View From the Plaza

Albuquerque Airport Tour

Come join me on a tour of Native American art at the Albuquerque Sunport, which I mentioned in a previous blog.

Surprised to hear that our airport has a fantastic art collection?  Most people don’t know about the treasures stashed in the halls and on the walls.

My friend Ruth Shultz was, at the time, part of a nine member Albuquerque Art Board whose responsibilities included commissioning all the Native art for the airport when it was expanded in 1989 (though some of the Native art there now has been bought since.)  Ruth and the entire Albuquerque Art Board wanted to find the finest examples of traditional work by living Native American artists and they chose incredibly well.  A large sculpture by Jemez Pueblo stone carver Clifford Fragua in the A1 gate area was purchased; Fragua was chosen in 2005 as one of two artists from New Mexico to install a sculpture at the U.S. Capitol.  In the Great Hall lobby by the ticket counters is a case containing three items:  a ceramic vase by Elizabeth Naranjo, a traditional bracelet by Angie Reano-Owen, and a bear fetish by Stuart Quandelacy.  These were acquired and appraised well over ten years ago and are worth much more today.  The value of all of the art has certainly increased over the years, so this collection has been a great purchase and investment for the City of Albuquerque.

"Storyteller" by Stella Teller

"Storyteller" by Stella Teller Native Clay, Polychrome Paint, Turquoise and Heishe, 1988 Albuquerque International Sunport Art Collection

Some of Ruth’s best commissions are unfortunately in storage right now.  We saw five gorgeous examples of Native jewelry work, plus a basket by Lydia Pesata, a polychromed pot by Lois Gutierrez-De la Cruz, and a classic storyteller by Ada Suina, all of which had been in storage. Fortunately, they are currently on exhibit at Albuquerque City Hall.   Nine more pieces of Native art, mostly pottery – including examples from Dora Tse Pe, Dorothy Torivio, and Robert Tenorio– are in the Sandia Vista Room, a space rented out for meetings.  But two pieces she and the Board commissioned a decade later are hard to miss:  the large bronze sculptures by Allan Houser and Tammy Garcia in front of the Rental Car Facility.

Another piece that’s impossible to miss is the monumental, Dream of Flight – a sculpture of a Native figure holding a bird, installed near the food court and reaching halfway to the roof.  Sculptor Lincoln Fox is not Native, so the piece was not commissioned by Ruth.  But she, the entire Albuquerque Art Board, and everyone else from that era recall its dramatic arrival at the airport:  it had to be lowered through the roof by crane, and the floor reinforced to support its weight.

Next time you’re at the Albuquerque Sunport, take a look around for the other, smaller treasures, some of which are hidden in plain sight.  Ruth says she suggested to her Native artists, “Make something so when your grandchildren come to the airport, they’ll appreciate the lasting impact of your work.”  So, the next time you travel be sure to take the time to enjoy this incredible display of Native American art that honors traditional and contemporary artists. We should all be thankful to Ruth Schultz and the other volunteer members of the Albuquerque Art Board who selflessly lent their time and expertise transforming a public space into a “museum” of artistic gems for everyone’s pleasure.  Our airport truly houses a collection of stunning art, and what a better way to spend your time waiting for a flight than moseying around and delighting in the valuable art surrounding you?

Visit the City of Albuquerque Public Art’s photo stream of the Sunport Gallery.


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