For 18 years the Duran family—that's Matt, Jeannette and their son, Gabriel—have been collecting handmade Christmas ornaments for their family tree. Most of these tiny pieces of art are sourced from artists at Spanish Market, where both Matt and Gabriel sell their carvings and metalwork. Now a collection of more than 400 individual pieces by more than 130 New Mexican artists, the Durans have decided to share their massive collection with the greater community through an exhibition at the National Hispanic Cultural Center (1701 Fourth Street SW). The Art of Christmas: New Mexico Style opens on Dec. 2 and runs through Jan. 7. Still in the midst of setting up the show, Matt Duran took the time to tell us about the collection's origins and what it means to his family.
Alibi: When did your family decide to start collecting ornaments so seriously?
Duran: Well, it happened before my wife and I got married. … My son wasn't even born yet. We never thought we'd be able to afford any big pieces of art work, so we started off by collecting a couple and putting them on a small four foot tree. It kicked off from there. Every year after we got married, and as we went along, we'd take off store bought ornaments and replace them with handmade ornaments that I would either trade for or buy at Spanish Market, since I'm a Spanish Market artist. … When my son was born, we'd buy him an ornament each year. He's 14 now, he'll be going on to his 15th ornament purchased by us, but he's already started picking up his own for his own tree.
There's about 400 ornaments in this exhibition. Is that the whole collection?
That's our whole collection, but my son has his own. We'll be using his for our tree at home this year. … Pretty much my artwork has funded most of this, either with trades or because I sold something. The funny thing is, in the middle of summer, in July, I'll be looking for stuff for our tree, looking for artwork.
Are there certain ornaments that stand out to you?
There's a buddy of mine, Art Montaño, that does bone carving. Another friend of mine, Arthur López, has a bunch of miniatures. … We picked up three carved angels from him. There's recycled pieces, there's some folk art pieces from Ron Rodriguez that are really cool. … We've been really blessed by other people's artwork.
Do you have any memories of the first pieces you picked up?
There's a small angel by Arlene Cisneros Sena, that stands out. I guess I should've catalogued them! Like I said, we never expected it to grow this big or be showcased in this manner. … I just really wanted to support other artists and show people that not only am I doing my own craft, I also support other artists. At Spanish Market, I would sell a piece and then go off and buy a piece. My wife would look at me like, you're crazy. … My art form has given me an art budget. That's been cool. I don't know when it will ever stop.
When all of the ornaments are at home, how do you get all the ornaments up, what does your tree look like?
Usually we start the day before Thanksgiving and finish it up between Thanksgiving and Black Friday. We'll put up almost like scaffolding. … We try to open up as many boxes as we can to try to figure out bigger, lighter pieces to go towards the top, and then heavier pieces towards the bottom, and then fill in everywhere else. Me and my son get on the scaffolding, and my wife hands stuff up. … It usually takes 10 or 12 hours.
How tall is the tree?
Is Christmas your favorite holiday because you get to go all out?
Ever since I was small, I was always big on Christmas. There's something about the tree and the lights. Lights have always been big for me. I like the evening, seeing a lot of lights out. I guess I'm just a kid at heart.
What do you hope visitors will experience?
Just the idea of being able to to purchase art, big or small. It's something that is always doable by picking up smaller pieces. There's always a spot for it on your tree. Even smaller items like this, you help support artists and their families. Pick up a small piece of art. It'll make you smile. … Every year we open the boxes and it is like something brand new all over again.