Published online: Wednesday, December 05, 2012
Appeared in: Home, Santa Fe Real Estate Guide
Edition: December 2012 Vol. 15 No. 9
In his biography at artesanos.com, Leopoldo “Polo” Gómez is described as embodying “a classic Mexican success story.” Born and raised in a mountain village in Oaxaca, Mexico, he worked with Tony Taylor at the Old Mexico Shop (1927-2009) for more than 15 years before establishing his own firm, Artesanos, in 1965.
Gómez built a very successful, now even renowned, import business in part because of relationships with architect-builder William Lumpkins, Rancho Encantado founder Betty Egan, and art collector Alexander Girard. His customers and acquaintances over the years have included Georgia O’Keeffe, Ethel Kennedy, Truman Capote, Jane Fonda, and Jessica Lange.
We were shown around the amazingly well-stocked showroom at 1414 Maclovia Street one recent day by the founder’s son, Fernando Gómez. “Some of our light designs are the same since the Sixties and we have 30 or 40 that are newer,” he said. All are made in Mexico and have UL-certified wiring by an Albuquerque contractor.
Materials are stamped tin, with a variety of patinas, and also brass. Among the great variety of lights are four sconces designed by Santa Clara Pueblo for its casino hotel in Española and made in San Miguel de Allende.
Form + Function
Form + Function, established in 1994, has a nifty showroom in Pacheco Park. There you’ll see a good spectrum of light designs and prices — at, or near, the top end is the wonderful, elegant Oh Mei Ma chandelier by Ingo Maurer. Composed of floating sections of hand-made paper coated with gold or silver leaf, it retails at a little bit less than $9,000.
“We really work with people’s budgets and we’ve been in business so long we know what’s out there,” owner Lette Birn emphasized. She said business slowed down tremendously in line with the home-construction downturn, but it’s picking up. And remodeling has proven a godsend.
“If people stay put and they want to change and make the space nicer, there is a lot you can do with lighting. People often spend a lot of money on remodeling the kitchen but then they can’t see what they’ve done. You spend $5,000 for granite countertops and you might say that there’s a lot of wonderful natural light, but when do you entertain? At night. If you have the correct type of lighting, you can really make them pop. I run into this all the time. Everything is so beautiful now, but don’t you want to show it? And it’s amazing how the new bulbs can bring out color.”
Owner Roberto Machado, a native Argentinian, started Alchemy Lights 15 years ago. Located on Avenger Way on the south side of town, this is a wholesale business dealing with lighting showrooms around the United States — including Form + Function, Dahl Lighting Showroom, and Allbright & Lockwood in Santa Fe — as well as with architects and interior designers in the Southwest.
Like the ancient alchemists who sought to turn base metal into gold, the artisans at Alchemy Lights transform sheets of copper, tin, stainless steel, brass, and aluminum into magnificent and unique works of art, according to a statement at alchemylights.com.
“It was crazy in 2005 to 2007; we were working all night,” Machado said. “Business slowed down, but 2011 was good and this year is even better. All our lights are made here, made in the USA, but it is hard to keep up with all the taxes and UL certifications. We have to pay a UL inspector $700 several times a year.”
Alchemy fabricates a gleaming selection of sconces, pendants, vanities, and mirrors in many designs. Recent customers included a pair of new hotels in St. George, Utah, which ordered about 300 lights each.
When we met at Firefly Lighting & Ironwork in Cuyamungué, owner John Zubchenok was just back from a meeting with the Drury Southwest team, which is converting the old St. Vincent Hospital into a hotel. Firefly will do the hotel’s exterior sconces as well as a chandelier for the lobby that incorporates numerous colored glass pendants. “Whenever we use glass, we always use local handcrafted glass from Prairie Dog Glass at Jackalope,” he pointed out. Another recent client was Hotel Chimayó in downtown Santa Fe, and Firefly is doing lighting for Homewise’s new Piñon Ridge development at Las Estrellas. For that, the company is focusing on innovative recycled product: sconces from coffee cans.
“This is our 16th year and everything is made here in our studio by people who have been with us a long time,” Zubchenok said. “We use Old World techniques; we hand-forge our lights and they’re made one at a time, with pride and craftsmanship.
“I’m really trying to create warm ambience with function for our clients. I feel like I’m part of a renaissance in small, Arts and Crafts manufacturing that this country needs.”