Sandoval Signpost


An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988

Artist Mary Steigerwald

Fall silks

Chestnut detail on charmeuse

Signpost featured artist

Nature’s art: Dyeing with plants, soul, spirit, and water

~Oli Robbins

Hanging inside the Anasazi Fields Winery during the Placitas Holiday Sale were Mary Steigerwald’s extraordinary plant-dyed fabrics. Her cozy booth was bustling for the duration of the sale, and by the end of day one, all but four of her items had sold. Shoppers were instantly charmed by the scarves, runners, and hangings, their natural beauty impossible to ignore.

When Mary began experimenting with plant dyeing just two years ago, she became a “madwoman,” totally obsessed with, and undeniably fulfilled by, her new medium. “To me,” says Mary, “this magical process embodies all that is sacred and precious in our natural world, and I see over and over again that people actually feel a sort of energy from these prints, and it satisfies a hunger for nature.” Indeed, I too witnessed the lure firsthand. Mary’s scarves make the spirit of nature palpable, enabling the wearer to (quite literally) feel nature’s bounty and splendor.

Says Mary of her process, “By laying various leaves and flowers and other botanicals onto natural fabrics and processing by way of wood fire, water, and steam, I assist nature in creating amazing and magical scarves, table runners, wall hangings, and other items.” Mary here implies that she is the apprentice, an assistant to nature. This perspective is integral to her artistic practice and relationship with her works. She doesn’t consider herself the mastermind behind the art, but rather a grateful participant in a larger experience.

“The most important thing to me is that I’m not really doing it. I’m doing the mechanics but this is Mother Nature… My job is to stand back as much as I can and let it happen.” Unlike most other prints, each piece is absolutely one-of-a-kind and cannot be replicated. The dyed fabrics are reflections of nature’s vastness—its limitless ability to create. Says Mary, “No inks or dyes are used. All images and colors come from the plants themselves. No two are ever alike. Each one is a unique expression of the alchemy of the botanicals, the water, nature, and the moment.”

After arranging the leaves on the fabric (usually silk or wool, both of which are protein fibers and therefore quite receptive to the plant dye), she rolls the fabric onto a rusty rod. She then steams it over water for about 1.5 hours—just like you would a vegetable, except instead of steaming over a traditional stove, Mary builds her own fire, riverside. An iron water mordant, made with a rusty horseshoe, is required to “help fix the pigments of the leaves to the fabric.” The metal component to the water is essential, and always present in varying strengths. The water itself is also important, because the amount of iron naturally in the water will affect the dyeing process. “I feel like it’s sacred. To me it’s the soul and spirit of the work—where they’re made and the water.”

Says Mary, “I’ve had the honor and blessing to have lived for nearly 45 years in wild and beautiful places—from the Redwoods in California to the foothills of the Sandias to the high aspen forests of northern New Mexico.” She has been living “off grid” for almost forty years, and currently lives on the edge of the Truchas River, in a “very wild” environment. Even before she began plant dyeing, she spent much of her time at the river, warming herself by a fire and exploring—so her current process was an obvious addition to her lifestyle.

Mary’s winter studio is a straw-bale house in the “piñon, juniper, ponderosa, willow foothills” and in the other seasons, she works riverside in a forest with a bevy of aspen and mixed conifer leaves surrounding her. Her mini donkey companions generally accompany her to the river, and even help by carrying the completed scarves back to the house. “I’m crawling around in green beds, getting under trees. That’s my life.” If she spots a beautiful leaf floating downriver, she’ll pluck it out and use it. Most leaves can only produce a vibrant dye once, so the finished piece as well as every element in it is original.

Mary was an early resident of Placitas, living in an adobe house on Las Huertas Creek nearby the Tawapa community in the Seventies and Eighties. Her three daughters were born in her Placitas home, and for many years she spent her time mothering and felting. For thirty or so years, Mary fashioned hats and other felt wearables that were well-loved and sold quickly. It was only a couple of years ago, while rummaging around online, reading up on felting, that she discovered the work of an Australian Eco Dyer. Evidently, the Australian woman had stumbled upon the method when her chickens decided to lay their eggs on a pile of wet eucalyptus leaves (eucalyptus produces such a stunning orange that it continues to be one of Mary’s favorite and most utilized plants).

