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Rio Grande Arts & Crafts Festivals Bring Enchantment to Albuquerque Art Enthusiasts

By S. Mathur

New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment, attracts both tourists and artists. For twenty-eight years, each October during Balloon Fiesta the Rio Grande Arts & Crafts Festivals has brought them together in a 'big white tent' to celebrate art and life.

Festival Director Ruth Gore says that "The festival is a fun, high energy event that features the juried works of 200 painters, sculptors, potters, photographers, jewelers and more. Artists, who travel from all over the country, enjoy meeting and talking to patrons, and many of them give demonstrations and share stories behind the pieces they have created to sell at the festival."

The calendar actually includes three festivals, in March, October, and a holiday show at Thanksgiving. Together, the festivals are one of the leading art events in New Mexico. The shows are juried and the artwork selected represents a variety of styles, media and price ranges.

Gore explains that the artists and artwork are chosen to appeal to different tastes: "It's important to us that customers can find a unique handcrafted piece to take home and enjoy, whether it's a piece of jewelry to remind them of their trip to New Mexico, a great piece of art, a handmade leather belt or a whimsical piece of pottery, we make sure that our artist lineup offers a little something for everyone."

The October Arts and Crafts Festival coincides with the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, when hundreds of colorful hot air balloons fill the sky above the spectacular desert landscape. The holiday show at Thanksgiving comes at just the right time for Christmas shopping. It's a great place to find a unique gift, unlike the generic offerings at the mall.

The art showcased at the festivals reflects the magic of the surroundings, and last year's artists included Jamin Still, Jan Vandenberg and Scott Swezy. Their art shows places real and imaginary, near and far, in dreamlike colors. Still's artwork evokes the enchantment of children's stories, with echoes of classics like The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Vandenberg's prints depict scenes like fishing boats on the Ghana coast and high valleys in Colorado.

There's plenty of artisanal food as well, to sustain festival goers, as well as a taste of some of Albuquerque's craft beers. Entertainment includes music from regional bands like Mariachi Fiesta Internacional, Mezcla Latina, Syd Masters and the Swing Riders and Alpha Blue.

One thing that sets the Rio Grande Arts & Crafts Festivals apart is the willingness of the artists to discuss their work, methods and inspiration with visitors. It's not just an exhibition space but a place for artists and art lovers to meet. In fact each festival features dozens of 'Artists at Work', including painters, sculptors, glass- and jewelry- makers and wood and leather workers. The events are family-friendly and the Kids' Creation Stations encourage budding talents.

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