Text by Sharon Niederman
On returning to Tularosa, Cynthia took up her forebears craft as she and Ken built their adobe woodshop on Tularosas main street, Highway 54/70. We made about 3,500 adobes ourselves, she says. We made the frames it was learn as you go. We took a couple of workshops and hit the library up pretty hard. They designed the building themselves, with a shop on one side and a showroom on the other, carved and built all the doors, and installed the roof. It got really tough when we got to the top course of those adobe walls! she laughs.
Now they are busy collaborating on cajas (trunks), roperos (wardrobes), bancos (benches), and trasteros (kitchen cupboards) for clients from California, Utah, Texas, and Germany. All pieces are made by hand of pine, the traditional wood used in New Mexico, with mortise and tenon joinery, and ornamented with simple interpretations of rosette and spiral designs. The only tools used are knives with flat and beveled edges. A piece can take between 200 and 400 hours. The finish work is especially labor intensive, requiring Danish oil finish with hand-rubbed beeswax.
Cynthia and Ken built their business mostly through word of mouth and prime location, a busy interchange between Ruidoso, Alamogordo, Odessa, and El Paso.
The best thing for me is the tradition of the furniture, says Cynthia, who adds punched tin to smaller pieces. These heirloom pieces are helping keep the tradition and heritage of the style alive.
One of Cynthias proudest accomplishments is the hand-carved altar she made for her mothers private chapel. Artist Viviana Prelo, who has shown her work at Spanish Market in Santa Fe and ran a gallery on the Mescalero Reservation, paints saints but does not consider herself a santera. Im a Hispanic artist, says the self-taught Prelo. The altar piece combines Cynthias woodwork with Vivianas saints, the magnificently carved golden pine spiral columns forming frames for the delicate, Renaissance-like saints.
As if they were not busy enough filling their backlog, Cynthia and Ken began a new venture this past summer when they purchased the 1905 bank building in Tularosas historic downtown. The building features tongue-and-groove roof, wainscoting, storefront plate glass windows, and a rock foundation. With plans to restore the historic building, the couple started a weekly newspaper, the Tularosa Reporter. In yet another bow to tradition, both the name and the masthead were borrowed from the towns turn-of-the-20th-century paper. Like their other projects, the couple does all the work themselves, from taking digital photos of high school football games to selling ads to laying out the copy. They even deliver the paper themselves, by bicycle. The paper is a mix of local news and events, historic preservation information, and coverage of significant current issues such as the water battle between Alamogordo and Tularosa. Starting in July 2002 at four pages, the paper was up to 12 pages by fall.
They told me, Dont make waves, Cynthia recalls of advice by townsfolk. These are going to be tsunamis! I try to be precise, fair, and factual. Sometimes things need to be said, and the truth doesnt always feel good. But Im confident everything were doing is productive.
Cynthias vision for the paper is to be of service to the community, informing residents not only of local issues and activities, but also of historic preservation. We have to keep reminding people how important it is that we cant lose it and cant forget it, she says.
To Cynthia, lacking a sense of place is like having your heart ripped out. How do you grow up without history and heritage and stories? she asks. When we werent hanging out with the old guys, we were up in Mescalero learning all the cuss words in Apache. Thats not something you can leave when your family has been here many generations like mine has, connecting me to the physical and spiritual aspects of the place. I dropped back in after being gone a long time, but it was like Id never left. It was easy to come back because there was such a tie.
History is personalized here, Cynthia muses. Its like it just happened. Everyone is tied to it and interconnected by it. We have a sense of community here. Tularosa works together almost like a family.
This article was first published in the
Spring 2003 issue of Su Casa Magazine
site design: © 2002-2006 word of eye; content (except book jacket blurbs): © 2002-2006 Sharon Niederman