After introducing herself to Eco Dyeing, Mary thought: “There goes my life!” because she knew it would begin to consume her while bringing everything in her world full circle. Mary professes to having experimented with the technique for hundreds upon hundreds of hours. She remembers, “The first time it really worked and I got something more than a smear, I was beside myself with happiness and have been hopelessly addicted every since.”

Mary’s lovely art and wearable art will soon be available at Placitas’s Hoot Art Gallery. She can be contacted by visiting her website or her Facebook page, She would be happy to send images of available pieces.

Celebrate the Winter Solstice with poetry

Earth Care Fellowship invites you to attend their annual celebration of the Winter Solstice on December 21, at 7:00 p.m., at Las Placitas Presbyterian Church (LPPC). The theme this year is “Autumn Gifts/ Winter Treasures.” Selected poets will read poems to the light of a single candle in the darkened LPPC sanctuary, with a minute or so of silence between each reading. This unusual and powerful experience is said to give the courage and inspiration needed to face the long winter nights ahead. Refreshments will be served after the readings, giving time to meet and honor the poets.

Mary Carter

Placitan Mary Carter receives book award

Placitas resident Mary E. Carter was recently announces the winner of a 2016 New Mexico/Arizona Book Award for Best Religious Book. Her book, A Non-Swimmer Considers Her Mikvah was published in 2014. Since its publication, it has received enthusiastic recognition within the Albuquerque Jewish community.

“This book is superb. To my knowledge it is without peer in style or approach... Her reflections, while personal, convey universal messages.” —Rabbi Paul J. Citrin, Taos Jewish Center, Taos

“Carter presents her story in sensitive terms that are accessible to all. Those who are considering a life as a Jew will gain insight and understanding into making the process meaningful.” —Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld, Congregation Albert, Albuquerque

“Who knew a book about becoming Jewish could be so engaging?... a refreshing and unique approach to the discussion of conversion.” —Rabbi Emerita, Deborah J. Brin, Nahalat Shalom, Albuquerque

A Non-Swimmer Considers Her Mikvah is available through and Ingram.

Brass Roots Trio

Brass Roots Trio returns to PAS for Winter’s Eve concert

The Placitas Artists Series welcomes back the versatile Brass Roots Trio for a concert of eclectic holiday-themed music for piano, French horn, and trumpet.

The group describes the program as “a musical journey of the season as expressed by cultures around the world.” Composers range from Handel, Liszt, Strauss, and Martinu to Piazzolla, Brubeck, Bernard, Tormé, and Hayes.

The concert begins at 3:00 p.m. on December 4.

The Brass Roots Trio last performed in Placitas in 2008 for an enthusiastic audience. Eight years later, the personnel is unchanged: Rosetta Senkus Bacon is the group’s pianist and arranger, Douglas Lundeen plays French horn, and Travis Heath plays trumpet.

In addition to the virtuosic performances of a set of imaginative arrangements, the audience can expect the performers to offer engaging insights about themselves and the pieces they play.

The concert is generously sponsored by Sally and John Curro.

Prior to the concert, a 2:00 p.m. visual artists reception will feature works by Amy Ditto, digital art and photography; Lynne Peckinpaugh, watercolor and gouache; Dana Roth, photography; and Sarah Sadler, hand-built ceramics. Their works, which are for sale, are on display November 6 through December 30.

The concert and visual artist reception take place at Las Placitas Presbyterian Church in the village of Placitas, located six miles east of I-25 on NM 165 (Exit 242). The facility is completely accessible.

Placitas Artists Series projects are made possible in part by New Mexico Arts, a division of the Department of Cultural Affairs, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

For more information about the concert, visual artists reception, and tickets, see page 2 of this Signpost, call 867-8080, email, or visit

For more about the Brass Roots Trio, go to

Santa Fe Opera Winter Tour Concert series kicks off in Placitas

For a third year, the Placitas Artists Series is co-hosting a free holiday concert featuring singers from the Santa Fe Opera’s Apprentice Singer Program. This year’s program features soprano Alyssa Martin and tenor Jack Swanson, accompanied by James Lesniak on piano.

The Placitas concert will be held on November 30, at 7:00 p.m., at Las Placitas Presbyterian Church, six miles east of I-25 on State Highway 165. The popular one-hour concert, a mix of opera arias and holiday tunes, has been standing-room-only in past years, drawing families, as well as the usual Placitas Artists Series crowd.

