Barb Belknap poses with her glass portrait of Placitas.
A nicho set in an adobe wall provides hallway glimmer.
Tiffany-style fanlight includes egret for bird-loving client.
Former Signpost editor reinvents herself—again
—Keiko Ohnuma, Signpost
Readers of The Signpost may be surprised to learn that, for longtime co-owner and editor Barb Belknap, this newspaper was actually an unexpected interruption in her chosen career as an illustrator and glass artist. It makes sense, though, when you consider that she always reserved a place in its pages—and her heart—for Sandoval County art and artists.
Now that she and her husband Ty have sold the business, Barb Belknap seems a bit stunned—not to mention glowing with calm—at the prospect of going back to her first passion, before the babies and bills dictated a life at the computer screen.
Belknap never imagined when she bought The Signpost from its original owner in 1993 that it would take over her life for fifteen years. She still had a hand in multiple art ventures, from animation to graphic design to custom stained-glass, sometimes doing several of these at once.
It was to learn computerized animation that Belknap bought a Macintosh in the early 1990s and taught herself graphic design. That led her to cartooning for the Signpost and designing the ads, which eventually led to buying the paper.
“It seemed intriguing, because I knew about ads (from working at an ad agency in the 1980s), and I knew a lot of people in Placitas, so I had a real solid resource base.” She also had three young children by that time, which made a home-based business ideal.
Her first home business had come after her second child, back in Pittsburgh in the early 1980s, when Belknap and some friends opened a storefront business that did custom stained-glass design and repair. Like many art majors, Belknap had sampled various creative careers after studying animation at Carnegie-Mellon University, but it was an unusual job installing stained glass in churches that ultimately stole her heart. Working with carpenters, artists, and monks in a rarefied spiritual environment, she grew fascinated with Tiffany glass, and ended up traveling around the East Coast surveying old windows in dusty church attics. “I always thought it was so beautiful, the light coming through the glass,” she says.
After her first child, Belknap turned to stained glass as a way to work at home. She and her friends ended up handling stained-glass work for the whole tri-state area of New York, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania, and she still had jobs on order when her first marriage ended and she packed up and moved to Placitas.
Back then, in the mid-1980s, the only residents of Placitas were old-timers, hippies, and dogs—in equal numbers—she laughs. It was her ex-husband’s hippie sister who found her a trailer to move into, and she reopened her stained-glass business at the El Zócalo in Bernalillo. There, she met a man who had a Rolfing business upstairs: Ty Belknap.
An old Albuquerque Journal newspaper clipping shows the two of them bent over tables full of glass in her Bernalillo workshop. The same scrapbook contains pages and pages of windows designed and installed by Belknap in homes and businesses in the 1980s and ’90s: windows of intricate etched snowflakes, realistic stained-glass nature scenes, and flamboyant Tiffany-style Art Nouveau.
“I’m a fast glass cutter because I always get so excited to get things done quickly, and I tried all different styles because of the way homes are,” Belknap explains. Ty had joined her in the business, and she recruited him again when she bought The Signpost and then created a new magazine called Albuquerque Arts.
“The idea was to do everything at once for both publications,” Belknap says—same deadlines, printing, and delivery dates. “I thought it was a lot of fun—Ty went crazy.” They sold Albuquerque Arts (which has since been sold again) to focus on The Signpost—enough to keep them busy while raising three kids… almost.
Barb Belknap’s creative energies only seem to grow more expansive with every venture. Sitting in front of a computer all day designing pages made her realize she needed a right-brain challenge, so she took up the violin. After persisting through four years of her sons running around with their fingers in their ears when she practiced, Belknap concluded that violin has to be started young. “But then I picked up a mandolin, and someone told me that it was tuned the same as a violin. I was so excited!” She became a “fiddle-style” mandolin player, and still performs in a women’s folk band called the LadyFingers.
In the meantime, Belknap also found time to illustrate a children’s book, cover the house in her original window quilts, design their two houses—from framing to plumbing to electrical, using the newspaper page layout program—do some fiction writing, paint, and install backsplashes in her own and her mother’s kitchen of mosaic glass tile. This last project, she’s thinking, is where she might focus her artistic energies next.
“I finally realized, you only have so much time,” she says with a smile—though it hasn’t kept her from incubating a new business plan, too.
Belknap can’t say where she gets her entrepreneurial energy, but she muses that “doing art gives you a lot of patience, and that has served me over the years.” Art has also served as a model for how to live her life: by design.
“That’s the fun thing, is to figure out how to reinvent yourself all the time,” she quotes a friend. “I feel really lucky to be in this position.”
It will be interesting to see what Barb Belknap invents next.