This nativity by Louise Alvarez is made of driftwood she finds along the shores of lakes. Louise is the youngest child in the large family of the late Ben Ortega of Tesuque. Ben was famous for his unpainted wooden figures of Saint Francis. Louise was married to David Alvarez, another talented folk artist, and David and Louise made many pieces together.
Since David’s death in 2010, Louise has continued to create driftwood angels and nativities, and she now signs her work with her famous maiden name, Louise Ortega. The nativity above is her masterpiece. It includes a shepherd with his flock of sheep, the three wise men, and the nativity, with two hovering angels above. The figures are all pegged into the base.
Priscilla Jim lives in Acomita, one of the villages below the ancient pueblo of Acoma, an hour’s drive west of Albuquerque. She paints traditional Acoma pottery designs onto white slip-cast bells and cats. She uses the traditional black paint for Acoma pots, made from a native plant called Rocky Mountain beeweed. This plant is boiled down to make the black paint. Sometimes the paint is poured into a small corn husk basin to cool. If it cools in the pot it is though to remove. The corn husk acts as a disposable palette for the paint.
Priscilla’s bells and cats have been among the most popular ornaments at Susan’s Christmas Shop since the 1980s. Priscilla delivers her work to my house before 8:00 a.m., after a two-hour drive from Acomita. Then we talk like old friends. I recently learned that her late grandmother, Frances Torivio, made a large Acoma pot in my collection. Frances Torivio is considered a matriarch of Acoma pottery. Perhaps Priscilla inherited her grandmother’s painting skills.
During my high school years, I lived in Germany. I have unforgettable memories of those magical times. Years later, my mother made a little ornament of a baby inside a walnut shell cradle, which was inspired by a German one. But my mother’s ornament lacked a baby’s head. I made a tiny baby head of salt dough, painted the little eyes and mouth, and glued it inside. My daughter, Melissa, was inspired to copy this ornament for my shop to sell, but she has no sewing machine. My sister, Sylvia, sewed the fabric for her, and Melissa assembled the real walnut shell (it’s not easy to crack a walnut shell perfectly), the cotton fabric, the wire frame for the cradle’s curtain, and the tiny hand painted baby head I made.
This unique ornament is now available on my website, the product of four members of my family and three generations, my mother, my sister, my daughter and myself.
If you are in Santa Fe, please stop by my shop and say hello and see all the new items that have arrived.
The Church of the Holy Faith on East Palace Avenue is the oldest Episcopal Church in New Mexico. It is known for its beautiful nineteenth century leaded glass windows in the sanctuary. The most gorgeous window of the church is the Good Shepherd window. Originally this window was above the altar and the church was called The Church of the Good Shepherd. Later, the church was enlarged by Santa Fe architect John Gaw Meem. The window was moved to one side and church became The Church of the Holy Faith, the translation of Santa Fe in English.
This glass replica of The Church of The Holy Faith was created in Poland. A clay model was sculpted to create a mold. The mold was used to blow a glass ornament with the breath of a skilled glass blower. The resulting clear glass shape was silvered inside with a liquid silver. Artists painted the outside of the ornament. Finally, a cap was inserted. It takes almost a week to make one, every step by hand. Ten percent of the sales price will de donated to The Church of the Holy Faith in Santa Fe.
You can order your Holy Faith glass ornament at this link.
Sylvia Begaye is a talented Navajo artist from Fort Defiance, Arizona. She makes small fabric doll ornaments that represent the Navajo styles of dress, hair, and jewelry. Sometimes wooden cradleboards hold their babies. The ones with cradleboards are called “Madonna and Child“. Those with gray hair are called “Grandmothers“.
Sylvia’s faces always look like Navajo faces. Her delicate piped-on jewelry looks like the real silver and turquoise jewelry the Navajo jewelers make to sell and wear themselves. These ornaments have been sold for many years at Susan’s Christmas Shop, as well as Sylvia’s wreaths, velvet angels, and Navajo-style Santa ornaments.
This special ornament is from a series of collectible ornaments created by the New Mexico Governor’s Mansion Foundation. It features the high desert landscape of New Mexico, with a Zia symbol in the sky at the time of a sunset. Squash Blossom necklaces made of silver and turquoise are now called New Mexico’s State Necklace.
The ornament uses the pendant of this type of jewelry, not in real sterling silver and genuine turquoise stones, but imitation Rhodium plated metal and turquoise colored paint. All proceeds from the ornament sales benefit the Governor’s Mansion Foundation, a non-partisan, non-profit organization of volunteers responsible for the design and preservation of the Governor’s residence.
Carolyn Johnson has been making detailed small models of southwest churches since 1981. These models have just become better and more detailed as the years passed. Carolyn now makes over fifty different churches and continues to make new ones from time to time. Her church models can hang as a Christmas ornament or they can sit on a shelf. Carolyn began selling her work to Susan’s Christmas Shop in 1991. There are two wooden shelves on the south adobe wall of my shop, by the front door. Each shelf has dozens of small square openings, each opening the right size to hold a church model. On the bottom of each church model is a paper with information about that church. Most of the churches are located in New Mexico, but a few are in what is now Texas. The most popular church models are the ones shown here: the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi in Santa Fe, the Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, and the Santuario de Chimayo, a beloved pilgrim’s destination on the High Road to Taos.
The upcoming Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta always brings lots of people to Santa Fe. The huge hot air balloons rise at dawn above Albuquerque, inspiring awe in the people on the ground. After that, many visitors drive to Santa Fe for lunch at The Shed and a visit to my shop. Already we are selling scores of glass hot air balloons.
Customers tell us how happy are the faces of those who see the balloons. Even babies like them. Tiny Lillian was enchanted with our window. Can’t make it to the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta? You can still have a gorgeous glass balloon.
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