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A Stroll Down Ledoux

Visiting and exploring one of the oldest and more picturesque streets in Taos, New Mexico

By Teresa Dovalpage
Published on LatinoLA: July 18, 2011

A Stroll Down Ledoux

Taos, New Mexico's Ledoux Street starts with a herd of galloping horses depicted on a massive mural. The street meanders like a narrow, colorful path at the heart of old Taos. It is home to a variety of art galleries, two museums, a restaurant, two hair salons, a yoga studio and several charming casitas.

Ledoux has a creative mojo that distinguishes it from other taose??o streets; it is artistic and spiritual, picturesque and gourmet. And it stays active all through the year.

Ledoux Art Stroll is held during the summer so visitors can visit galleries and shops, and meet the local artists. December is the time for The Lighting of Ledoux Street, when houses and businesses are illuminated with the traditional New Mexican farolitos and luminarias (candles inside brown paper bags). But today's balmy weather is a clear invitation to walk around and to snoop in the shops. Andale, join me!

1 Ledoux Street Courtyard houses Byzantium restaurant whose owner, Scott Kirshbaum, says that he chose this name so as not to stick to a certain type of food. The Byzantium cuisine embraces east and west, it's a fusion of Asian, Middle Eastern and European flavors. This very building was home to el abuelo of the Taos News, El Crep??sculo de la Libertad, founded by Father Martinez in 1834.

Scott informs me the press and the offices were located in the space that is now shared by Byzantium, Shank hair salon, Caf?ģ Loka and a yoga studio. Later the building went through various incarnations, among them a bar‘«™ and a "boy's club."

While I enjoy a delicious dish of pineapple and chipotle ribs, Scott shows me some of the archaeological findings that he has made sweeping the floor, including a beer can with triangular holes, probably from the early 50's, before the invention of pull-tabs. The atmosphere of the restaurant, that has only seven tables, is intimate, yet refined and elegant. Scott Kirshbaum has been in business for sixteen years. Considering the quality of the food and the chic coziness of the place, I'm not surprised.

A regular visitor to Byzantium was R.C. Gorman, whose Navajo Gallery is just a few steps away. At the door I meet Tammy Roybal-Gonzales, current director of the gallery, who speaks impeccable Spanish. The big room, that used to be R.C. Gorman's studio, still retains a quiet, family-like feel, despite the heroic bronze statues and the numerous paintings with stylized images of Navajo women hanging on the walls. Yet Tammy tells me that Gorman believed it was haunted by the spirit of a young woman. He once did a painting called Reina, she explains, and hung it over the archway. But whenever it was brought down and replaced by another piece, the Reina painting came crashing down.

Apparently Reina resembled a woman who had lived here during the 1800's... and wanted to continue "reigning over the house." For many years her painting hung exactly at the same spot, to avoid disturbances. Fortunately, the house is now inhabited by gentler, less obnoxious spirits. In a smaller room Tammy has built a discreet altar with four votive candles dedicated to R.C. Gorman, Virginia Dooley (director of the gallery for thirty-three years), Antonia Miera (Tammy's daughter, who was Gorman's goddaughter) and Tammy's mother, Rose Roybal. A big, fluffy and extremely friendly cat that lives in the museum was named Rose in her honor. The visit to the R.C. Gorman's house leaves me with a soothing feeling as if I had just eaten a warm dish of pozole.

Now I step in Steven Baumann's home, gallery and studio. Another big, black cat greets me from the fireplace mantel. It's Mr. Purr, who has appeared prominently on several of Baumann's portraits. The artist moved to Taos from Santa Fe in 2008. He and Susan Gray, his wife of almost thirty years, had previously lived in a small village named Agua Amarga, in Almer?°a, Spain, which inspired some of their most vivid, lively artworks.

I stop in front of a Mercado de Almer?°a, oil, 18 x 24, that depicts an indoor market where los vendedores sell all kinds of vegetables, exotic flowers, rabbits and chickens. Baumann is a classical realist, as one can see in the exquisite detail of people's clothes, the texture of the fruits and even the discarded produce that covers the mercado's floor. He explains that for this particular painting he used watercolors for his studies because the market was too noisy and crowded to work there, but that he prefers to paint on location. Baumann is currently working on a landscape he started by Cid's Market. Looking across the road into the pasture on a cloudy day, he titled the painting Walking Rain. A painting of Williams Lake and several of buffalo (Prairie Spirit, The Hurd) show the New Mexico spirit as captured by the artist's expert eye.

Still on the left side of the street is the Harwood Museum, presently in the midst of an ambitious expansion project. It will feature a new gallery and an auditorium, says Lucy Perera, who offers a guided tour of the museum every Sunday at one o'clock.

On the first floor we visit Agnes Martin Gallery. A friend recommended that I "submerge myself in them to achieve peace and quietness." (Better than Prozac, she maintained.) I sit on one of the yellow stools specially created for this space by Donald Judd and dutifully stare at one. At first they all look the same to my uneducated eyes ‘«Űsubtle lines over a white surface‘«Ű and this reminds me of my frustrating experiences with Yoga Nidra. But little by little, I start getting more relaxed.

The title of the painting, I discover later, is Lovely Life. Lucy comes in and explains that the artist would get up in the morning with an idea and then work on transferring it to the canvas by using the power of the lines. "It was a kind of meditation for her." We move on to the second floor. The Sunday guided tour is free for the Taos residents. Maybe I should come back and try the Agnes Martin therapy again.

Across the street there is a combination of beauty salon and hair-and-skin boutique: Salon Marjorie. Built in the 1920's it was once (unsurprisingly, this being Ledoux Street) an art gallery. It hasn't yet lost its gallery-esque quality, maybe because of the paintings that hung from almost all the walls, original artwork by Marjorie herself, who does printmaking and photography, and Elisabeth Joy.

Marjorie was taking some of her art slides to the Harwood Museum when she discovered that the house was for rent, and she took it. Originally from Vermont, she enjoys giving directions to people who are from here or have been here forever but don't know where this place is. "I love this particular section of Taos," she says. "At the rate the town is growing, it gets more difficult to maintain this historical kind of feeling." The place is becoming to Marjorie for another reason. "Have your hairdo in Ledoux," she remarks with a wink.

Now, if you happen to be a tourist lost in Taos, looking for a place to spend a couple of nights, I would undoubtedly recommend the Casita 203. Attached to the gallery 203 Fine Art, it's a delightful 600 square-foot space with a private courtyard. It's a place where inspiration can find you, says the owner, Shaun Richel, whose art is also exhibited in the gallery. The present exhibition is "Taos Modernist - Paintings and Drawings" by John DePuy. His Desert Plans (oil on canvas) warms the room with the yellow and orange splashes, and artful touches of red.

It starts sprinkling. Hijole, these walking rains of Taos! Time to go home. But there are so many places I still want to visit: Rane Gallery, where the SOMOS writers' series is now held‘«™ the Blumenschein Home and Museum‘«™ another shop. Well, I'll have to come back. Hasta pronto.

About Teresa Dovalpage:
Teresa Dovalpage is the author of the English-language novel novels A Girl like Che Guevara (Soho Press, 2004) and Habanera, A Portrait of a Cuban Family (Floricanto Press, 2010). She has also written and published three Spanish language novels.
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