A visit with Cynthia Eckhardt at her studio in Arroyo Seco, NM
Text by Bonnie Gangelhoff, Photos by Eric Swanson
This story was featured in the June 2013 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Order the Southwest Art June 2013 print issue, or get the Southwest Art June 2013 digital download now…Or better yet, just subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss a story!
Describe your studio. Well, it looks like one of the old adobe churches you see in little communities throughout northern New Mexico. It even has a bell tower. I designed it, and it was a ton of fun. I even included a nave at the end of the building that is flanked by two cupboard beds. Our kids use them as extra sleeping space when they invite their friends up for long weekends. The [exterior double] doors, which are almost 12 feet tall, are from the 19th century and were originally on an old church in Zacatecas, Mexico. I liked the idea of building a chapel to serve as their new home. It was really a no-brainer.
Were there certain key elements you wanted in the studio? I wanted it to be large and multipurpose. In the 10 years since my husband, Rick, and I built it, the studio has served as an annex to our guesthouse and as a venue for entertaining, including dinner parties and dancing. Last year we hosted 60 people for a performance by Cantos de Taos, a group of talented young opera students. Surprisingly, the acoustics turned out to be perfect for musical performances. That was a bonus that we hadn’t planned for.
How did your neighbors react when they learned you were building something that looked like a church? At first, I think there was a tremendous amount of curiosity. Gratefully, our neighbors were too tactful to say anything, but I can only imagine their dinner-table conversations while we were doing construction. After they had spent some time up here and attended a few of our parties, they sheepishly confessed their original misgivings, and we all had a good laugh.
What do you like about living in Arroyo Seco? From our home, we have absolutely world-class views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Arroyo Seco is a mountain village with old adobe structures that were built before the turn of the century. Many of the people who live here are descended from the very families who settled the area centuries ago. There is still farming and agriculture. My neighbor has baby lambs right now that melt my heart every time I drive by.
How do your surroundings influence your art? I have always loved the outdoors. Living in northern New Mexico gives me an opportunity to be outdoors throughout the year and to be surrounded by natural beauty every day. I look out over these mountains, valleys, forests, rivers, and streams—all of which have been here for an eternity—and no matter how crazy and unpredictable the world may seem, I feel a sense of timelessness and tranquility. I feel at peace up here, and I think it shows in my work.
Do your cats and dogs visit the studio? Oh, yes. I have three dogs and four cats who, at one time or another, find their way into the studio. Rico and Micah are our two Belgian sheepdogs—both are gentle giants weighing about 90 pounds each. Eliza is our third dog, a mutt I rescued in southern Colorado. The cats are Fea, Chula, Bobby, and Ms. Kitty. One I found beside the road, one was in a tree surrounded by a pack of dogs, and the other two were feral walk-ons. Our property backs up to Carson National Forest, and people dump kittens out there all the time. My husband thinks there must be “kitty hobo signs” in the forest that lead them to our place for a good meal and a great home.
Do you listen to music in your studio? Yes. Everyone from Eric Clapton and Adele to Reba McEntire, John Mayer, and Josh Groban. If I’m having a particularly good painting day, I’ll be singing and dancing at the easel.
If your studio were on fire, what one thing would you save? Well, when we were doing construction, we had the most amazing group of local men working up here. They were really hardworking, salt-of-the-earth guys as well as terrific craftsmen. At the end of the job, one of the men brought me a crucifix that he had carved from a branch off of one of our juniper trees. He meant it as a gesture of respect and friendship, and that makes it incredibly meaningful to me. I would definitely tuck that under my arm on the way out.
What impresses you about other artists’ works? What impresses me about all artists is their commitment and perseverance, and I’m including musicians and performing artists. It takes a lot of guts to follow the clarion call of individual creativity. In fact, every time I sell a painting, I buy another artist’s work. It’s my way of showing support and paying it forward.
What is one place people will never find you? In any political arena.
When you are not painting, what do you like to do? I enjoy helping my friends and family with design, building, and décor projects. I told my husband when we married that I’d rather build a house than clean one.
When people visit, where do you like to take them? Usually, once people get here, they don’t want to leave. But, depending on the level of interest, we will head up to Taos Ski Valley for skiing and hiking. And the town of Taos, which is 11 miles from here, offers great shopping and amazing restaurants. There’s a mountain-bike trail in the forest behind us that some guests like to tackle. The Taos Pueblo is also a lovely place to take visitors for a unique cultural experience.
Featured in the June 2013 issue of Southwest Art magazine–click below to purchase:
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