SOMOS welcomes new co-directors

David Perez and Mike Thompson

David Perez  and Mike Thompson 

Originally published in Taos News

The literary organization Society of the Muse of the Southwest (SOMOS) hosted an informal open house on Friday July 25th at 5 p.m. The meet and greet event welcomed the new co-directors Jan Smith and David Perez.

Smith has been the Summer and Winter Writers Series curator for five years. Perez has also been involved with SOMOS for a long time.

“In fact, one of my first jobs in Taos was doing grant writing for SOMOS, around ten years ago,” he said. “This feels like coming home again.”

Smith and Perez talked about the programs offered by SOMOS—the Young Writers Program, the Writers Series, the Storytelling Festival, the Poetry Series, and a variety of workshops.

“Our work is simply about building from what we have and expanding it to new heights,” Perez said. “It’s challenging and I look forward to it.”

The event’s attendees were excited about the new developments.

Mike Thompson says he is “glad to see fresh new thoughts and life coming into the SOMOS arena.”

Actress Tenney Walsh, a youth mentor for over seven years, said, “The mentorship program is a great way to open a door to young talented voices and I look forward to continuing with it.”

Gale Dorion has been attending the Writers Series and the Storytelling Festival since 2000.

“I want to thank SOMOS for offering us some of the finest poetry and writing events in the country,” she said.

Writer Liz Cunningham highlights the fact that SOMOS provides a support community for authors.

“The organization also helps young writers find a voice of their own,” she said. “Rita McElmury was a mentee of Sally Schrup and she is now a reporter at KUNM in Albuquerque. This is a success story that I have personally followed.”

“David and Jan are a wonderful pair of people,” said poet Phyllis Hotch, who served on the Board of SOMOS for 23 years. “And I’m happy to be here today.”

Melanie Gordon looks forward to getting more involved with the Young Writers Program.

“SOMOS is and always has been an amazing venture into the minds of writers and readers,” said Gordon.

Meet and greet event

Engaging the community

The two co-directors plan to focus on developing tighter ties with the community.

“The big question is: how to encourage more people to draw closer to us?” says Perez. “How can we engage more with them and share in the cultural events we offer? One way is to focus on the youth and the schools, whether middle school, high school or UNM. But there might be other ways. Maybe we can organize lectures and events in public places and spaces that belong to local organizations such as the Juan Gonzalez Agricultural Building or the Acequia Association. There are countless possibilities.”

The next Summer Writers Series event is a reading by poets Scott Cairns and Joan Logghe on August 7th at the Harwood Museum of Art, at 7:30 p.m.

For more information about SOMOS visit

Jan Smith

Co director Jan Smith

Taos Master Charles Collins talks business

Originally published in Taos News


Most of the painters, writers and musicians that I have interviewed for this column rely on different sources of income, with very few working full-time at their art.


“One can’t make here it as an artist,” is a phrase I hear way too often. So it was a refreshing surprise to meet Charles Collins, owner of Charles Collins Gallery and a Taos Master, who tells me that he lives exclusively off the proceeds of his sculptures, prints and paintings—though he added quickly that it also happens “by the grace of God.”


“I try to keep positive and focused,” he said. “Of course, you can’t forget the practical aspects of doing business, like keeping the store open as many hours as possible. This gallery is open seven days a week.”


Another key issue for a successful artist is having good people skills.


“You need to be able to talk to prospective clients about your art,” Collins said. “Not necessarily talk them into buying it, but show them what you can do and highlight your best pieces.”


Collins’ bronze tri-sculptures


Whenever visitors come in the gallery, Collins demonstrates how his unique bronze tri-sculptures fir together, which makes it possible to display them as one item or three individual pieces.


“They are based on the concept that everything is interconnected,” he said. “I believe in the multiplication of energy, the possibility of creating something more powerful than the sum of its parts.”


He always arranges the sculptural units in groups of three interlocking pieces.


“Three is the number of perfection and of persons in the Holy Trinity,” he said.


