1 Mansion Dr.; (505) 476-2800; newmexicogovernorsmansion.org
- Docent-led tours, 1–3 p.m., the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month, April–November, free.
- Private tours by appointment.