High altitude White light with a bit of history

by Caitlin


So here I am. Day 3. Based at Santa Fe Arts Institute; spacious, modern and well equipped to let thoughts roam, I have also ventured out into the physical space of Santa Fe. As part of my own orientation process (which I’ve observed I need to do immediately and frequently so I don’t feel like I’m a somewhat imprisoned artists in a studio on the outskirts of town!), I have looked into the history of the city and it’s notably unique building style.



Santa Fe  is the capital of the state of New Mexico. It is the fourth-largest city in the state and is the seat of Santa Fe County. It’s the oldest capital city in the United States and the oldest city in New Mexico. Santa Fe (meaning “holy faith” in Spanish) had a population of 69,204 in 2012.  It’s a mix of elongated main roads, and solitary back streets. The colour of this city is earthern. Everything is Brown, and sliding organic shapes.

Such earthy consistency occurs because in 1912 the city created the idea of imposing a unified building style – the Spanish Pueblo Revival look. The sources for this style came from the many defining features of local architecture: vigas (rough, exposed beams that extrude through supporting walls, and are thus visible outside as well as inside the building) and canales (rain spouts cut into short parapet walls around flat roofs), features borrowed from many old adobe homes and churches built many years before and found in the Pueblos, along with the earth-toned look (reproduced in stucco) of the old adobe exteriors.


After 1912 this style became official: all buildings were to be built using these elements. By 1930 there was a broadening to include the “Territorial”, a style of the pre-statehood period which included the addition of portales (large, covered porches) and white-painted window and door pediments (and also sometimes terra cotta tiles on sloped roofs, but with flat roofs still dominating). The city had become “different”. However, “in the rush to pueblofy” Santa Fe, the city lost a great deal of its architectural history and eclecticism. Among the architects most closely associated with this “new” style are T. Charles Gaastra and John Gaw Meem.

The city is flourishing with a tangible mixture of cultures. The streets are given Spanish names, and there is a strong Mexican culture. Today I visted a market and was inundated with traditional Mexican woven skirts and jackets, as well as reams of traditional mini chili’s as wintery decorations. Then there was the array of the more commonly seen Zuni and Navajo jewellery, consisting of a lot of Turquoise, Coral and liquid silver beading.


I particularly liked the Kachina’s, which are primitive dolls used by Native American people’s including  Hopi, Zuni, Tewa Village (on the Hopi Reservation), Acoma Pueblo, and Laguna Pueblo.



Kachinas are spirits or personifications of things in the real world. A kachina can represent anything in the natural world or cosmos, from a revered ancestor to an element, a location, a quality, a natural phenomenon, or a concept. There are more than 400 different kachinas in Hopi and Pueblo culture. I am tempted to get a couple to bring back with me, and they are also reminiscent of the Zuni fetishes, that I have loved since discovering them when I was Sixteen.


Historically, Santa Fe has seen enough battles. The city of Santa Fe was originally occupied by a number of Pueblo Indian villages with founding dates between 1050 to 1150. Don Juan de Oñate led the first effort to colonize the region in 1598, when the Conquistadors  headed to the American SouthWest, searching for Gold. They found none, but instead decided to convert the peoples of Santa Fe to Catholiscm. The mission saw the Indian peoples coerced to build churches throughout the city. However in 1680 the Pueblo Indians revolted and managed to drive 2,000 Spanish settlers out of the area, as well as killing 400 Spanish Soldiers. Independence was not to last, and Santa Fe was later to be reconquered by Don Diego de Vargas, Santa Fe remained Spain’s provincial seat until the outbreak of the Mexican War of Independence in 1810. In 1824 the city’s status as the capital of the Mexican territory of Santa Fe de Nuevo México was formalized in the1824 Constitution. Most recently, In 1912, New Mexico became the United States of America’s 47th state, with Santa Fe as its capital.

History aside, I’m particularly taken by the massive Blue skies, the height of the city and the mountains that wrap up and contain the Brown earthiness that seems to envelop and calm the senses effortlessly. The landscape around Santa Fe, is also the terrain of cowboys and endless arid, rocky vistas.