Native American painters transform hotel rooms with large-scale art

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Dade Lahar stepped into the hotel room with splashes of electric blue and tipis outlined in neon green before scanning a mural that offered a contemporary take on Native American reservation life.

"Whoa," the 9-year-old said while donning a pair of 3-D glasses to see how the room's painted geometric designs and abstract landscapes could seemingly fill the space around him. "This is the absolute, most coolest room in the whole wide world."

It's also unique, and part of an ongoing project at Nativo Lodge, a boutique hotel in Albuquerque, N.M., to transform guest rooms into spaces that owners say can be considered art pieces unto themselves.

In cities from Tokyo to Marseille, France, the concept of commissioning artists to convert guest rooms into contemporary, large-scale installation works has taken hold at a handful of hotels. For New Mexico, where art connoisseurs and collectors may be more likely to hit places like Taos and Santa Fe, the collection of rooms at Nativo Lodge has created a new art stop along Interstate 25 amid a string of mostly chain hotels and businesses.

"We don't put any restrictions on the artists," said Maresa Thompson, the hotel's marketing director. "We say, 'What do you want to bring?' And their vision changes as they stay here and create their rooms."

She started recruiting emerging artists to paint rooms at the hotel several years ago with the idea of making contemporary Native American art more accessible to the general public outside of a gallery or museum setting, and at an affordable property, she said. Depending on the season, rooms at Nativo Lodge can cost about $80 per night.

Guests who want to stay in an artist room can call in and request the room of their choice after viewing options online.

So far, 12 artists — all from New Mexico — have transformed rooms at Nativo Lodge with large-scale paintings and murals. Scenes in the rooms convey Southwestern landscapes, figures from tribal stories and other Native American imagery. Themes range from the spiritual to the abstract.

In one room, Randy Barton, who started out as a street artist, painted a room last year with an abstract study on the 50 arrowheads of the Navajo Nation flag. From one end of the wall to the other where the room's television stands, Barton painted lines shooting in nearly every direction to create asymmetrical geometric shapes in hues of beige, orange and brown.

"The room is called 'All Direction Protection,'" Barton said. "I made all the arrowheads just kind of shoot out everywhere and that's how I made this design here."

Estella Loretto, a sculptor and painter from Jemez Pueblo, said she wanted to create a room that reflected on the sun and the "gift of a new day." Behind the room's queen-size bed, a turquoise sun rises against a yellow backdrop in one of several murals in the room. Outside the room's window, the Sandia Mountains tower over the city.

Last week, the hotel publicly unveiled its four newest artist rooms, which included Loretto's work and the fluorescent, ultra-contemporary space that wowed Dade, the 9-year-old, at an open house.

Ishkoten Dougi, a Navajo and Apache artist who says he is intent on presenting Native American imagery in a different light, painted the room with the mural he titled "Art Reservation" this spring. In place of standard queen-sized beds, the hotel placed a pair of miniature toy tipis in the middle with twin, kid-sized mattresses inside.

Dougi was able to incorporate the 3-D element with his painting through his choice in color patterns, pulling off an effect that makes the room more interactive.

"It's a room playing off a reservation theme so that's where the tipis become involved — as an archetype," Dougi said. "And then the landscape in here reflects the vast color of the reservation, mostly capturing the skyline. It's more what you would see on a journey."

Online: www.nativolodge.com.


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