Friday, March 22, 2019
Two Graces, A Condensed History of a Small Business in the County of Taos, New Mexico
I moved forward to open my own store, a space was offered to us at a very fair rental agreement. My Dad, Allesandro and Holly’s Dad, Jack aka Harry were our advisors. I could call them and ask them anything, now that they are no longer with us I miss being able to call. The former tenant was closing/retiring and was supportive. That was Irene ‘Jinx’ Miller who had her finger on the pulse of antiques and more importantly on the neighborhood of Ranchos. Jinx was also a beloved volunteer docent of Taos often she could be found attending the information booth on Taos Plaza. We need more people like Jinx, there are many who go unnoticed but to me they are my heroes. Jinx suggested that I not sell books, that they were not lucrative and people would not buy books. I chose to sell books and I purchased her book inventory and her display cabinets.
Soon after opening someone came into the shop, looked around and spoke to me. It turned out he was there to check me out and see what I was doing. He was the head of the local Ranchos ‘gang’, although he did not introduce himself as such, I learned this later. He appreciated that my shop honored local culture and crafts, the Catholic church and the Pueblo. He told me that if anyone hassled me to let him know and he would put a stop to it. He was the boss of the neighborhood and protector of people he liked. Thankfully he took an immediate liking to me and my little Ranchos shop.
Little did I know October was the last hurrah of business in Taos before the winter set in of absolutely no business, yet we persisted and stayed open every day, hopeful. A woman walked in who was a curator at the Santa Fe Folk Art Museum. She spent what to me at the time was a small fortune and purchased some of my best objects. I thought, just maybe this could work, I remained hopeful, I still am.
Soon, I was called to jury duty in Taos County, it was eye opening, I loved every minute of it. Normally the shop is open every day, but I had to close for a day or two every week for 3 months As jurors were selected for the Grand Jury, I had no idea that asking questions would put me in the hot seat. The other jurors all agreed to make me foreman, because I asked questions. We had difficult cases which left me shattered at the end of each session, this went on for a month. I was sworn to not speak about what went on each day of the cases presented, but I soon saw firsthand the domestic violence rampant in Taos. As foreman, I took notes which were turned in to the secretary and I paid attention. I had to be able to answer questions from the other jurors who I've remained life long friends with. All of them have been supportive that I have a small business in Ranchos de Taos. For a while the other jurors would come by to visit Two Graces, some mornings I'd serve home-made banana bread and coffee to these wonderful people. I'd open quite early on Sundays when people getting out of Church could come by to visit as well.
Two Graces didn’t start as an art gallery, it started as a curio and book shop. Then artists began coming by and asking for specific items. In our first year we sold 800 cigar boxes to artists. Some used them for storing art supplies, others used them to make assemblage boxes. I’d get calls from art teachers looking for 30 cigar boxes at a time. Thankfully friends smoked cigars and would come by the shop with their car trunks full of cigar boxes. When I spoke with cigar shop owners about how artists were using these boxes, they’d give me bags full. Soon we began exhibiting artwork by local artists who made assemblage art.
Our first year was amazing, but then the landlord sold the building and the new owners preferred to use the space for a cafe that they would run. One of the neighbors, Berlinda was closing her shop at the corner of the Ranchos Plaza and offered me the space, so we moved after our first year. I was exhibiting local Santera Artist Lydia Garcia, who wanted to have her annual Christmas exhibit in the new space. She’d shown there annually when it was Susan Backus’ “Big Sun” Gallery. That was amazing, Lydia was more than willing to work with me as to what saints and imagery to exhibit. We sold every single one of her Dia de los Meurtos Retablos she could make for us! I wish I still had some.
At one point Vishu Magee heard about me and asked that I join M.E.N. to mentor young people in the Taos School system. He approached me, confident that I could help as a person who young people would look up to. While I was mentoring and decompressing afterwards, Holly would be at the shop waiting to hear all about how things went. Whenever I walked into a school, youngsters knew my name, calling out to me to say hello. They’d read about my gallery in Tempo, which gave me quite a bit of cache among them. I could see them showing each other my name in the paper. I’d play basketball, most of the young people loved shooting hoops with me. Sometimes I’d sit and draw with them and sometimes I just listened to their problems without judging or offering to solve anything I couldn’t actually help with. One particular person needed a bit more help. I was asked to meet with his counselor and his family. During this meeting, I was only there to listen, but I asked to speak. I told his parents that his only desire was to join a gang. That he felt they would not only protect him but that they’d be a family that would love him. He didn’t feel his parents loved him, or at least in his eyes, he didn’t feel their love for him. They wept and I broke down, the family needed to hear from an outsider that they needed to let their child know they loved him. At the time I was a mentor, current Taos Town Councilor Fritz Hahn was my ’handler’. At the end of a session with my charge, I’d break down and cry on his shoulder. I felt useless, but Fritz was encouraging and urged me to keep on trying. Eventually I had to step back from mentoring for M.E.N., soon after the organization changed to include women.
I love young people, I love when they shop at Two Graces and hold out their own money to buy something, even if it’s a twenty-five cent marble. A while back I offered to trade a little guy something he wanted for a rock he’d picked up from our garden. His wide eyes revealed he’d rather pay me his allowance money than trade that rock away to me. This was a heart warming moment of many in the shop. A woman who lives nearby takes her children for walks past the shop on a regular basis. Each time one of the children stops to play with a plastic lady bug in our garden out front. Whenever I notice that the ladybug has been moved I know that they've been by.
The artists we were regularly exhibiting knew that Holly and I were both artists and encouraged us to start showing our own work in our gallery. We began hanging our artwork in subtle ways, not to take space away from the local artists we were supporting. Our art would be hung over doors and windows and out of the way. At the time I was still exhibiting with a gallery in New York City.
