Sarena Mann stands by one of her papier-mâché
The glass ceiling is no barrier on wings of paper
—KEIKO OHNUMA, SIGNPOST
Creative young people would kill for such a delirious ending: from
scraping by on $5,000 a year selling your artwork to earning revenues
of double that amount each week—enough to make a gal jump
for joy and float off into the ether. But it hasn’t been all
dancing over rainbows for Sarena Mann.
Reflecting on her thirty-five-year career, she started selling
her trademark papier-mâché mobiles soon after high
school—the Placitas artist muses often on the tradeoffs. It’s
hard to make a living as a fine-art sculptor, she says, unless you’re
one of the extraordinary few. “I’ve been willing to
do repetition—production is the way I make my living,”
she says of the assembly-line creation of her Air Craft line of
At the height of the business, Sarena Mann Studios employed fifteen
to twenty workers part-time for the laborious twenty-three-part
process of fashioning wire, paper, and fabric into flying papier-mâché
women; they produced some three hundred to five hundred mobiles
a week for the wholesale market. That’s the kind of repetition
that makes Mann roll her eyes at the mention of “production.”
There’s an upside too, of course. “I fought it for
a long time, but it’s been a blessing,” she says of
her internal debates between art and craft. “It’s affirming
to have people buy your work. And there’s some simple, basic
fulfillment in starting with nothing” and making things that
bring people joy. Now that she is selling at more retail craft shows
(including the Rio Grande Arts and Crafts Festival, October 3 through
5 and October 10 through 12), Mann is constantly approached with
heart-rending stories about how her dancing figures have lifted
moods in times of trouble.
“It’s spiritual—it touches their heart in some
way,” says Susan, Mann’s partner in both business and
life. “And that’s art to me: It’s what touches
It’s hard to capture in print the delicate enchantment of
Mann’s figures, because a mobile is by nature kinetic—motion
is a key element of the design. Associated historically with the
sculptor Alexander Calder, mobiles work on the principle of balance,
where each piece turns in individual orbit on currents of air. Mann’s
early mobiles had five to seven androgynous figures dancing; before
long they evolved into lone females flying with a kite, an umbrella,
“It was about women becoming empowered, a time of openings,
possibilities. For me, it was a positive image,” Mann speaks
in the past tense about a career that is rapidly taking a new turn.
“Kite, umbrella, and fairy—those are the girls that
have been flying for thirty-two years,” she quips, describing
their fan base just as succinctly: “Young women, old women,
and cool men.”
In recent years, Mann has slowed down production in the studio
of the Placitas home she shares with Susan to indulge the more artistic
side of her work. It’s when she creates new designs that she
feels greatest enjoyment, toying leisurely with variations on an
image—such as her current obsession, figures in boats. Other
recent models include figures climbing ladders, figures clinging
to globes, and even figures that do not hang at all, but just sit
and watch the world go by.
Business tasks she now leaves to her partner, a former school principal;
with their 2004 move to New Mexico, Mann sees herself returning
to the place where she felt most like an artist, while attending
UNM in the 1970s. Their business has shrunk from the craft-crazy
1990s, when they were filling orders from a half-dozen wholesale
trade shows a year—a bubble popped by the flood of cheap knock-offs
made in China, and then by 9/11, which decimated small manufacturers.
Mann prefers to think it is the natural life cycle of a business
to grow and then contract, though her website still lists dozens
of galleries that carry her work, many of them for a decade or more.
But after thirty-five years in business, she admits it would be
hard to scale back to the pace of a fine artist, making one piece
a month. A self-described workaholic, she graduated high school
in the ’60s, when few artists entertained career goals. Yet
her passion and energy set her quickly on her life’s path.
She traces the moment of awakening to a night traveling in Afghanistan,
where she heard a man exclaim that American women have so much freedom,
something she hadn’t realized about herself. At a hostel in
a town where the Buddha had preached, she drank too much black tea
and lay awake with the sudden clarity that she could turn her artwork
into a business.
“It’s funny, because maybe (otherwise) it never would
have coalesced,” she marvels. Over the next twenty years,
she married, had a child, divorced, and met Susan, all in Seattle,
as the business slowly grew. For years she had squeaked by working
solo, but after having her daughter, she began to hire help.
“It’s been a surprise,” she says of the way the
venture grew to support her new family. “Now it’s full
circle: The business is smaller, and I’m doing more myself
again.” A few years ago, the couple bought a spacious old
house on a Placitas ridge that opens onto a breathtakingly close
view of the Sandias—“the perfect party house,”
Mann sighs, where they have no parties.
Instead, the couple lives a quiet life with their two Cairn terriers
in a time of growing uncertainty and unease. Having tapped into
the spirit of the age for so many women—more than two hundred
thousand of her paper dancers have ridden out the currents on their
kites, umbrellas, and wings—Mann searches for the right image
to fulfill their mission of “lightening the load.”