From pottery to painting


Collins came to Taos in 1976 because he saw a pottery for sale, Ranchos de Taos Pottery, and decided to buy it. He owned it for four years.


“It was a great experience,” he said, “but then my art started evolving and I developed my paintings and sculptures. I also learned to do giclee prints, which have kept me in business over the years. There is a whole room full of them at the gallery.”


After he sold the pottery, Collins began to exhibit his work and spent ten years at the Kachina Lodge.


“A wonderful place,” he said. “I have great memories of it.”


But Collins needed a bigger space, with more access to people, so he moved to his current location in the McCarthy Plaza, where he has been for ten years.


Honors and awards


A proclamation making August 6th Charles Collins Day in New Mexico, issued by Governor Johnson in 1999, hangs from a gallery wall.


“At that time my pieces were at the Kachina Lodge and Governor Johnson was there for a conference about education,” Collins said. “He looked at them and said, ‘Charles, you are like a star, shining light on everyone.’”


As an artist, you hope for that kind of recognition, Collins said, and yet, it is always surprising when it happens.


“My work has made me the most awarded artist in the history of the Taos Fall Arts Festival,” he said. “My bronze sculpture The Ambassadors Meet in Washington is the only one awarded Best of Show in the Festival. And I have always felt really happy to receive such recognition, and honored and humbled as well.”


Advice: have a body of work


His main advice to young painters and sculptors who want to start living off their art is to amass a volume of work, one hundred pieces or more, that they can display in their own space or show to gallery owners.


“Gallerists and investors want to know that that you are committed artist, not someone who has only made a few pieces,” he said. “They also want to see your style and how your work has evolved over the years. A good body of work shows your depth as an artist.”


Working as a team


Charles Collins Gallery currently exhibits the work of Timothy Bunn, Arlo Guthrie and Marcie Sweet Brown, besides Collins’ art.


Brown, Collins and Collins’ sister, Jo, take turns working at the gallery. They are now looking for another artist who wants to exhibit there and share responsibilities.


“We would like to find a morning person,” Collins said, “someone who is available to be at the gallery from nine a.m. to one p.m.”


Looking for models


Collins is also in search of models for a new photography project.


“It will be about the triumph of the human spirit reflected through the physical form,” he said. “There is a lot of beauty in Taos and I would like to portray it.”


Interested people can call Collins or just pass by the gallery.


State of the art business in Taos


Collins sees it as picking up again.


“Things are moving on,” he said. “I think that this summer will be a good season for all of us.”


He says that the artistic community should do more advertising on the national level.


“We need to let people out there know what we are doing,” he said. “Because we are doing a lot.”


Charles Collins Gallery is located at 115 McCarthy Plaza (adjacent to Taos Plaza).


Phone: 575-758-2309


Exotic critters sold in Taos

When you enter Fins and Tails Pet Shop, the first thing you hear is a loud chirping of birds. You will also see several aquariums with tropical fish and a glass case containing vivacious lop-eared bunnies.

And if you look carefully, you will discover, in a corner, a three-and-a-half-foot iguana named Hercules.

“He’s the highlight of the shop,” said owner Cindy Vigil. “Sweet, friendly and extremely curious. Everybody loves him, particularly the children.”

An active businesswoman

Vigil is originally from Colorado. She has lived in Taos for over twenty-five years and managed several businesses here.

She first owned a cleaning business and later opened a thrift store called The Bargain Box, where she sold clothes and household items.

Three years ago she launched Needful Things Pet Supplies. It was in business only for a short time due to electrical problems in the building where the shop was located. The store reopened as Fins and Tails in October 2013.

“I have always loved animals,” Vigil said. “I liked playing with many of them when I was a little girl, so it was natural for me to finally own a pet store. And the fact was that, until I opened this one, there were no other live pet stores in Taos, not even places to buy fish. People had to travel to Santa Fe to get them and sometimes the fish died on the way up here.”

Vigil closed The Bargain Box a month after opening Fins and Tails because it was too difficult for her to keep both businesses running at the same time.

“I couldn’t find reliable help either,” she said. “I had to choose, and the animals won.”

