TOMÉ— For a quarter century, Tomé Art Gallery has been a colorful jewel along the highway that runs through the valley. The small adobe building served many purposes before the gallery — a bar, gas station and restaurant.
When Jan Pacifico and her business partners, Susan and Stan Banta, bought the building, they completely renovated the space.
“We worked day and night; friends and family were recruited to help,” Susan said. “There were a lot of scrapes and cuts from doing the lathe and plaster. It was a lot of work.”
Susan and Pacifico were artists at Valencia Artisans, the current location of Manny’s Fine Pastries on Main Street in Los Lunas before it closed. Looking for a new location, they decided to start their own gallery.
When the Bantas moved to California, Jan bought out their part of the business and carried on. Eventually, she turned over the operations of the gallery to potter Toni Edwards, who ran it for about a year.
“There were some financial struggles, so I put together a group of artists to form a co-op back in 2000,” Edwards said.
Since then, many artists have come and gone at the gallery but a core group has always remained, Edwards said, and that group is led by Pacifico.
“Everybody knows Jan,” she said. “It’s her and a lot of love people have given over the years.”
The quality of the work sold at the gallery is also a significant factor in its longevity, said Greg Schwirtz, a working member of the gallery, who Edwards quips has been the co-op treasurer for about 92 years.
“This is a good gallery. We don’t have junk; we have quality items,” Schwirtz said. “It still amazes me, people will come in and tell us ‘I’ve been driving by here for 12 years. This is really nice.’ Yeah!”
The gallery displays works from 32 consignment members, seven working members, six member/managers and six authors and musicians. Their work ranges from quilting and pottery to jewelry and photography.
“We have made all kinds of changes in what we have over the years,” Pacifico said.
To mark their Silver Anniversary, the artists at the gallery are hosting a celebration from 1-4 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 8. There will be free ice cream sundaes, door prizes and raffles.
The gallery members are also assembling a wayfinding sign that will include Tomé’s altitude — 4,828 feet — plus the names of the five roads that intersect at the gallery.
Pacifico said she hopes the sign will encourage people to stop by the gallery for a photo opportunity.
“The main display will be pieces from past artists,” Pacifico said. “There will also be a special display from gallery artists who have passed away.”
Members of the gallery describe it as being a special place, even being home for some. Schwirtz said the items offered in the gallery are quality and can easily compete with galleries near and far.
“There are a lot of beautiful galleries but they all have the same thing. They either have all 2D or 3D work. Here, there’s such a variety,” he said.
Deb Schwirtz said the gallery is also a special place for customers.
“A few weeks ago, two men were looking for a piece of raku pottery. They told me every year, on their wedding anniversary, they return to New Mexico and add a piece of raku to their collection,” Deb said. “It was so special to be a destination for such a big occasion.”
Pacifico said the gallery is often a destination for locals to bring visiting friends and family, but the co-op and its artists are also very much a part of the community.
“Over the years, I think we’ve established our place in the community,” she said. “The Soup-R Bowl really connected us to the community.”
The annual soup and handmade bowl sale extravaganza held on Super Bowl Sunday for close to a decade and raises money for local scholarships.
This year, the fund awarded four $1,000 scholarships, and Pacifico said the hope is to increase to five scholarships next year.
The gallery’s scholarship is part of the University of New Mexico-Valencia campus’s endowed scholarship offerings so it will continue to be offered to local students in perpetuity.
Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.