For all of us, maybe, it’s less like rising to unseen heights,
anymore, than bravely oaring a well-worn craft into unknown waters.
Native American artists hurt by inauthentic jewelry
Two lawsuits have been filed against Santa Fe retailers of Indian
art for alleged violations of the New Mexico Indian Arts and Crafts
Sales Act, the Unfair Practices Act, and for fraud or negligent
misrepresentation in the sale of jewelry.
Attorney General Gary King said, “The sale of fraudulently
represented Indian art is a huge problem in New Mexico. Conservative
estimates suggest that at least fifty percent of what is being sold
as authentic Indian handmade art is manufactured by non-Natives,
in many cases from foreign countries.”
The first of the lawsuits asserts that Golden Bear Trading, Inc.,
located at 84 E. San Francisco Street in Santa Fe, and its two principals,
Mohammed “Mike” Sulieman Shawabkeh and Jamal “Jack”
Sulieman Shawabkeh, on three occasions in the last year sold five
pieces that were falsely represented as having been made by renowned
Navajo artist Calvin Begay. The Attorney General‘s office
also alleges that the business gave “discounts” on the
pieces that were in violation of state regulations governing pricing
and price advertising. The complaint says that both Mohammed Sulieman
Shawabkeh and Jamal Sulieman Shawabkeh have been the subject of
previous enforcement actions by former Attorneys General Tom Udall
and Patricia Madrid for similar acts.
The second case is against Yousef Nassar, doing business as Santa
Fe Indian Jewelry, located at 125 E. Water Street in Santa Fe. The
complaint states that on two occasions, in September 2007 and January
2008, the business sold four pieces of jewelry that were falsely
represented as having been made by Calvin Begay. The complaint alleges
that the business also gave “discounts” on the pieces
that were in violation of state regulations governing pricing and
Anecdotal information that the office has received indicates these
fraudulent practices have had a devastating impact on Native American
artists, many of whom have been forced out of their livelihoods
because they cannot compete with cheap imports. Begay in particular
has apparently been victimized repeatedly by having his designs
copied and reproduced in large quantities, and his name stamped
on jewelry that he did not make.
Montana Skies review
The Placitas Artists Series started its 22nd season with its usual
high quality music and art. "Montana Skies" performed
in the Sunday series on September 14 at the intimate Placitas Presbyterian
Church, which boasts marvelous acoustics and a lovely gallery space.
The group "Montana Skies" is a charming husband and
wife duo, Jonathan and Jennifer Adams, playing amplified guitar
and cello respectively. They are both outstanding musicians in their
own rite, clearly masters of their instruments. They write and arrange
their own material, and their repertoire is delightfully eclectic.
They sound completely at home whether they're playing Gershwin,
Pink Floyd, flamenco, classical or folk music. In one number they
wove together an unlikely medley of Eleanor Rigby, a Vivaldi sonata
(played at breakneck speed) and an original tune. The creative glue
that held these varied genres together was delightful improvisations.
They have a battery of outlets, cables and foot peddles on the floor
with which they create a wonderful variety of sounds. For instance
they occasionally made tape loops as they were playing, and these
loops then became their accompaniments.
But what makes the duo truly exceptional is the extraordinary
chemistry between them. When Jen is playing her electric 6-string
cello (that is played standing up, by the way!) she playfully approaches
her husband, challenging him to listen and react. A marvelous improvised
duet follows. Jen, tall and striking in her tight black pants, yellow
satin shirt and high heels, dances around as she plays, like a regular
rock star. Even when she's playing her acoustic cello, when the
spirit moves her she'll dramatically rise up from her chair as she's
playing. Her husband Jonathan seems much more restrained, but his
grin belies what fun he's having. Their easygoing patter was a delight
The artists' works in the gallery were also varied and terrific.
Each concert features 4 New Mexican artists chosen by jury. This
show featured dramatic color and black and white photos by David
Cramer, playful gourd art by Susan Jordan, pastels by Janet Shaw
Amtmann and oils by Vera Russell.
In all, it was a most entertaining afternoon, the start of what
is sure to be a fabulous season. Their next concert is Sunday, October
5, at 3 p.m., featuring string quartets by Mozart, Beethoven and
Shostakovitch with "Willy and Friends," and in the gallery,
paintings, photos, pottery and jewelry by Duncan, LeBlanc, Lujan-Hauer
Smile when you sing that!
Yee-haw! Western music is going to be alive and kicking in Bernalillo!
Yes sir, the Western Music Association (WMA) is coming to town,
and it will bring to our community the very best in western and
The WMA is an established national non-profit organization based
in California. Art Gallery 66 (AG66), located on historic Route
66 in Bernalillo, is the new home of the New Mexico chapter. The
WMA concerts will be held outside under the stars. Garry Roller,
of Michael Martin Murphy fame, is helping to bring to the “Happy
Trails Theater” venues starting this November 15 the likes
of Syd Masters, Kip Calahan, and Open Range. “Our combined
vision,“ says Gary, “is to bring to our community live
western music that keeps the spirit of the west alive and brings
families together to see great talents in an atmosphere even Walt
Disney himself would enjoy!”