She is now the only employee at Fins and Tails, which she runs with the help of her grandchildren and her sister.

“I love being here,” she said. “The best part of my job is coming to the shop every morning and being greeted by all the critters. They always seem so happy to see me, especially Hercules. The only problem is that he loves to escape and I have to chase him around the store.”

Field trips for the local schools

Fins and Tails offers free field trips to local students.

Vigil has received visits from Llano Quemado and Questa Head Start programs and is always willing to welcome more children from the community.

“We take the animals out one by one and give the kids a chance to pet them and ask questions,” she said. “It’s fun and very educational at the same time.”


Fins and Tails sells hamsters, ferrets and reptiles.

“This is the only place in Taos where people can buy an iguana or a snake,” Vigil said.

There are several kinds of small birds like parakeets and cockatiels. Upon request, Vigil can order canaries and larger birds.

She carries tropical fish like oscars and pond fish like koi, goldfish and ornamental koi as well as fish food—flakes and pellets for koi, goldfish and even turtles.

“We also carry mice, rats, crickets, worms, and meal worms,” Vigil said. “If we don’t have what people are looking for, I am more than happy to order it.”

Collars and little chew toys for cats and dogs are available. Vigil may start ordering cat and dog food soon.

“I also sell habitats,” Vigil said. “I provide cages for birds, hamsters and ferrets, and aquariums for tropical fish. I can order them up to 135 gallons.”

A special kind of merchandise

The way Vigil deals with her current stock is quite different from what she used to do in her previous stores.

“In this kind of business, you bond with the animals,” Vigil said. “With all of them, because that’s the best way of giving them the care and attention they need. But then it is hard to see them go.”

Many of her clients come back often to purchase food and supplies for the pets they have bought, or to buy another animal of the same kind so the first one has a companion.

“It’s always good to know that they are well taken care of,” Vigil said.

Other services

Though she doesn’t offer grooming services, Vigil says that groomers can leave their cards at the store and she will make sure that her clients see them.

She does clipping of birds’ wings and beaks.

“I also help people with their ponds,” she said. “I help them set a pond up. I can install a pump and give them advice on how to get rid of algae and keep the pond clean.”

Due to health issues, Vigil has put the store up for sale.

“My hope is to find an interested buyer who loves animals as much as I do,” she said.

Fins and Tails is located at 1350 Paseo Del Pueblo Sur, Taos, NM 87571-5962

Phone: 575-758-1988.


A Brief Guide to Taos

Teresa Dovalpage - A Brief Guide to Taos. Where to Eat, Shop, Work Out... and More

Published by Eriginal Books, is available in Amazon Kindle

Lana Dura: give sheep a job

“Sheep brought me to Taos,” says Minna White, owner of Lana Dura, a company that makes and sells handcrafted wool products.

White grew up in New England and produced science documentaries for over twenty years. She worked for the NOVA science series, PBS, and IMAX feature films getting an M.B.A. along the way, and later a Masters in environmental law.

“After graduate school, in 1983, I bought a five acre ‘farm’ in Vermont, began working with sheep and never stopped,” she said.

In the late eighties, White was working in Albuquerque when she read a story in the Albuquerque Journal about the Navajo-Churro sheep and the need for more farms and ranches to raise them and increase their genetic diversity.

“Navajo-Churro sheep have been in the Southwest since the 1500s and the breed is well suited to the rugged climate, droughts and scarce vegetation,” she said.

She thought Navajo Churro sheep would prosper in Vermont and began looking for some to purchase.

“However, there were very few people who raised them and fewer would sell breeding stock,” she said. “I finally found a ranch near Tres Piedras and bought five sheep.”

Afterwards, White would drive back to Taos every two or three years to buy more breeding stock.

“The descendants of these first five sheep still live on the farm in Vermont, where they are shorn twice a year and produce 250 to 300 pounds of wonderful wool yearly,” she said.

White served in the Peace Corps from 2009 to 2011 in Vanuatu, an island country near New Zealand, where she worked with local women who wanted to start their own small businesses. It was during this time that she decided to relocate to Taos after she completed her Peace Corps service.

