David Mapes has made a name for himself through his craftsmanship and commitment to art.
Originally published in Taos News. Photos: Katharine Egli.
Most people are familiar with his gallery DAFA (David Anthony Fine Arts), located on Kit Carson Road. He has been part of several projects intended to put the town back on top of the art map, like the Taos Art Market. But Mapes is also a fine artist and an old-world craftsman who has had his own furniture company since 1978.
Building in his blood
Mapes has always liked “building stuff.” So much that when he was a child, his mother was worried about him using the sharp tools he was so attracted to.
“I was inspired by my grandfather,” he recalls. “He built most of the houses he lived in, and designed and built bridges in many California parks. I also had uncles who were furniture makers… I guess that building things is in my blood.”
By the time he graduated from high school Mapes had his own workshop, equipped with tools inherited from his grandfather.
“I haven’t stopped doing woodwork ever since,” he said.
The wood, Mapes says, has always spoken to him.
“Not that I hear any voices, of course,” he clarifies. “It talks to me through the way the grain goes, the color, the curves and the natural form of the material. So, when I build a piece, I let the wood tell its own story.”
The way of wood
Mapes likes to use sustainable woods like cherry, African mahogany and walnut as well as reclaimed materials.
“I like authentically aged patinas,” he said. “But I also enjoy reproducing the design of original New Mexico furniture, sometimes giving it a new twist. It takes time to learn how to do that.”
There are many books about woodworking but for Mapes, the best way to learn “the way of the wood” is when knowledge is passed down from generation to generation.
“You need to do things over and over and learn from your mistakes,” he said. “Reading books won’t be enough.”
The Taos connection
Mapes’ connection with Taos dates to the 60’s. His father, who lived here, ran for many years a toy store called Tio Vivo. Mapes visited him often. In 1986, he finally fulfilled his dream of settling here.
“I am a creative type and I like to work with my hands,” he said. “I wanted to be in a place like this one, that is all about art and nature.”
He started his business building jewelry boxes out of exotic hardwoods. He went on to build furniture for the Cantu and McLaughlin furniture store in the 1990’s
“Kerry McLaughlin would give me drawings, I built them and then he put on the finishing touches,” he said. “Pretty soon I was making everything from tables and cabinets to bookcases.”
A symphony on wood
Mapes opened New Mexico Furniture Company in 2001.
“I liked that name because it sounded like it has been around for a long time,” he said, laughing.
The company has three main lines: Taos Jazz, New Mexico Deco, and Contemporary Southwest. Though they have common elements—all the pieces are high-quality, artistic and functional— each of them has its own distinctive characteristics.
“The Taos Jazz line started with the realization of how much working in a woodshop is like conducting a symphony,” Mapes said. “It is all about the unlikely combination of elements, as is jazz music.”
He showed me a Taos Jazz hall cabinet with a Pueblo sun design, all made on wood and copper.
“It highlights the eclectic mix of New Mexico heritage,” he said.
The other lines are also like well-choreographed dances.
“I like mixing styles in an organic, flowing way,” he said. “The New Mexico Deco collection, for example, features linear molding. The ‘deco’ part is often seen in the design and the tinwork.”
One of this collection’s signature pieces is a Yellow Submarine credenza made on wood, tin, steel and oils.
“I was going to create a steampunk line,” he recalls. “But when I was doing Google searches, I kept getting this picture and, even though that’s not steampunk, I thought: oh, man, you can’t die and not do a yellow submarine.”
The credenza is appropriately placed under Mike Mitchell’s Beatles images from their first American tour.
There is another New Mexico Deco credenza that pays homage to the San Francisco de Assisi Mission Church, which is featured on the tin-plated steel surface.
As for the Contemporary Southwest pieces, they are modern interpretation of classic New Mexico designs, ornamented with Southwestern details.
Mapes also makes custom stretchers and specialty panels.
The life of trees
Mapes considers woodworking as a “very spiritual task.”
“Of course, you are working with something that once was alive, a tree, and I have the utmost respect for trees,” he said. “Even when they are cut down, they are still somehow alive for they live in our furniture.”
David Anthony Fine Art is located at 132 Kit Carson Road