There are plenty of great art cities in the world, and a number here in the US. For instance, as you may recall, Philadelphia is home to more impressionist masterpieces than any city outside Paris. But nothing prepared me for my experience in Santa Fe, where the city itself is really one big art gallery.
From the moment I parked my car in Santa Fe’s historic district/downtown, I was transported. Pueblo-inspired architecture dominates the area, making this feel like a different country. The buildings are all painted, the decorations making each one completely distinct despite a similar feel. Here and there, Spanish colonial buildings stand as a testament to the city’s history as the capital of the Spanish colony of Nuevo Mejico, looking completely natural next to their Pueblo counterparts.
Some of these buildings are old; others are new. Some are important, like the New Mexico Museum of Art. Others are not, like the parking structure pictured below. But all add to the ambience, and the feeling that this is truly someplace special. One can easily imagine being a painter, sitting on a street corner with a canvas for each Pueblo adobe building, happiness coming across with each stroke of the brush.
This is the parking structure for the La Fonda Hotel, and even this is done in the classic Pueblo style.
While the city is beautiful, art is not just to be found in the architecture of the buildings. Santa Fe hosts a number of amazing art museums. The New Mexico Museum of Art is a good place to start for a basic survey course into local art, and the building is one of the most stunning in town!
The courtyard at the NM Museum of Art
If native art is your thing, check out the Museum of Contemporary Native Art across the street from Cathedral Park. Or if, like me, you have a fascination with the colors and lines of Georgia O’Keeffe, her namesake museum displays a great collection of her works, along with a wonderful video of her life story. She spent most of her later life here in New Mexico and, in my opinion, did her best work focusing on the colors of the area. (For those of you who also focus on the monetary value of art, O’Keeffe set the record a few years ago for a painting by a woman at $44 million and change.)
My favorite piece in the O’Keeffe Museum, this one just screams New Mexico!
However, what really makes Santa Fe one of the best art cities on the planet is the sheer volume of local artists and galleries. From native artists displaying handmade goods on blankets outside the Palace of the Governors to high-end fine art galleries, Santa Fe is your perfect destination to find and add that perfect piece to your collection. In the space of a single block you’ll find native crafts, mosaic inlaid with local rocks and gems, glass sculpture, woodworks, and high-quality paintings. Turn down a side street and you’ll be enchanted by photography, religious iconography, and world art. (There was even a Polish Folk Art gallery.)
The Palace of the Governors has local crafts for sale all along this facade (in the shade, of course).
Just as musicians pursue their craft in Nashville or Austin, Santa Fe calls out to artists the world over, and this is where many famous artists got their starts. Who knows, the work you purchase may one day sell for millions of dollars!
A look down a street lined with art galleries.
The galleries are varied and they are charming. I could have easily spent a week just wandering through them!
Another favorite gallery, this one had incredible sculptures
If you like art, Santa Fe has everything you could possibly want to be your perfect destination: incredible galleries, wonderful museums, and architecture that makes you feel as though the city itself is a work of art. This place truly is one huge art gallery!
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