Jade Leyva in her Bernalillo studio in the Old
Town Shoppes complex. Her painting Mira como me dejaste (Look how
you left me) hangs above.
Signpost featured artist of the month: Jade Leyva
Leyva inspires artists to create
It can’t hurt that she looks like Frida Kahlo—considering
that she’s a painter. But Jade Leyva is no moody melancholic,
so the ghost vanishes with the first spark of energy from the thirty-one-year-old
Mexican by birth, Leyva’s boundless enthusiasm and happy
ambition make her right at home in America. She turns the stereotype
of the depressed artist on its head, bursting with enthusiasms from
pop to prehistoric.
Her work ranges freely from Pre-Colombian frescoes to postmodern
bleeding hearts, from photography to pottery. She always made things
as a child growing up in an artistic family in Mexico City. But
it was really a series of lucky coincidences—or a talent for
courting them—that landed Leyva in a Santa Fe gallery, in
her own studio, and in a beautiful home in Placitas.
She had been working in a fine art gallery in Mexico City in 2000
when her family asked her to come help with their restaurant in
Scottsdale, Arizona. “Something unbelievable happened,”
Leyva relates, her eyes sparkling.
She served a local customer who told her about his art collection.
When she walked in the door of his house, she says, “I was
amazed! Pre-Colombian things I saw at home, but Native American
pots … I had never seen anything like it,” Leyva says,
her eyes wide.
Her new friend Bill Freeman happened to be one of the nation’s
top collectors of prehistoric pottery, as well as a Western oil
painter and artisan known for his painstaking replicas of Native
American ceramics. Leyva asked if she could try making something
in his studio, and from that moment she was hooked.
“When I was not working, I would be in the studio all the
time,” she says. “I learned to antique, learned restoration,
he taught me so much about art, about classical music.” Freeman,
eighty, who has mentored a half dozen artists over the years, offered
Leyva a place to stay, and eventually she started moving between
his homes in Scottsdale and Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Before long,
she had gallery representation in Jackson Hole.
Leyva came along when Freeman relocated to Placitas. Bright, animated,
and enthusiastic, it took no time for her to make friends. She met
Marguerite, a bead artist, while waitressing at The Range
Café. “We hit it off right away,” Leyva said.
“We had the same interest in doing art and talking about world
peace.” The two talked and laughed so much, they feared for
They dreamed of getting a studio together and doing art full-time.
They decided to show at an art exhibit at the Old Town Shoppes,
where owner Sara Chadwick was hatching a plan to create an artisan
colony. After the show, Chadwick offered them one of her small adobe
buildings in back to help “seed” the colony, initially
for just a commission off their sales.
“Not in our wildest dreams did we think we could have a space
together!” Leyva said. Translating dreams into reality was
becoming her form of artistic alchemy.
Last summer, Leyva placed a call to Huey’s Fine Art, the
Santa Fe gallery where Freeman had started selling his pots. They
gave her an appointment, agreed to represent her, and she has since
been selling three or four of her kachina paintings every month,
in addition to the work she sells through the gallery in Jackson
Hole. Together, the artwork now nearly supports her.
Her partner at the shop, Marguerite, credits Leyva with inspiring
her to take the leap to full-time artist. “She really, truly,
when she says that limits are self-imposed—she taught me that,”
Marguerite said. Leyva had talked her into making the rounds of the Santa
Fe galleries, literally pushing her through doors to show her work.
“It’s because of her that I’m showing at the Institute
of American Indian Arts,” she says admiringly.
Leyva shrugs and says, “a lot of it is pure luck.”
But she quickly concedes that opportunities appear all the time—“for
fear, people don’t take it! But there’s nothing to be
afraid of,” she says with great conviction. “If it doesn’t
work, OK, you had the experience.”
Currently, Leyva is working on textured masonite painted with Pre-Colombian
designs from Panama, as well as colorful Neo-Mexican acrylic paintings
distressed with heat. A self-taught photographer, she shoots black-and-white
portraits, landscapes, and copy work for fellow artists.
“I don’t have a limit,” she says of her future
plans. “Whatever you want in life, you have to go for it—not
to be scared of anything or anybody!” Such outpouring of creative
energy is an inspiring source indeed.