Now White travels to Vermont several times a year for the wool and to help out with the sheep.

Lana Dura: give sheep a job

White started Lana Dura in 2012 with Connie Taylor, a longtime friend.

“Connie works with yarn and raised Navajo-Churro sheep for a long time,” she said.

Over the years White has sold raw wool, yarn, blankets, sweaters and socks. She washed and carded wool for other farmers but said she always loved felt and felting.

Felt means that the animal is still alive to produce more fiber.

“But sheep need to pay their upkeep, that’s why ‘give sheep a job’ is our motto,” she said.

What makes Lana Dura a unique company is the fact they make felt only with Navajo-Churro fiber and other endangered breeds, said White.

“Navajo-Churro yarn is widely used in this area by skilled weavers and embraced by knitters and other fiber users,” she said. “Other businesses make felt but not specifically with heritage and endangered breeds.”

Lana Dura donates bags to local nonprofits for their annual fundraisers.

“This is important to maintain community,” White said.

One of the challenges that the company faces is processing the raw fiber after the sheep are shorn.

“Many mills have closed in recent years, nationally,” said White.  “Also, encouraging ranchers and farmers to breed for the best fiber quality can be difficult.”

The many uses of felt panels

Lana Dura makes three foot by four foot felt panels that showcase the natural colors of Navajo-Churro wool.

The larger pieces are cut and sewn into bags, slippers, pet beds and placemats.

“Spills can be washed with dishwashing liquid and warm water,” White said.

She also makes felt landscapes to hang on a wall or place on top of a couch or bed.

“I love making art with natural fibers,” she said. “Truly natural fibers remain the best for warmth, durability and resistance to dirt, moisture, and fire.”

The bags: Tote, Chiquita, Bolsita and Spirit Bag

Lana Dura has several styles of totes and zipper bags which are sewn in Arroyo Seco and sold in boutiques and shops. Currently there are four bags styles available, all made of Navajo-Churro wool felt.

The largest is called El Tote, 12-14″ tall with a 8″ by 14″ bottom. La Chiquita is a smaller tote with three additional internal pockets. La Bolsita is a Cordura-lined zip bag that comes in two sizes—the smaller version holds a Kindle Fire or Mini iPad and the larger one holds an iPad or other tablets.

The Spirit Bag cushions a bottle of wine or champagne, keeping it chilled while protecting it.

“El Tote is popular because it is strong and capable and shows the beauty of Navajo-Churro fiber,” said White, “but both La Chiquita and the iPad bags are strong contenders in the popularity contest.”

The bags are sold locally at the Millicent Rogers Museum gift shop, Old Martina’s Hall, and Common Threads, as well as in Santa Fe at Samuels Boutique and in Albuquerque at La Montañita Co-op.

A few words to entrepreneurs

Based on her own experience and the classes she has taught, White has a few words of advice to aspiring entrepreneurs.

“Keep good financial records,” she said. “It is boring and seems unimportant compared with your exciting enterprise, but tracking those small costs like postage and supplies as well as your time is important to understand if you are profitable or if profitability is even possible.”

People need to know if they have is a “business” or just something they enjoy doing.

“Value your time and your money,” she said.

To learn more about Lana Dura visit


To contact White, email her at


El Tote


Kathleen Brennan —documenting life as it unfolds

New Jersey native Kathleen Brennan took her first pictures at age ten.

“I am one of eight children, so it was fun to act out and capture them when off-guard,” she said. “I also liked photographing trees and different scenes in the neighborhood.”

This interest in documenting the world has accompanied her all her life.

She moved to New Mexico and graduated from UNM with a degree in photography in 1977.

She hasn’t stopped shooting ever since.

Brennan’s art has been exhibited at the Peter and Madeline Martin Foundation for the Creative Arts in San Francisco, El Pomar Foundation in Colorado Springs and the Harwood Museum of Art, among other venues.

