The Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newsmagazine Serving the Community since 1989


Gene McClain makes whimsical motifs into wooden art and furniture
Gene McClain makes whimsical motifs into wooden art and furniture

Signpost artist of the month: Gene McClain

Seeing things another way

Bill Diven

Back in the 1950s when Ford invented the Edsel and Buick its Roadmaster, a rural Kansas kid named Gene McClain took notice.

Those behemoths of the road pushed style to its peak of chromed excess flaunting lethal-looking bumper bullets, useless fender exhaust ports, and tail fins worthy of any jet fighter. All too soon they vanished, only to reappear in recent years in the furniture that the Kansas kid now makes in his Placitas workshop.

Yet it's not just old cars that lend their look to McClain's colorfully finned and bumpered chairs. Motorcycles become hobbyhorses, or “rockacycles,” if you will, and Hispanic culture appears as simple chairs backed by tall Day of the Dead images or portraits of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo and Elvis Presley.

And there are saddle chairs, a cowboy theme also rooted in '50s childhood, and a new series of retablos, traditional three-dimensional wall hangings with figures in front and painted scenes behind. Kahlo paramour Diego Rivera comes alive in one, reggae singer Bob Marley in the next, while others spoof the Bernalillo Wine Festival or portray a cowboy-hatted National Rifle Association member or an atomic scientist fronting a mushroom cloud and welcoming you to Los Alamos.

“It's all crazy stuff,” McClain said. “Most of it's whimsical, and you have to have fun with it.”

After thirty years as a high school art teacher in Missouri, McClain moved to Placitas eight years ago thinking he would pursue serious painting.

“I was going to Santa Fe galleries and getting rejected, and I said, “This is no fun,'” McClain said. “So I began making furniture.

“Most of it's one of a kind and playing around with the rules of making furniture. There are no fine woods; it's mostly recycled stuff.”

Today McClain's art is on display in thirteen galleries spread from Albuquerque to Cody, Wyoming, including the Roller Gallery in Placitas and Camino Real Furniture at Traditions mall on I-25 at Budaghers. After March 13, however, it will be only twelve galleries, as McClain takes leave of the Arte Loca Gallery that he opened with Alvaro Enciso in Benalillo three years ago. (Arte Loca is moving soon to a new space. For more details, please see a related article in this Signpost.)

“It was fun saying I was a gallery owner,” McClain said, while noting he was tired of dipping into his own pocket each month to make the rent.

The group show now displayed at Arte Loca includes a controversial McClain sculpture of wooden nudes suggesting issues of race, marriage, and religion. Still, he said, his work remains open to interpretation.

“People say, “Oh, I can see what your opinion is,'” McClain continued, “but you have the freedom to see it another way. You can take it the other way if you're able to see.”

McClain has no shows currently scheduled but is working on retablos and other projects for the annual Placitas Studio Tour May 7-8. His studio is open by appointment by calling 771-0821.

Color samples of McClain’s work can be seen in the Signpost Featured Artist Gallery.

Gallery Rain ©Rudi Klimpert


“Rejubilate” at Harwood Center

Experience hands-on body work, spiritual exploration, short dynamic educational classes, natural foods, and renewed social and personal purpose at the first Salt of the Earth Rejubilation, from noon to midnight on March 12 at the Harwood Community Arts Center.

This is an opportunity to meet and work with leading alternative healers and creative artists and performers. With your ticket purchase, you can choose to receive massages, get a psychic reading, attend a class, eat good food, and enjoy live music.

The event is brought to the public by a large volunteer group of creative individuals who want to “publicize and promote people passionately pursuing their purpose.”

For further information, call Michael at 980-4853. The Harwood Community Arts Center is at Mountain Street and 7th Avenue in Albuquerque.


Colorful artwork sought for Socorro student center

New Mexico Arts' Art in Public Places program, a division of the Department of Cultural Affairs, and New Mexico Tech seek to commission an artist to create an environmental artwork designed specifically for the Joseph A. Fidel Student Services Center at New Mexico Tech in Socorro. Because the center serves as a gathering place to escape the seriousness of academic studies, the committee seeks a project that will be open, inviting, and colorful. The work must celebrate student life and reflect the diversity of the student body, and may use any or all of the available space.

This $88,603 project is open to artists residing in the Western U.S. The deadline for applications for Prospectus #174 to be received at New Mexico Arts is 5:00 p.m. on Friday, March 11.

Prospectus #174 can be downloaded at or by contacting Noreen Quintana at 800-879-4278 (outside Santa Fe). (505) 827-6490, or


Arte Loca to share complex with Katrina Lasko Gallery

On Saturday, March 19, when Arte Loca Gallery opens its new show, "Twins," it will be at a new location, 336 North Camino del Pueblo, Bernalillo. If the address looks familiar to contemporary-art enthusiasts it is because that is also the home of the Katrina Lasko Gallery. Although the two galleries will be housed in the same complex, they will operate independently and in separate spaces within the three-thousand-square-foot compound.

According to Alvaro Enciso, now the sole owner of Arte Loca Gallery, "the new location will provide adequate office and storage space, and the configuration of the exhibit areas will allow me to offer—in addition to the featured show—works by other artists and the opportunity to display some of my own pieces. Also, I will be carrying a few selected art books at reduced prices."

Gene McClain, a former partner in the gallery, will concentrate all of his efforts on creating, promoting, and selling his own work. "My furniture is finally taking off, and commissions to paint murals are increasing ... I enjoyed the gallery, especially the opportunity to give local emerging artists a place to show. It was not a lucrative endeavor, but very rewarding otherwise."

