by Jill Lane
When it comes to the subject of Spanish art in New Mexico, there is perhaps no better place to start than with independent, Albuquerque-based publishers Barbe Awalt and Paul Rhetts of LPD Press and Rio Grande Press.
Founders and senior partners of these two respected New Mexico publishing houses have created their own niche in Hispanic art and especially Spanish Colonial Sacred Art. Their award winning books on the Southwest’s religious art and artists have been showcased throughout the country. Names such as Charlie Carillo, Nicholas Herrera, and many other artists have been preserved through beautiful books because of the duo’s commitment to the art and the artists. Their books are some of the most credible artistic references for New Mexican Spanish artists.
With names like Rhetts and Awalt, you may wonder “why the focus on Hispanic art?” Their answer is simple. They love this art form so unique to New Mexico and the Southwestern United States. As many visitors to our state discover, the Land of Enchantment can capture your heart and soul. And that is what started this couple on their love affair with the art style they encountered on their recurring visits to New Mexico. So taken were they with the art world and New Mexico that they transplanted themselves by choice to the Duke City approximately twenty years ago.
Their very first book, Charlie Carillo: Traditions and Souls, was both written and published by the duo. They were astounded that no one had done anything on this great New Mexican artist, and when researching the possibility of doing the book, they were repeatedly told, “It won’t sell”. So with steadfast determination and a commitment to the artist and his art, they spent the next year creating it. Twenty years and numerous awards later, they have sold over 5000 copies, and continue to get purchase requests for this book. They continue today to put their creative energy into building their publishing business and library of books on Hispanic art, the artists behind their work, and related subjects. Their books have won numerous national, regional and state awards.
Following the success of their budding publishing company, they added a magazine to their line up fifteen years ago. Tradicion Revista is created twice annually to showcase Hispanic art of New Mexico and the Southwest. It also has been the recipient of numerous awards. The magazine can be found at news stores, museums and Hispanic stores and venues, and by subscriptions as well as on their website: www.nmsantos.com.
Their personal collection of Hispanic art, ranging in the neighborhood of 700 original pieces, includes: Santos, bultos, retablos, silver, paintings, jewelry and even bone carvings. Their collection is so impressive that numerous original pieces have been placed on exhibit in more than fifteen major galleries and museums throughout the southwest and United States.
In addition to their books, they have received personal awards for their commitment to the arts, including the Mother Teresa award “for their role as American Publishers, and especially for promoting Spanish Colonial Sacred Art.” The Mother Teresa Awards, recognizing achievements, which beautify the world, is only one of the prestigious recognitions they have received for the work.
Barbe and Paul have also supported other New Mexico writers and publishers with their ongoing commitment to the book medium. They are the founders of New Mexico Book Coop, an association of writers, publishers, and ”wannabe writers” that numbers over 1000 members in only a couple of years. In 2007 they also founded the first-ever New Mexico Book Awards. This now-annual book event was developed to present creative writers and their works from and about the state of New Mexico to the world. There are over 25 categories of books showcased through this award ceremony.
In spite of the numerous ventures that they are involved in, their number one love will always be Hispanic Religious Art. They are committed to presenting the beautiful art from our state in a way that will preserve this heritage for many future generations.
The next time you pick up a book on New Mexico Arts or Artists, don’t be surprised to see the name LPD Press or Rio Grande Press on the spine. You’ll be comforted to know it was created with love of this art medium so firmly planted in our state’s heritage. And it will have Barbe Awalt and Paul Rhetts’ names tucked quietly in there somewhere.