She also published In Praise of What Persists, Images of Breast Cancer, a collection of images that documents her partner Kat Duff’s triumph over illness. They became an exhibition at the Harwood and are a part of the museum’s permanent collection.

Working with artists

Brennan works closely with many artists, taking photographs of their work that they can use in their websites and portfolio. She also makes support materials like postcards, business cards, booklets and video clips.

“I photographed many of Annell Livingston’s paintings and she has the images on her website,” Brennan said. “I have also worked with Terrie Mangat, the Taos Municipal Schools and businesses like Casa Gallina.”

She does head shots and portraits, too.

Letting the light speak

Because she started out with film in the old days, Brennan only shot black and white for about 30 years.

“I specialized in hand-painted photographs, where I colored the photos with special oils,” she said. “This was a technique that I learned in college. I love combining the two elements. Later, I began to use color film and explored different ways of exploiting that.”

She learned studio lighting later in her career.

“It is something that really takes practice to become good at it,” she said. “My favorite way to photograph is to get in the car and drive around looking for things or the light that speaks to me.”

The business of photography

It can be very difficult to make a living as a fine art photographer, just like it happens with any other form of art, Brennan said.

“As a commercial photographer, it can be difficult as well, depending on one’s area of expertise,” she said. “Once a reputation is established, it becomes easier.”

Brennan points out a common misconception that has been fostered by the widespread use of digital photography.

“In today’s world of the digital imaging, we are essentially all photographers with the use of our mobile devices,” she said. “We have become a self-service culture where we believe we can do it all without having to hire someone.”

This has impacted her business negatively, she admits, but also positively when people realize that they aren’t quite getting what they are after.

“Everybody can be a photographer, but not everybody can be a good photographer,” she said. “People need to get familiar with their equipment, train their eyes, hone their skills and learn about the new techniques to be artists.”

Filmmaking, a new route

Brennan herself keeps updating her skills. In 2002, she went digital and returned to UNM to learn Photoshop.

She also took a course to learn filmmaking at UNM Taos and the result was the short film The New Neighbor about Dennis Hopper’s journey to his final resting place in Ranchos de Taos.

“As a filmmaker, I prefer making documentary films,” she said. “I like getting the stories of people’s lives, particularly artists and older folks, but also whatever interests me.”

She is now working on documenting the drought in New Mexico and the effects it is having on the land and lifestyle of those who live in the northeast corner of the state.

“The goal is to complete a 30 or 40 minute film sometime next year,” she said. “I’m collaborating with other artists and filmmakers in this project.”

The cost of technology

Photographers have a very close relationship with their equipment.

“I have shot Pentax, Bronica and Canon cameras,” Brennan said. “Most of my cameras are Canon because once you ‘marry’ a brand it makes sense to stay with it as long as it works for you. Lenses and accessories are too expensive to jump around too much.”

Despite the cost of new technology Brennan says she does love her equipment and keeps updating it.

“The digital world is changing things constantly so I always have an eye for the next greatest leap from what I currently use,” she said.

Brennan has studied painting, drawing, sculpture, and has even built furniture.

“I think it is important for any artist to study different forms and disciplines within the art world to help inform your own work,” she said.

She is also an accomplished gardener and a chicken farmer—she and Duff own eleven hens and a rooster.

“Photography is my expertise, but all the other things I have done and studied have helped to strengthen my work as a photographer,” she said.

Brennan’s exhibit The Art of the Documentary opened at the Harwood Museum of Art on February February 22nd and will be showing until May 4th.

To learn more about Brennan visit her website

or call (575) 737-5508



Homeopathic doctor offers natural treatments for body and mind

Debra Sherry

Debra Sherry made a mid-life career change when she was in her 40’s. It led her to her current position as a doctor of Medical Heilkunst and Homeopathy.

“I was in international sales in the oil and shipping industry and it was a highly demanding career that didn’t resonate with me,” she said. “It was killing me slowly.”

She started treatment under a homeopath and soon her long list of chronic health problems (both physical and emotional) became shorter and shorter, she said.

She was 95% healed of all of them within two years.

