by Tamra Testerman | March 3, 2021
All in the family Chimayo Trading spans generations
Chimayo Trading Del Norte is nestled in the Ranchos Plaza in the shadow of the iconic Saint Francis church in Ranchos de Taos. Owner Gabriel Abrums and wife Alicia said this location is significant to them and their family “because it represents true, authentic New Mexico. To display New Mexican artwork in a Colonial period plaza in 250-year-old adobe buildings is to see this artwork where this type of art seems at home.” The gallery showcases the work of contemporary artists and more traditional ones. It is a “family-owned and operated gallery with four generations in the Native American and fine art business.”
Tempo caught up with Gabriel and asked for more about the art of their business. Here are the edited highlights.
Please tell us about how you came into the family business, what sustains you and why you continue.
I was born and raised in Chimayo and grew up immersed in the arts of New Mexico through my father’s gallery in Chimayo and my grandmother’s gallery in Albuquerque, Brandywine Galleries. We started our gallery in Taos 18 years ago as an offshoot of both my father’s gallery in Chimayó, whose focus was contemporary living artists of New Mexico, specifically the pueblos, and my grandmother’s gallery that focused on the early New Mexico painters, including the Taos Society of Artists, Santa Fe’s Los Cinco Pintores, and many people she befriended.
These included Gene Kloss, Doel Reed, Gustave Baumann and Ila McAfee, to name a few. My father was in business for over 40 years in Chimayo, but retired and closed his gallery three years ago. I spent a lot of time in the gallery, growing up learning about the different New Mexican art forms and the artists. From the pueblo potters of the surrounding areas who would come in to sell their wares, and the Navajo weavers and jewelers and artists of all the different cultures of Northern New Mexico. I could meet the people behind the art and know their stories, that is what first attracted me to the business. I remember in one instance meeting a Santa Clara Pueblo potter, Mary Cain, who was in her 80s. She was so proud of her work and her culture; she was such a nice and pleasant lady. I remember realizing at that moment how important this is to New Mexican culture and that it needs to be preserved.
That was when I first thought of turning this into a career. In our Taos gallery we have focused on both antique and contemporary art forms of New Mexico to honor the old and help to ensure it carries on into the future by helping many artists make a living through their art. We have focused on the art of all New Mexico cultures: Native, Hispanic and Anglo. I think art is where we can all find harmony and unity. I believe this is one thing that makes Taos and New Mexico such a unique art center. From the cultural arts of the pueblos to the religious and utilitarian art of the Hispanic cultures to the early Anglo painters of the Taos Society of Artists. Their art is a way they all come together in a not-always-so-harmonious world.
What do you like most about what you do?
Getting to know the artists, their stories and where their passion for their work comes from. Getting to know and becoming friends with and learning about the lives of our many clients from all walks of life and different parts of the country and the world. To share our passion of New Mexico with others and to educate them about the intricacies of the different art forms and artists we represent. I love to see and be part of an artist becoming successful and be able to make a living through their art. I love the thrill of the chase, of finding a rare object, and being able to place it with the right collector. I love being able to help people understand and put a value on a piece of art that was passed down to them through their family.
You, yourself, also make jewelry. What sparks your work and preference of materials?
I make handfabricated silver and gold inlay with high grade American turquoise and other stones. I also like to use Australian opal in combination with turquoise. I find the flashes of the stones to complement each other.
I started making jewelry in middle school and later in high school with the encouragement of my art teacher. I put the craft aside for a long time making only pieces for family and special occasions. Just before I got married, I started again with a bracelet for my wife.
The larger pieces I make take 40 to 70 hours of labor, so with running the gallery I’m producing about one work a month. I also do custom work. This puts people in the process of selecting the stone and design of the piece.
My relationship with turquoise goes back to my father and grandfather who in the 1960s and 1970s were in the turquoise business. I have a deep appreciation for finding a rare untreated natural stone.
How have you weathered the pandemic?
We expanded our gallery from 1200 square feet to over 4500 square feet. We actually expanded into the neighboring building. Much of the downtime over the past year has involved working on our new buildings and filling them up with treasures.
We have maintained an excellent website for the past 17 years, but during the shutdown we built and launched an improved e-commerce website, chimayotrading.com. We also have started a weekly newsletter.
What do you do for fun?
I spend all the time I can outdoors with my family, my wife, Alicia, and my two kids, Dylan and Sofia. In the winter you can find us on the slopes in Taos Ski Valley and mountain biking the trails in Valdez where we live. We spend our free time in the summers on the lake in Abiquiú waterskiing, wakeboarding and fishing.
I spent many years as a raft guide on the Río Grande Box. When the waters are flowing, you can find us rafting on the river. We also love to fly fish in the high mountain rivers and lakes. During hunting season, I’m usually hunting for deer and elk in the mountains surrounding Taos.
For more information go to the Chimayo Trading Del Norte at chimayotrading.com where you can also sign up for the newsletter.