Origins Of New Mexican Style

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Four Centuries of Tradition in the "Land of Enchantment

The romance of the New Mexican style, now caricatured around the world in everything from faux adobe homes to howling pink coyotes, is most authentically captured in the unique furniture of northern New Mexico.

New Mexican style has been over 400 years in the making. It has been influenced by the earliest Spanish conquistadors, the struggling Hispanic settlers, the conquering Yankees, and in this century by the influx of tourists, artists, archaeologists, architects and historians. It's possible to divide the style's evolution into three distinct periods that trace the history of this harsh and turbulent land.


Colonial Period: 1598 to 1821

Spanish colonists brought few pieces of furniture with them when they immigrated to the Southwest from Mother Spain, so they made their own, often from ponderosa pine, split and adzed to a workable thickness.

Mexican Style Furniture

Carvings relieve the visual mass of this Spanish Colonial chest (c. 1800).

Visual Mass Furniture
These carved and painted cupboard doors, made during the Spanish Colonial period, swing on pintle hinges.

These early furniture makers used mortise-and-tenon joinery, with square pegs or wedges to keep the joints tight in the arid climate. Carpinteros, as the craftsmen were called, relieved the massive boards of some of their visual weight by carving their surfaces with Spanish and Moorish motifs such as pomegranates, rosettes, shells, lions and scallops. Other embellishments included heavy grooves and cutouts along table aprons and bottom rails, and hand-carved spindles and splats inspired by the window grilles popular in Spain.

Carvings relieve the visual mass of this Spanish Colonial chest (c. 1800).

Trasteros, or cupboards, had doors that swung on "pintle" hinges (wooden pins carved on the ends of the hinge stiles). Crests, cut into the shape of fans or scallops, often adorned the top fronts and sides of such pieces and were secured by dadoes cut in the legs, which extended above the tops of the cabinets. Deep carvings suggesting corn stalks, rain, or the heavens indicate some pieces may have been built by Pueblo Indians.



1821 to 1900

The opening of the Santa Fe Trail in 1821 brought Anglo-American settlers, along with sawn planks, frame saws, molding planes and the furniture styles popular in the East.

In the isolated villages of northern New Mexico, local woodworkers absorbed these new influences into their own style. They decorated traditional New Mexican furniture with intricate cutouts, turnings and applied wood panels reminiscent of the Empire, Greek Revival, Mission and Craftsman styles. Trasteros became

New Mexico Punched Tin Designs
This Anglo-American-period cabinet resembles a Midwestern pie safe.

wardrobes and were topped with crown moldings. Some were highly painted and "grained." while others sported punched tin fronts

Traditional New Mexican Chairs
Mld-1800s bed shows intermingling of Anglo and Hispanic design elements.
Santa Style Painted Furniture

like their Hoosier-cabi-net cousins from the Midwest. (See photo, opposite.)

Spanish Revival Period:

1920 to Present

New Mexican furniture making languished between 1900 and 1920 as the need for furniture was met by factory-produced imports. But interest in traditional New Mexican style arose Chair built for the Museum of Fine again with the con Arts in Santa Fe in 1917 is a fine struction of the Fine example of Spanish-Revival-period Arts Museum in Santa furniture, with its Craftsman-style Fe. in 1915. joinery and proportions.

This museum embodied Spanish Colonial and Pueblo Indian motifs in everything from the architecture to the furnishings. Decorative elements such as the carved designs on the massive beams and corbels, chip carvings painted in dull reds and blues (see photo, above), and protruding tenons derived from the Mission and Craftsman styles became signatures of the Spanish Revival period, and they continue to inform furniture makers of the region today.

With the onset of the Great Depression, New Mexico's rural subsistence economy collapsed. To help create jobs, state relief officials opened furniture-making programs throughout the state, giving rise to a new look in New Mexican furniture that would forever after be referred to as the "WPA style."

The state produced a mimeographed booklet that laid out acceptable design standards for reproductions of "traditional" 18th- and 19th-century pieces, encouraging a return to through mortise-and-tenon joinery and carved rosettes and sunbursts. While some teachers and students followed this "Blue Book" literally, others adapted the drawings to their own tastes. Today, well-worn copies of the Blue Book are still used in New Mexican cabinet shops, while the modest pieces crafted during the WPA period. their shellacked surfaces orange with age, fetch ever-rising prices on the antiques market. —K.H. For additional reading, see

New Mexican Furniture.

1.600 1940. by Lonn Taylor and Dessa Bokides (1987, Museum of New Mexico Press. Box 2087. Santa Fe, NM 87503).

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Santa New Mexico Moms

Inside the cabinet, two drawers with carved fronts are suspended from simple shelves.

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Soft edges and bead details in the rails and raised panels complement the geometric pattern of the e/ rayo carving.

collection of odd nuts, bolts, and washers on a leather thong and lightly taps it against the surfaces where wear would ordinarily occur—particularly at the corners, below the pulls and near the bottom of the cabinet, where it would have been banged up by mops, brooms, vacuum cleaners and kids over the years. Then he hand-sands the entire piece with 100-grit sandpaper. He prefers this coarse grit because it helps the surface take stain better than finer grits would.

surface with steel wool and wax to create a soft patina.

Lavadie uses standard magnet catches or roller catches for his cabinets. Likewise, his hinges are standard 2-in. by 2'/2-in. butt hinges, but with an added touch: To give them a handmade look, he heats them in his wood stove (you could

Finishing Up

Lavadie has devised a special finishing proccss that completes the aged look of the trastero. First, he applies a coat of Minwax "Puritan Pine" stain. Once the stain has dried, he sprays on a coat of lacquer sanding sealer (available at paint stores).

Inside the cabinet, two drawers with carved fronts are suspended from simple shelves.

f*0tds bt kugsley mmiwctt

Soft edges and bead details in the rails and raised panels complement the geometric pattern of the e/ rayo carving.

Then he rubs the piece lightly witli 220#rit sandpaper or 00-grade steel wool lo produce a good bonding surface for his second coat of stain—in this case, Minwax "Special Walnut." He steel-wools the piece again, creating highlights where the lighter stain comes through and leaving the darker brown color in the recesses. Then he applies three or four coats of lacquer and finishes up by rubbing the use a torch) until the zinc coating has burned off. Before they cool completely, he brushes them with a wire brush and gives them a coat of paste wax.

The door pulls (available from Roberto Lavadie, Box 522, Taos, NM 87571, 505-758-9130), are hand-forged by a local blacksmith, and are fastened to the doors with clinch pins. A

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How To Sell Furniture

How To Sell Furniture

Types Of Furniture To Sell. There are many types of products you can sell. You just need to determine who your target market is and what specific item they want. Or you could sell a couple different ones in a package deal.

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