Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Decades change traditions, but Placitas art students still benefit

Placitas loves its little artists


Only a few small puddles remain on the table covers as Adam Sauers' third-graders put away their aprons after a painting lesson with watercolors.

Controlled chaos ensues until the Placitas Elementary School kids dutifully line up to head out the door as a fifth-grade class waits to enter. It's a Thursday, part of the week Sauers splits between here and Algodones Elementary.

"It is so rare that a kid comes into my class and starts trouble," Sauers said. "They want to be there. They want to be creative and get dirty.

"They also learn to clean up as part of the process."

On this day stained-glass artist Barb Belknap is visiting not to instruct but to deliver about $500 for art supplies. It's money raised by a raffle at the Second Annual Placitas Holiday Market held in part at the Placitas Winery co-owned by Belknap and her husband Ty.

The donation will be channeled through the school's parent-teacher organization, she said.

The 28 artisan vendors working in paint, glass, fabric, photography, chocolate and other media each contributed an item covering a range of prices. About two miles away, vendor fees were benefiting the Placitas Community Library, one of six venues for the new-annual event.

Keeping with the tradition of an earlier annual event, it was held on the weekend before Thanksgiving.

The school art program has many friends, another being the Canyon Blues & Jazz series of outdoor concerts at Homestead Village Shopping Center. The August Soul Picnic benefitted the art program while five other shows aided a food bank, animal rescues, an animal shelter and a home-rehab program.

"The support from the community for the elementary school is really quite astounding," Sauers said. "This community wants its little artists to flourish."

The students' work in multiple media will be in the spotlight when the Placitas library hosts Nuestros Niños, Su Arte, y Sus Libros, Our Children, Their Art, and Their Books from April 1-May 14.  A reception on April 22 from 1-3 p.m. includes refreshments and a book giveaway.

Typical of Placitas, there's a story behind the story and a story behind that story. For starters, Sauers' 2001 degree is in geography and environmental studies with an unexpected turn to art beginning after his 2010 move from Pennsylvania to New Mexico.

A longtime coach of youth hockey, he met his wife at an Albuquerque hockey tournament and apprenticed with her father, widely known mosaic artist Randy Miller. After a run selling his own art, he substitute taught at Carroll Elementary School in Bernalillo before going fulltime this year under a temporary license.

Sauers is on the state's alternate path of studies and tests for a permanent license with visual arts endorsement for next school year.

The short story behind the Art Market is the Belknaps in 2021 joining with the library for a benefit holiday event at the winery. At the time the library couldn't hold its own show and sale as an expansion project was just winding down.

That event took its lead from the 37-year November tradition of the Placitas Holiday Fine Arts and Crafts Sale, a juried show that drew large crowds.

Look even further in the past to find Placitas potter Peaches Malmaud and the Placitas Mountaincraft and Soirée Society, which staged its first art sales with the Crafty Mountain Fair in 1972.

The Soiree Society provided a variety of fundraising entertainments to Placitas and Bernalillo, recalled Nancy Crouch, a creator of stained-glass water prisms. Peaches was the mother of the Fine Arts sale, she added.

"She's the one who got it together," Couch said. "We jumped in on the first show.

"Peaches ran it for about 10 years and turned it over to us."

Us would be Nancy and woodworker husband Jon Couch backed by board members Mary Hofman, Dana Roth and Bunny Bowen.

Jon described the earliest sales being held in unsold spec homes provided by a real estate broker. As the event grew and spec homes sold quicker, the Clear Light Cedar Company, a large heated tent and later the then-Anasazi Fields Winery and the elementary school became village venues.

Each of their sales included a raffle of vendors' art to support the elementary school art classes.

"It was pretty amazing," Nancy said. "We've probably given the school close to $30,000. They did all kinds of things with the money."

Beyond art supplies, that included building a stage and taking class trips to Popejoy Hall in Albuquerque and the Santa Fe Opera.

"To me it's always been a matter of making art a part of your life," Jon said.

When no one stepped up to take over after the 2019 event and 2020 pandemic shutdown, the Couches folded their tent. The final step came on Jan. 31 with the board donating $1,750 still in the bank to the school art program.

"It's been a fun ride," Nancy added. "Our span of life here is a lot of great memories and a lot of great people."


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