Somewhere in between the desert rocks and the wide open skies of New Mexico, four local women found their calling and brought it home; not just as wives or moms or daughters or friends, but as cowgirls - daring to take on a new adventure in the form of opening their own art gallery, Cowgirl Studios.
Disguised as a basement unit in the SoCA Shops on Oak Street, the studio is actually the embodiment of a tangible dream Nicole Merkens, Charlotte Tate, Cheryl Young and Heida Halldorsdottir began to weave last year on a trip out West for a workshop in clay. Though the women had first become friends during a class at the Roswell Art Center West, it wasn't until they followed a former instructor to New Mexico for a week in June 2011 they irrevocably bonded forever.
Dropping their own individual realities to become a collective part of the artist subculture in Abiquiu, NM, about 45 minutes north of Santa Fe, was unlike anything the women had ever experienced. In a town with no traffic lights, only one lamppost and a general store, the women spent mornings going on long hikes and followed up their time out in the desert with hours of clay sculpting.
"It's almost like you're disconnected from everything," said Tate.
Merkens agreed, "It was just so inspirational."
Deeply moved by the land and people, the women felt drawn to the ideology and imagery of the West.
"We wanted to be cowgirls; we were cowgirls," Tate said.
The feeling was so strong that the women had a hard time leaving New Mexico - so they didn't, or rather, they took some of it home with them.
"We wanted to take everything back with us," said Merkens. "The rocks seemed to have the energy of the land and people before us."
"We paid extra to bring a suitcase of rocks home with us," Tate admitted.
Something about the experience and the connection with other artists in Abiquiu, who had left good careers and a typical middle class existence to pursue their passions, changed the women.
"It was this sense that other people are taking risks, we can too," said Merkens.
It motivated the friends to begin searching for their own studio space, an idea a few of them had long toyed with.
"It took this trip to make us do it," said Tate.
"To know we could do it," Merkens follow up.
The historic Roswell area seemed the perfect fit for what the women wanted to do: open their own artist workspace and gallery combination. A place that shared a similar feeling with the New Mexico catalyst; where anyone could wander in and out while the four friends expressed and shared their artisic creativity.
They found it in the SoCA shops. Brimming with a certain energy, not far from the river.
"We just fell in love with the space," said Merkens, pointing out the granite wall at the back of the room.
The open room is laid out with four large work tables, earning the space the nickname: The Four Corners, after the state lines where New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado all meet. At the front of the space, art is displayed, gallery-style.
Tate and Merkens both vouch for their open-door policy, allowing patrons, other artists and just the plain curious to wander through and see what projects each of the women has strewn across her work space. That kind of unhindered sharing of their work breathes life into the space and invigorates them as artists.
And it's obviously hit a nerve that runs deep within the local art community - the need for a place to work while drawing inspiration from other artists. The women often receive inquiries about whether they'll sublet out work space to other artists, the answer to which is always no, unfortunately. They just don't have the room. Working art studios, open to wanderers, are something they would like to see more of in the area, in addition to the great galleries Roswell is already known for, say Tate and Merkens.
Ideas for new ventures, such as a Southwestern clothing line, are also in the works. And to draw even more inspiration, the women are headed back to New Mexico in August - but this time they'll take their husbands.
"We want them to fall in love with it as much as we have," said Merkens.
For now, they're focused on cultivating their place in Roswell's art scene. Currently, they're holding a children's clay workshop July 16-20. The studio will soon also host an adult class that will allow participants to make a human bone, which will be taken to Washington, D.C. as part of the the 1 Million Bones project to raise awareness about genocide.
It's a great project to help people connect with clay and realize their own creativity in an easy and meaningful way.
"We want people to come in here and go away feeling like they can do anything," said Tate.
For more information on Cowgirl Studios, visit the website or call 404-590-6240.