Exotic Abiquiú

A dealer in tribal arts from around the globe fashions a uniquely New Mexican aesthetic in Abiquiú.

NEED TO KNOW
Bosshard Gallery is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. From U.S. 84 in Abiquiú, turn onto County Road 187, found across the street from Bode’s General Store. The gallery (#10) is located at the top of a short hill on your right. (505) 685-0061; johnbosshard.com

Built by the Miguel Gonzales family 100 years ago, John Bosshard’s Abiquiú house sits on layer upon layer of uniquely New Mexican history. Measured on the village time line, the house might be a youngster, but its double-thick adobe walls and hand-dug stone-lined basement delve deeply into the long tradition of indigenous building methods around here. Next door, its older cousin on the property, the 19th-century Gonzales y Bode (pronounced BO-dee) Mercantile, boasts a true Wild West past.

“I love the history out here. I’m fascinated by it,” says Bosshard (pronounced BOSS-hard). A savvy gallery owner who scours the world for unique tribal art and sells it from the old mercantile, he knows a thing or two about the real deal. His sales inventory and personal collections include architectural and ethnographic artifacts like a large Han Dynasty terra-cotta horse from China; a Song Dynasty wooden figure of Kuan Yin, the Chinese female bodhisattva of compassion; and group of spirit panels and shields from the Mentawai people of western Sumatra.

With his taste for the exotic, maybe it’s no wonder he settled into the Gonzales home, which makes a good case for New Mexico’s own brand of exotic—you won’t find a place like this anywhere else. In a modest village adobe and workaday warehouse from the 19th century, Bosshard found the perfect stage for his eclectic yet harmonious collections of sacred art, folk art, and found objects. Their deft commingling seems to unite and elevate the whole place— art, architecture, and historic setting—to the level of an original aesthetic at once fiercely local and wildly cosmopolitan. Call it Global-Tribal Southwest style.

The story of Bosshard’s place begins with that old store. In its heyday, Abiquiú was the jumping-off point for the Old Spanish Trail to California, and later became a stagecoach stop where the road climbed the hill into what was then a Native American Pueblo. Photos from the 1880s show the plaza packed with heavily loaded wagons, fringed surreys, and cow ponies hitched to a rail.

Seeing a business opportunity on this busy plaza, Miguel Gonzales built a cavernous two-story, falsefronted adobe mercantile to serve the trade in the 1880s. He added the house 30-some years later. Into this bustling scene, a German immigrant named Martin John Bode arrived in around 1920. He worked in the store, eventually became a partner in the Gonzales y Bode Mercantile, then bought out Gonzales. Later he moved the store, now called Bode’s, to its current, still thriving location down on the highway.

That backstory gave Bosshard one good reason to buy the place. For another, the spotlessly renovated house sits in a rich artistic community with movie location views and trance-inducing grounds. Finally, the attached historic mercantile makes a great sales gallery for Bosshard’s art business, while giving others ready access to his unique collecting aesthetic.

Bosshard hardly took a straight-line path getting here. A Wisconsin native, the now 65-year-old came out of college as an artist who “hated being cooped up in the studio. Art’s cool, but travel’s cooler,” he says. So he took off on yearlong trips well ahead of the adventure-travel boom, ranging from Peru to Kathmandu, from Ecuador to Indonesia, from Africa to Thailand. As a trekker in the 1960s, he explored the Himalayas and Andes, admiring the indigenous art and crafts, buying what intrigued him, and shipping it home. Pretty soon, people were buying the art he collected.

“One year, I thought, I could make a living doing this.”

After a long stint in California, Bosshard moved to Taos in 1984, eventually opening galleries there and in Santa Fe. Business boomed, and to this day he takes frequent buying trips abroad.

Although Bosshard enjoyed Taos, several years ago he started looking around for a second home. Abiquiú caught his eye. One day his real estate broker called. “He told me about this place next to [Georgia] O’Keeffe’s, a historic property with potential for a warehouse for my art,” Bosshard recalls. “He said, ‘Come see it. You’ll get a kick out of it’—famous last words.”

At first he planned to stay in Taos, use the Abiquiú property as a getaway, and store art in the mercantile to “feed my galleries.” But as he fixed it up and spent time here, the attraction deepened. This was home.

Today, Bosshard shares the property with his partner, Kanchana Phumipol, a Thai textile dealer and weaver who goes by the name Daeng. Gallery manager Matthew de Lellis lives in the building between the home and the gallery.

The two-story, roughly 2,500-square-foot house rests on its original footprint. First-floor rooms orbit a central staircase that climbs to a second-story bedroom and office. If you enter through the back door, which seems natural, you pass a mudroom and laundry whose slanting roof suggests a converted porch. Next comes the kitchen, beautifully rendered in contemporary stainless appliances, composite stone countertops, and tile. The stove sits in a plaster alcove.

Open to the kitchen across a low counter, the dining area features a long wooden table beside sunny windows facing south to the mercantile. A door leads to the sitting room, with a TV, while a brief hallway passes under the stairs to the north-side living room and lone downstairs bedroom.

Sandy-colored, skip-troweled plaster imparts a bumpy feel to the interior walls. Wood floors yield pleasantly to the step. New energyefficient windows showcase the views over the Río Chama Valley; Abiquiú’s distinctive promontory El Cerrito, its unusual white hills immortalized by O’Keeffe; the distant Dar al Islam mosque; and the far mesas rising in waves to the northern horizon.

As you might expect, Bosshard’s art collection covers nearly every horizontal surface and most vertical ones, too—antiques, paintings, sculptures of animals, tables fashioned from venerable doors, drums, tapestries, and a hundred other como se llamas he fetched from the far corners of the world.

Outside, the west, north, and east portales throw deep shade for summer lounging. Bosshard has landscaped the grounds with flagstone, a variety of plantings, grass, a pleasantly burbling water feature, and a fireplace anchoring one corner of the patio. These indoor/outdoor spaces are his favorite part of the house.

“We spend a lot of time outdoors,” he says. “This is like a dining area and a living area. One of the things I love the most is coming out with my morning cup of coffee and watching the sun blazing red on the rock.” He gestures toward El Cerrito. “And my commute is across the parking lot.”

That building needed serious attention when Bosshard bought the place. Before he could move his art inventory into the old store, he cleaned it out and “shored it up to make it sound.” He also visually united the home and gallery with matching plaster, a shady portal leading from a gravel parking area to the back of the house, and a perennial garden on the home’s south side.

The lovely home and setting, engaging backstory, and ample room for business might have been what first attracted Bosshard, but that’s not why he settled in Abiquiú.

“The biggest surprise here was what a nice community of people there was,” Bosshard says. “I didn’t realize what a great bunch of artists and writers live back up in the arroyos and canyons and along the bosque. I thought I was going to be kind of lonely out here, but we’re always having dinners together, that kind of thing. A couple years after I bought it, I’d met so many nice people, I decided to move out here.”

Some of his neighbors like to stop by and talk about the old days. “They’ll say, ‘I remember when I was a little hijo and I’d sit up on the counter and eat candy,’ ” Bosshard says.

History, after all, is about people. By bringing the house and mercantile into the 21st century, Bosshard has earned his own place in the books. ✜