The following year when Curtis Featherston, was looking to move his shop back to where he lived, he offered us his much larger space. We stayed in that space for about 5 years. The landlords were terrific people, but soon one of them had a stroke and the burden of the rental was put on the one partner. Later the space next door, owned by the same landlord, was offered to us which has more light and better feng shui. Did I mention a local person had done a feng shui reading for us in each space(?).
On the advice of Roger Click, who at the time owned a neighboring shop, we began holding group exhibitions. His theory was that if we had an exhibit with ten artists, they'd invite ten friends. We’d then have opening receptions with at least 100 people in attendance. Group exhibits with themes were great attention getters and thanks to Rick Romancito and Virginia Clark we were featured time and again in the Taos News, Tempo, Arts & Entertainment section of the local weekly newspaper. We'd have an annual Dia de los Metros exhibit that I would invite artists and non-artists to participate in. The local community members who weren't artists loved being asked and made great altars for the exhibits.
Robert Dean Stockwell was in a Valentine Sacred Heart exhibit, he’d come by the gallery daily to purchase the New York Times, which wasn’t deliverable to his remote home, he asked that I begin carrying the paper daily for him to purchase. Movie stars and Rock stars visited and shopped. I was in awe whenever a famous person would come up to the counter and introduce themselves, “Hello, I’m….”, it took all I could do to not say to them in return, “Yes, I know”. Usually I’d ask if they needed me to lock the door to protect their privacy from gawkers, if need be that I would be happy to do so.
There are groups of people who visit the shop regularly, people with limited vision, autistic people and homeless people, all of them come by to be in a safe place where they can look, touch and wonder at the objects on display. One of my favorite moments was when a group of Nuns in habits came into the shop, a couple had just left and relayed their disgust for a current exhibition on display. I warned the Nuns with a gentle but firm suggestion that the exhibit may be offensive to them. They entered the gallery space and looked intently at the sexual and political assemblages by Annapurna Alysa Sydell. Smiling, the entire time until they told me they found none of it offensive and what a lovely gallery we have here. This group of Nuns from Colorado have been annual visitors to our shop.
From time to time someone comes by with a problem which needs to be heard out and at times they need me to troubleshoot their stated problem. I listen and think about how to help. At other times people just come in to vent, they too have their moments and I listen and sometimes I give advice. We have been a community asset for all things Taos and sometimes we've been the problem solvers to people who have nowhere else to turn.
Two Graces Plaza Gallery was the merger of two spaces, one my wife Holly Sievers was running for Ray Trotter who no longer wanted a space on the Ranchos Plaza and my original concept of Two Graces. Holly & I have been great partners playing to our strengths running the shop. By default I became the in-house historian, marketer/promoter, blogger, Social Media director, artist and buyer/picker, and in-house artist. Holly became the bookkeeper, website designer, gallerina, and in-house artist. It’s a good team effort that we work on constantly, we are husband and wife, at times lifting each other up through thick and thin. We have to be there for each other, no matter what or else the business doesn’t work and our marriage would fall apart. I’m not about to let that happen.
Now we are at a crossroads, we've chosen to move into the town of Taos ‘historic’ district. We’ve been offered three spaces in the Ranchos area but we agree that our best move is into the town arts center which at this point in time is Kit Carson Road. The gallery owners there are a tight knit group who love that we are moving to the neighborhood. Many of them have come by our current location to express how happy they are for us, that we will soon be a part of their arts community. So very many of you have expressed your excitement for us about our move into town
Especially touching for me is the space we’ve chosen is the first place I ever exhibited in Taos, Gallery A, which was run by Jules and Gene Sanchez. Recently I learned it had begun as Allied Artists of New Mexico, later shortened to Gallery A (one of the first and longest running art galleries in Taos, I believe of 55 years) run by Mary Sanchez. Her partners included Mrs. and Mr. Eric Gibberd, Mario Larrinaga and Cecil B. DeMille. Previously the space had also been a woodworkers shop, a real estate office and later part of the Living Light Gallery of Lenny Foster.
Holly and I have been docents for historic Taos entities, board members and attendees at more Taos marketing meetings than we could count. We have constantly learned and shared our knowledge of the history of Taos with others. I love writing about Taos, I love learning about Taos, we are proud to be members of this caring community. For two years I had the opportunity to write for Tempo and share the art of Taos with its readership. That was a secret dream come true for me. I’d wanted to write for the paper ever since I’d moved here.
Over the years I’ve been encouraged to write about the exploits of owning a gallery in Taos, through all the lovely moments, the funny moments and the perplexing, along with the shake my head and brush it off moments. I began this blog (and my daily Facebook posts) years ago, they are just the tip of the iceberg of the stories, things to do and see, which from time to time I share with all of you.
We are currently raising funds for our move into the historic district of the Kit Carson Road Arts region of Taos. We have a GoFundMe account, there has also been the generosity of our visitors, friends and family who continue to gift us with cash, checks, charges and through Paypal with the financial help needed for our impending move, which we estimated at $15,000. in order to pay for everything we need to start over. A big chunk of this is in order to purchase a reliable vehicle. If you've seen the one vehicle we rely on now, you'd know how truly vital we need a car. As we pay off necessities on the breakdown list, it is amazing to see how much cash flow it takes to run a small business. I'll soon be writing a more detailed aspect of this on the blog.
Our mailing address is Two Graces, PO Box 1587, Ranchos de Taos, NM 87557, phone land-line is 575-758-4101, email for Paypal is Holly Sievers, firstname.lastname@example.org
We plan to open at 105 Barela Lane at the corner of Kit Carson Road on May 1, 2019.
Thank you for reading, thank you for helping and thank you for loving what we do as much as we love being a part of this community.