Arte Loca will continue to show some of McClain’s sculptures and paintings, and a December 2005 show featuring his new conceptual outdoor pieces is being developed.

The "Twins–Recent Work" show by J. L. Johnson, the head of the art department at TVI, consists primarily of a series of large paintings depicting intertwined twins, an installation, and some small pieces in various media. "Over the past few years I have spent countless hours working on these weirdo twins without any plans to show them publicly. I did not think any gallery would be interested," stated the artist. "I first saw Lynn's work in private collections down in El Paso and liked it immediately. Her view of the world is twisted, with no apologies or compromises," says Alvaro Enciso.

In total contrast to J. L. Johnson's show is "Inside the Everyday," recent paintings by Ali Cavanaugh, an artist based in Santa Fe. Her work, in the words of Katrina Lasko, is often about childhood memories that remain unarticulated until as adults we are able to put words to those early memories and feelings. The artist says of her work, " ... for me, reflection is part of the art-making process ... as always, my paintings reveal myself to me."

Both shows open on March 19 with a public reception from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m.

Katrina Lasko released the following statement: "I welcome Arte Loca to share this location with me and hope that our friends will be doubly pleased with the terrific art we will be showing—two galleries, twice the art!"


Willy Sucre and Friends to play oboe quartets

Gary Libman
PAS Board of Directors

The Placitas Artists Series has another exciting concert scheduled for March 20 at 3:00 p.m. Willy Sucre, violist of the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra, will be joined by his friends violinist Lisa Chong, cellist David Schepps, and oboist Melissa Peña. The program will include Mozart's Oboe Quartet in F Major (K. 370), Kodály’s Duo for Violin and Cello, Op. 7, and Britten’s Phantasy Quartet, Op.2.

Willy Sucre has served as conductor and music director of the Albuquerque Philharmonic Orchestra and as assistant conductor of the Canada Symphony Orchestra and the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra. Lisa Chong is a member of the St. Louis Symphony. She has won many awards as a soloist and has appeared with the Oregon Symphony, the Portland Youth Philharmonic, and the Stanford Symphony. David Schepps, a member of the NMSO, is a professor at UNM and has performed with the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival and the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra. Melissa Peña is also a member of the NMSO, where she is the associate principal oboist and English-horn player. Before moving to New Mexico, Peña was the principal oboist of the Southwest Florida Symphony Orchestra.

The concert will be held at Las Placitas Presbyterian Church, six miles east of I-25 on NM 165 (exit 242). There will be an artists' reception at the church before the concert for Vangie Dunmire, Sylvia Eisenhart, Karl and Mary Hofmann, and Wilda MacLauchlan.

Vangie Dunmire is a member of the board of directors of the Placitas Artists Series and does an outstanding job coordinating the PAS community-outreach programs to the various schools and pueblos. Her art focuses on watercolors, and in the last year she's found excitement in working with brighter colors and bolder shapes. Sylvia Eisenhart discovered the idea of painting under a microscope, thereby enlarging and bringing into view certain shapes, colors, and light sources that are often overlooked. The Hofmanns are widely traveled and bring many influences to their pottery. The influence of the Southwest landscape is evident in their work. MacLauchlan says that Placitas is a wonderful place to create a painting, outdoors or in the studio.She feels there are many beautiful scenic vistas to catch the eye which she puts into her watercolors and oils.

Examples of these artists’ work can be seen on the Placitas Artists Series Web site at

Tickets for the concert will be available at the door one hour before the performance, or can be purchased ahead of time at La Bonne Vie Salon & Day Spa, in the Homestead Village Shopping Center in Placitas (867-3333). Tickets can also be purchased online. The prices for this concert are $15 for general admission and $12 for seniors and students. For additional information and ticket brochures, call 867-8080 or visit the Web site.

This concerts and the visual-art exhibit are made possible in part by New Mexico Arts, a division of the Office of Cultural Affairs, and the National Endowment for the Arts. There is handicapped access and free child care for children under six.


Susan Jordan with her gourd art

Susan Jordan with her gourd art

Placitas gourd artist recognized at Arizona festival

—Signpost Staff

Susan M. Jordan, a resident of Placitas, placed first in two categories at the Gourd Art Competition at the Arizona Gourd Society Festival held in Casa Grande, Arizona, on February 5-6. Jordan’s figurative gourd piece Gifts from the Earth placed first in the novice category for Sculpture and Dolls and her Heritage Gourd Santa placed first in the Holiday category. Over two hundred entries were judged during the festival that attracted over five thousand people to the Pinal County Fairgrounds. Jordan will be displaying these and other works at her studio during the Placitas Studio Tour on May 7-8 in Placitas.

Jordan, a first-time exhibitor, became fascinated with gourds three years ago. She uses gourds in a variety of shapes and sizes to create figures from eight inches to over three feet high. Inspired by Native American culture, her work includes “gourd tellers,” dancers, maidens, and kachinas. In contrast, her collection of non-Southwest “Elegant Ladies” reflects an early 1900s sophistication and grace.

Susan Jordan continues to explore the boundless possibilities for artistic creation offered by gourds.To see her work, visit and click on Susan Jordan, or call 867-8440 to make an appointment to visit her studio.


Little Shops on the Rio Grande: at 1507 Rio Grande Blvd. NW. will host a book reading on March 12 from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Featured authors Clyde James Aragon (Southwest humor), Carla Jeanne Bingham (romantic/suspense), David Corwell (fantasy), and Maria Leyba (poetry) will read, discuss, and sign their work. For further information, contact Cindy Rogers at 220-2929.




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