Close to Home: Exploring art galleries in Madrid

This week our travels found us driving up North 14 to play in Madrid. The drive is gorgeous. Dustin and I sang along to the radio at the top of our lungs as we enjoyed the drive through a winding canyon. There was snow on all the hills and mountains and the trees were happily peaking their faces out in every direction. The road is so windy that you really can’t safely drive too fast, which makes you notice how beautiful that area is. 

We spent the early afternoon hanging out on the porch of Java Junction, drinking chai and eating chocolate in the sunshine. After that we left our car parked and walked around Madrid. We only visited a few shops and galleries in Madrid, barely scraping the surface of this historic mining town.

After Java Junction our first stop was a boutique called Heaven. I was immediately drawn the place by all the cool clothes they had outside. It’s a small store but they used the space well. The boutique is full of mostly clothes, lots of Victorian-style dresses and other unique pieces. I have never seen so many cool dresses that I would actually want to wear in one place.

Dustin was really drawn to jewelry. They had a lot of fantasy-themed jewelry, featuring things like mermaids, angels, insects, skulls, lizards and flowers. He spent a lot of time photographing the jewelry case. The lady who was running the store happily obliged him when he asked if she would take things out of the case for him to look at and even let him stage some photos with the pieces he loved the most.

Photo by Dustin Barton.

We discovered a nice selection of felted Steampunk hats and got permission to try them all on. There were more than one that I would have loved to take home, and I will likely go back for one. No two were alike and they had various sizes and styles, all with a Steampunk theme. Dustin found one with goggles and feathers that fit him like a glove and looked sharp.

We stayed a while in there because the lady behind the register was kind and interesting. She talked to us about all kinds of stuff as we looked around and giggled and took selfies. The company was wonderful and the store was neat and the longer we stayed in there the more items we noticed.

After the boutique we kept walking along North 14 toward the Chumani Gallery. The next place we visited was called Gifted Hands Gallery, which specializes in local and indigenous art and jewelry. There was a plethora of turquoise jewelry, along with lots of pottery, most notably Acoma pottery.

Unfortunately, they would not allow to Dustin to photograph anything inside, but that didn’t stamp out his enthusiasm. He was especially intrigued by a beautiful slice of petrified wood with an iconic Southwest painting and a clear acrylic coating. We noticed about four of them, each with a different image. Dustin was particularly impressed by the concept and immediately wanted to try it out at home, which I secretly deemed a homeschool win!

My favorite item there was a painted raven feather bundled in leather with a peacock feather and a blue jay feather. It was delicate and precise, and the painting, although simple, was very well done. I immediately started thinking about my feathers at home and whether any of them would be suitable for paint. The art was stunning and we both walked out of there with fresh ideas for art projects at home.

I was born and raised in New Mexico and over the years I have fallen out of love with some of the Southwest art concepts that bring in people from around the world. I often say things like, “if I see one more cowboys and Indians painting I might scream,” or “Kokopelli was a fertility god and he wasn’t holding a flute” or “paintings of adobe houses are overrated!”

Even though this gallery had all of those things inside I did not experience my normal dread. It was arranged in an interesting way and mixed in with the traditional art were some very unique styles I have never seen before.

Our next stop was a place called Crystal Dragon. Again, we were not permitted to take photos. Crystal Dragon specializes in selling crystals, minerals and fossils. There is also a little bit of art too. The place is quaint, and if you are a rock hound like we are its worth a visit. For me the highlight were angel sculptures all made from crystals and minerals. Dustin loved the fossil selection. He was mesmerized by some fish fossils he found until he noticed the ancient shark teeth. We didn’t spend a lot of time in there because the store is pretty pricey and it was the kind of place that you want to photograph every inch of—and we couldn’t take a single shot.

We moved along and stopped in the Johnsons Gallery. This is probably my favorite gallery in Madrid. The Johnsons are a delightful family and they own, operate and display their art there. The main artist featured at this gallery is Mel Johnson, who was an artistic genius in more than one medium, but I think he really excelled both in pencil and in paint.

The gallery also features other local artists. This week they had some wooden sculptures that were mind blowing created by an artist known as Cosmo Monkhouse. Diana Johnson, one of the owners of the gallery, said what Monkhouse does is study a piece of wood until it inspires a sculpture.

The gallery is full of art and friendly and we were given the green light to take photos. In addition to awesome art in every direction, they have an antique doll room. I thought the room was creepy but Dustin really enjoyed the antiquities.

The Johnsons are very friendly and they have been there a long time. They know a lot about both the history of Madrid and also the history of the building they occupy. I could easily spend all day picking Diana’s brain.

Our last stop was Chumani Gallery, although we did look into the window of the print shop between the two galleries because they have a blooming tree inside that could not be ignored. Chumani Gallery is a mash-up compared to the other galleries we visited that day. It showcases lots of traditional Southwest art and jewelry along with lots of modern art.

The owner is very knowledgeable about both Madrid and his inventory, and he is very friendly. At some point I was struck hard by an old mask sitting on the floor, seemingly being ignored.

I had to give it my attention more than once. Finally, I asked if I could pick it up to inspect it more closely and give it my appreciation. The owner said yes. He also told me that it had been sitting there for months being overlooked and underappreciated.

As soon as I picked it up, I noticed that you could see each individual carving. It had simple paint and it was obviously old and it was quite remarkable. It turned out that it was a 100-year-old hand carved mask from Nigeria. I couldn’t resist it and I went home with it and added it to my mask collection.

Last week, I explained that we had a budget of $50 to travel with. This week, I chose to spend our travel budget on the mask. It cost me less than $5 to drive there and my coffee and chocolate was about $10, so even leaving with a nice piece, we stayed very close to the budget. An art enthusiast like me would be hard-pressed to leave Madrid without art. You can spend anywhere from $20 to thousands of dollars on art in Madrid. There are many styles, sizes and galleries to choose from and much more affordable than buying art in Santa Fe, Taos or Albuquerque.

We will definitely be returning to Madrid for this feature. You could spend every weekend down there all summer long and still not see it all. Its small but it’s packed! Next week we are considering traveling only three minutes from the office for our next destination.

Do you have an idea for an attraction close to home we could feature here? Email me at news.ind.manager@gmail.com.