Refreshments will be served. Those attending are encouraged to bring a cash donation or non-perishable food items for the church’s Casa Rosa Food Pantry. The church’s Mothers’ Day Out program will also host a silent auction to benefit that program.

If you miss the Placitas concert, you will have six additional opportunities to catch the program at various venues around the state:

  • December 1—Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art, Roswell
  • December 2—Rio Grande Theatre, Las Cruces
  • December 4—Cathedral of St. John, Albuquerque
  • December 7—Old San Ysidro Church, Corrales
  • December 8—Santa Cruz de la Canada, Santa Cruz
  • December 9—Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, Santa Fe

For more information about the concert series, email Kyle Gray at or call 946-2407.

Adobe Theater presents “My Three Angels”

The Adobe Theater is presenting the delightfully offbeat Christmas comedy “My Three Angels” from December 1 through December 18. Written by the husband-and-wife team Samuel Spewack and Bella Spewack from the French play “La Cuisine des Anges” by Albert Husson, “My Three Angels” opened on Broadway on March 11, 1953 and ran for 344 performances. Performances of “My Three Angels” will run Thursday through Sunday for three weeks, with a ‘Pay What You Will’ performance (proceeds are shared between the cast and crew) on December 15. Tickets are $17 general, $15 for seniors and students. To make reservations, call 898-9222 x 1 or go online to For further information, contact Marcelle Cady at or 231-5874.

Old Church Fine Crafts Show aids in preservation

On December 2, 3, and 4, from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. daily, the Corrales Historical Society will host their 28th annual Old Church Fine Crafts Show. Held at the Old San Ysidro Church at 966 Old Church Road, across from Casa San Ysidro, this event is free and open to the public.

This show takes handmade to a fine art level featuring many of New Mexico’s finest artists. The whole experience takes on an extra special quality as the artists display their crafts in the beauty of the Old San Ysidro Church, festively decorated to bring out the holiday season.

Proceeds from the show go to preservation and maintenance of the Old Church that serves as the cultural and historical heart of the Village of Corrales.

Corrales Society of Artists presents Holiday Art Fest

On December 3 and 4, from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., at the Cottonwood Montessori School on Corrales Road, the Corrales Society of Artists will host the 2016 Holiday Art Fest.

There will be two food trucks, a coffee stand, and more than thirty participating artists. Artwork for sale includes metal sculpture, paintings, fiber art, fine jewelry, glass, pottery, and much more.

This is the first year in the event’s history that it will be held indoors instead of in the big white tent on the soccer fields. The move to the Cottonwood Montessori School—complete with plumbing and heat, has increased artist participation and provides a more enjoyable experience for our patrons. Parking is free—just follow the signs.

The Corrales Society of Artists (CSA) is a nonprofit organization that fosters a vibrant and distinctive artistic community in Corrales and New Mexico through the promotion and exhibition of emerging and established artists. CSA also provides educational programming and serves as a resource to all who seek to expand their appreciation, understanding, and enjoyment of art.

Also in Corrales on December 3 and 4 is “Paint and Patina: a Three Man Art Show,” at Chris Turri Art Studio, and across from the Montessori school, Galeria de Corrales will be offering a ten percent discount during the Holiday Art Fest.

Winterfest comes to Rio Rancho

On December 17, Rio Rancho will host Winterfest with various fun, free activities and events taking place in the City Center area.

  • Noon to 5:00: free ice skating at the Santa Ana Star Center—skates will be available and inexperienced skaters are encouraged to bring bike or safety helmets
  • Noon to 5:00: Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus will make a special appearance at the Santa Ana Star Center with picture opportunities available for children
  • Noon to 5:00: Holiday Arts and Crafts Fair at the Santa Ana Star Center featuring handmade gifts, art, and unique crafts
  • 5:15 p.m. to 7 p.m.: Parade through the City Center area

The city of Rio Rancho is now accepting registrations for the Winterfest Parade. The theme for this year’s parade is “Holidays Around the World.” Participants are encouraged to decorate floats that reflect this theme, in addition to being well lit through the adornment of holiday lights. Use of LED low-energy lights is recommended.

Register online at, in person at City Hall, or by calling the Parks, Recreation, and Community Services Department at 891-5015. The fee to take part in the parade is $15. The deadline to register is December 12 or call 891-5015.

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