Every day, legend holds,
when the sun reached the middle of
its passage across the high arid country
of northern New Mexico, the people
on Canyon Road, like those throughout
their village of Santa Fe, could hear
the bell in the tower at the old San
Miguel Mission begin to toll, and they
knew that el ciego viejo, the old blind
man, had come to the thick-walled chapel
and knelt to pray at the altar.
They knew, too, that for as long as
el ciego viejo prayed, the bell would
toll miraculously, moved only by the
hand of God, producing a celestial
purity of sound. They knew that for
as long as he prayed and the bell tolled,
light streaming through windows high
above him would find its way into his
eyes. He would be able to see the chapel's
religious paintings, the carved wooden
icons, the massive hand-hewn vigas.
They knew that when he stopped praying,
the bell would fall silent. Darkness
would return to his eyes like night
descending across the land, and he
would see no more until he returned
to the chapel the following day to
pray once more.
That happened a long time ago, back
when the caravans still toiled up
El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro
- the Royal Road to the Interior
- the 1700-mile-long old trail that
connected Santa Fe to Mexico City.
Only a few people lived beside Canyon
Road, along the south bank of the
Santa Fe River, in small homes of
adobe - or sun-dried bricks of mud
and straw. They had made the bricks,
lovingly, with their own hands.
still spoke the Spanish of Castille,
lisping their "S's." They
prayed to images of saints lit by
candles at altars in their homes.
They bought firewood from peddlers
who hauled it on the backs of burros
from the forested Sangre de Cristo
Mountains down onto Canyon Road.
They danced at fandangos, to music
issuing from the strings of violins
and guitars, recalling the days of
ancestors from Andalucia. They talked
about their crops of corn and fruit,
about their flocks of sheep, about
good horses and bad dogs. They worried
about raids by the Apaches inhumano
y malo (inhuman and bad).
They counseled each other, saying
Nunca permitan que una doncella
corte cebolla, porque llora Maria
Santisima. Do not let a virgin
slice onions because the Blessed
Virgin Mary will cry.
The early Spaniards felt drawn to
the Canyon Road area by the Santa
Fe River bottom, which offered irrigable
land for their crops and pasturage
for their flocks; by a centuries-old
Pueblo Indian trail, which provided
a convenient passageway for mule
trains and ox-drawn carretas; and
by the community's nearby main plaza
and governmental offices, which offered
protection from Indian attacks.
Nunca pongas los zapatos en
las cabecera porque tendras malas
pesadillas. Never put your
shoes at the head of the bed because
you will have nightmares.
No le pegues a un gemelo porque
te tuerce el pescuezo. Do
not hit a twin because he will
twist your neck.
They established Canyon Road, only
about three quarters of a mile in
length, from the most humble of beginnings-a
prehistoric path of dirt and tiny
houses of mud; but they imbued it
with an enduring quality of style,
character and charm.
Today, on Canyon Road, zoned strictly
for "residential arts and crafts," you
will find Spanish colonial, Spanish/Pueblo
and American territorial architecture
that has been burnished and mellowed
by the passage of the centuries.
You will discover more than five
dozen galleries with paintings, sculpture,
Native American crafts, traditional
Spanish crafts, Santa Fe fashion,
mixed media, photography and antiques
literally spilling out of the doors
and windows. You will find world-class
food and service laced with the rhythms
of Spanish classical guitar, flamenco,
blues and jazz. You can find a quiet
bar enfolded by adobe walls with
a warm fireplace on a cold winter
night and have a good heavy red Spanish
wine and a long conversation.
Should you choose to walk the length of Canyon
Road, with its one-story common-walled structures
and narrow sidewalks, you can see that it
has historic roots in ancient village streets
of Spain, Moorish Africa and Mexico. Through
an open gate, you get a glimpse of a courtyard
or a garden that once served as a center
for family and social life and as a sanctuary
against outside invaders. You get a glimpse
of exquisite Spanish or territorial architectural
features that helped satisfy an inborn yearning
for that special, almost magical, beauty, that
the Spanish called "ambiente." You
discover little passageways and alleys that
convey a sense of mystery and sometimes surprise
with a garden of sculpture and blooming roses.
Los Cinco Pintores, the Five Painters - Fremont
Ellis, Willard Nash, Wladyslaw Mruk, Jozef Bakos
and Will Shuster - cast the mantle of art over
Canyon Road, indeed, over much of Santa Fe,
nearly 100 years ago now.
They felt drawn, not by fertile soil, an ancient
Indian trail, or a central plaza, but by adobe
grace, strong Hispanic and Indian faces, elaborate
ritual and celebration, striking landscapes
and stunning light.
Known affectionately as "the five nuts
in the little mud huts," they lived as
neighbors in adobe cottages just off Canyon
Road. They opened their homes to the public.
All but indifferent to money, they swapped their
paintings for groceries, medical care and other
essentials. They would exhibit in Santa Fe's
new Fine Arts Museum.
They painted, not for the snobbish elite of
New York City, Boston, Newport, Chicago or San
Francisco, but for the people of the earth.
They made us see the extraordinary in an ordinary
person, the uncommon in a common thing, the
classic beauty in randomly carved hills and
They forged a magnet for the art community,
which came to occupy homes, studios and galleries
for the full length of Canyon Road, making it
the heart of Santa Fe's art colony and the pulse
of a world-renowned art market.
Measured by the quality of works (for instance,
Russell, Remington, McCarthy, Wyeth, Hurd, Homer,
Ellis, Wood and Warhol), the span of cultures
and the diversity of media, Canyon Road probably
represents the greatest concentration of quality
art in the nation today.
The owner of the upscale Running Ridge Gallery
on Canyon Road said, "You will see the
traditional work produced by the early Santa
Fe and Taos artists and the contemporary art
by modern masters, including categories in realism,
expressionism, romanticism, transformational,
visionary, experimental and cutting edge painting
and sculpture, contemporary and vintage photography,
video and performance art."
You will also find traditional weavings, ceramics,
jewelry and kachina dolls produced by Native
Americans; wood carvings and tin works crafted
by Spanish descendants; clothing and accessories
created by top Santa Fe school of fashion designers;
and work fashioned by Latin American, African,
Middle Eastern and Oriental artisans.
If (no, when) you grow weary and your
senses become overloaded with visual
art, you can stop at one of the several
restaurants along Canyon Road, and
you can have a cold drink or a hot
coffee or a good wine in a patio or
a flowering garden or a sidewalk porch.
You can end the day in casual elegance
by planning a meal at the Geronimo
Restaurant, located on the south side
of Canyon Road, in a building constructed
two and a half centuries ago by Geronimo
Lopes. Go early.
Have a glass of wine in the restaurant's
warm and intimate bar, nestled into
the old building's adobe walls, where
artists gather and conversation flows
richly. Expect a meal - for instance,
the salmon - of gourmet quality and
with polished service.
walk up the street to El Farol -
a bar for one hundred and fifty years
and the city's oldest restaurant
and cantina - have a Drambuie or a
Grand Marnier and enjoy the murals.
With luck, someone will be playing
|When you leave and walk
down Canyon Road in the silence and darkness,
listen carefully. Some people think you
can still hear the bell of San Miguel.