The WMA‘s mission statement is to educate children about
the importance of the code of the west—treating folks the
way you want to treated (sound familiar?)—and to bring music
to children’s lives by providing the means for them to learn
to play, thus keeping the tradition alive for generations to come.
It also is a means for the western music community to have an outlet
or venue in which to play. “We are grateful that AG66 has
allowed the WMA to ‘set up shop‘ there. The outdoor
area they are providing is the perfect space to have the concerts,“
“The stage and seating area is referred to as the “Round-up,“
says Darryl, co-owner of AG66, “and [it] is going to be very
exciting for us to host both the arts and music [for] a growing
audience, making us a very unique arts and entertainment destination!”
If there are any aspiring or established musicians out there who
wish to join the WMA, simply contact the gallery for more information.
All WMA members are welcome to play the stage and arrangements can
be made to accommodate the show. Non-musicians are also welcome
to join the group. If you love the west, the WMA is for you! To
learn more, visit www.westernmusic.com.
Library hosts plein air art workshop
The Esther Bone Memorial Library and the Rio Rancho Art Association
will hold a plein air workshop on Saturday, October 11 at 9:30 a.m.
Plein air refers to the style of French Impressionist painters
who sought to capture the effects of light and atmosphere by completing
their work outside. This event will team up artists from the Rio
Rancho Art Association with students, ages eight to fourteen, who
sign up for the program in the library. There is no charge for this
event and the library and art association will supply all of the
Space is limited to twelve young artists. Those who wish to sign
up should stop in at the Esther Bone Memorial Library’s adult
information desk. You may also call 891-5012, extension 3128 or
Willy Sucre and Friends in concert
On Sunday, October 4, The Placitas Artists Series will present
Willy Sucre and Friends. Joining Willy will be violinists Gabriel
Gordon and Ikuko Kanda, as well as cellist Joan Zucker. Mr. Gordon
is currently a member of the New Mexico Symphony, and is in the
finals for the concertmaster position of the Santa Fe Symphony.
Ikuko Kanda is a member of the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra, and
the Santa Fe Symphony Orchestra. In August 2007 and April 2008,
she served as concertmaster for the Santa Fe Symphony. Joan Zucker
is Principal Cello at NMSO. The program should include Mozart’s
String Quartet in C Major, String Quartet No. 8 by Dmitri Shostakovich,
and Beethoven’s String Quartet in C Major.
Preceding the concert, a reception will be held for October exhibiting
visual artists Woody Duncan, Robert LeBlanc, Pam Lujan-Hauer, and
The concert will take place at 3:00 p.m. on October 5 at Las Placitas
Presbyterian Church; the artists’ reception begins at 1:30.
Tickets for the concert will be available at the door one hour before
the concert, or may be purchased in advance at La Bonne Vie Salon
and Day Spa in Homestead Village Shopping Center in Placitas; Ah!
Capelli Salon and Color Studio in Enchanted Hills Plaza in Rio Rancho;
or online at www.PlacitasArts.org.
Prices are $18 for general admission and $15 for seniors and students.
For more information, call 867-8080.
October visual arts show in Placitas
This Sunday, October 5, The Placitas Artists Series will present
the art of Woody Duncan, Robert LeBlanc, Pam Lujan-Hauer, and C.S.
Tiefa. The show will run throughout the month of October at Las
Placitas Presbyterian Church.
Woody Duncan uses watercolor to paint brilliant, saturated images.
Among the subjects he likes are New Mexico subjects, backyard poppies,
and his triplet grandchildren. He is currently the president of
the New Mexico Watercolor Society. Robert LeBlanc has been shooting
New Mexico and southwestern outdoor subjects for decades. His brilliant
colors are captured on Kodak slide film and reproduced with traditional
photochemical methods. Pam Lujan-Hauer creates fine pottery from
native New Mexican clays which she digs herself. Her current works
incorporate silver inlay technique and sculptures. Her works have
been on display at numerous locations in Taos, New Mexico and throughout
the country. C.S. Tiefa produces New Mexico landscapes en plein
air. Though he paints in a style usually associated with oil paint,
his medium of choice is acrylic. The short drying time of this medium
prompts him to capture not just a place, but time as well.
This project is made possible in part by New Mexico Arts, a division
of the Department of Cultural Affairs, and the National Endowment
for the Arts. The facility is completely accessible, and free childcare
is provided for families with children under six. Las Placitas Presbyterian
Church is located six miles east of I-25 on NM 165 (Exit 242). For
more information, call 867-8080.