A calling to serve

Sherry decided to attend the four-year college Hahnemann Center for Heilkunst in Ottawa. She graduated in 2004.

“But my education will continue for the rest of my life,” she said. “This is a very complex form of medicine.”

After graduation, she moved to New Mexico and founded High Desert Homeopathy in Santa Fe, where she practiced for ten years.

“I felt this was my calling to serve others and give back to the world,” she said. “I knew it could help many others as homeopathy had helped, and continues to help, me—safely, without the side effects of pharmaceutical medications.”

She renamed her business Wholistic Health after moving to Taos in July 2013.

“My husband and I have been coming to Taos for many years to ski and hike and we have always loved it,” she said. “We decided last year to move here to see if we can still maintain and grow our practices, and enjoy all that Taos has to offer.”

What exactly is homeopathy?

It is a gentle, but effective type of alternative medicine that stimulates the body to naturally heal itself, said Sherry.

Homeopathic medicines are mainly prepared from natural botanical, biological and mineral sources and prescribed in micro dynamic doses.

“They are non-toxic and completely safe,” Sherry said. “They work on the principle of ‘like cures like,’ meaning that a substance that would cause certain symptoms in a healthy person is used to cure those same symptoms in an ill person. For example, homeopathy uses diluted extract of onion to treat seasonal allergies that have symptoms similar to what happens when you chop an onion.”

The most challenging part for the practitioner is getting beyond the “quick-fix” expectations of our society today, Sherry said.

“I can treat symptoms, but the end-goal is to heal, which requires time,” she said. “Chronic disease happened over time, usually with multiple causes behind it, so a cure can takes years.”

Homeopathy and the FDA

Homeopathic medicines are the only “other” FDA approved and regulated medicines in the United States, Sherry said. But insurance companies don’t pay for homeopathic treatments here.

“It makes no sense, other than the ‘competition’ factor with pharmaceuticals, since it is recognized and regulated by the FDA and has its own USDA pharmacopia,” she said. “There are only two forms of medicine that have it—pharmaceuticals and homeopathy.”

A homeopathic treatment session

The course of treatment for each individual is different because she treats people holistically, Sherry said.

“If I am treating chronic disease or conditions, I take into account the mind, body, soul and spirit, along with the individual’s history, constitution, life circumstances, inherited predispositions, lifestyle, diet, and exercise,” she said.

Sherry points out that there isn’t one particular remedy for a given illness, but many remedies that can be applied to heal different illnesses, considering all the factors that she mentioned before.

“I spend more time than medical doctors do with their patients,” she said. “A session with me can last up to two hours, and the patient has my full presence during it.”

However, the progressive form of homeopathy and nutrition that Sherry practices does not require that she meets face-to-face with her patients, though she prefers, if possible, to meet at least once.

“The appointment time is spent gathering as much information about the person or animal as possible,” she said. “Unless it is for a simple acute illness, injury, help with healing from surgery or pregnancy and birth, for example, then it’s not necessary to gather complete information about the patient.”

If the consultation is long-distance, via phone, Skype of Facetime, the medicines are mailed via priority mail, with instructions.

A success story

One of her patients was an eight-month pregnant woman who had been diagnosed with herpes. Her doctor wanted to schedule a C-Section because of possible transmission to the baby.

“I gave her prescriptions I thought would help her eliminate the virus, along with others to help enhance the chances for an easy delivery when it was time,” said Sherry. “Four weeks later, she tested free of herpes and avoided a C-section. Two more weeks later, she delivered a beautiful baby boy within four hours of her first labor pain. The baby was diagnosed with an inguinal hernia and hydrocele at three weeks old, and doctors said the only cure was surgery. Once again, with the help of homeopathy, he was healed within three weeks and surgery was avoided.”

Sherry will be offering a free class on homeopathy and some ways to use it at home for simple, acute illnesses on February 25th at the Taos Food Coop (314 Paseo del Pueblo Norte) at 7 p.m.

Wholistic Health is located at 107 Plaza Garcia, Unit B

Phone: 505-603-9888