Discovering a hidden talent

-A A +A
By Jennifer Garcia

Some people are born into art and some people just sort of discover a hidden talent somewhere along the path of life. Such is the case of Santa Fe artist Rodney Estrada.


Estrada is a chef by trade but has found that his love for art has blossomed over the years and is now in full bloom.

“I was never really interested in art until I got to college,” Estrada said. “That’s when it became very interesting.” Estrada said he took a 3D design class in 1996 that was required for the culinary arts degree he was seeking at Santa Fe Community College. He said at first he was not looking forward to the class, but soon found out the professor, Dean Howell, was “really cool.”

“Being in his class, listening to his lectures and just making sculptures and creating things was eye opening for me,” Estrada said. His creativity was put to the test at the end of the semester, however, when the class put on a student art show and he was required to create something for the show.

“I was having a little trouble in the beginning. I stumbled upon some found objects at my mom’s house. I only had three months to pull something together. At that time, it was easy to put a sculpture together, but there’s a whole different aspect; you have to make a mold, what kind of material are you going to cast in? These questions were coming up and I was new to the process and I didn’t know how I was going to do it. Dean, being the teacher that he is, wasn’t there to help in every step. He’s there to give you advice, but he was like, ‘when you’re creating something like that, it’s your piece, let it stand alone.’ That’s really what jolted me into being creative,” Estrada explained.

He went on to get his associate’s degree in culinary arts, but life as an artist would have to wait as Estrada went on to pursue the career he’d gone to school to prepare for.

“It took a little time. I was so busy in pursuing my career, but there’s always been that interest. I took three different sculpting classes and it was tough at times. I moved around the Southwest (after college), so it was kind of tough maintaining the creativity, plus I don’t have my own studio,” Estrada said.

These days, Estrada works out of his apartment and out of Howell’s studio. He credits Howell for igniting his interest in creating art. “He kind of introduced the whole class to different materials. Painting, sculpting and mixed media always kind of resonated in my creative soul,” he said.

Estrada uses mixed media for his creations, which range from a chicken head carved from wood, to a sculpted head with a crank on top of it. He gets his materials from a variety of places, but says he likes to use natural, organic objects.

“I normally walk around river beds, pulling things from the Earth,” he said, “then I sculpt them to make them look realistic. It’s a lot of searching on my part. A lot of times friends will drop off wood that they find in the forest. I sculpt in fiberglass resin and a lot of found objects, metal, ceramics … It’s moving from one material to another. I don’t just stay on one material. You find some love in one material, make a sculpture, then it’s off to some other material. I like moving on. I get enough energy from one sculpture, I find love and perspective (in that sculpture) and move on to something else.”

Though he has a love for Northern New Mexican art, those are not the sorts of pieces you will find him working on. “I love traditional art. I collect a lot of Northern New Mexico art,” he said, “but through my travels and meeting different people, I decided I need to go another route. I have nothing against traditional art, I love it. I’m interested in making things that are different and out of the norm. It’s interesting to get different perspectives from people who do traditional art.”

Though it may seem as if there are never enough hours in a day to accomplish it all, Estrada has struck a balance between being a chef and being an artist. He works as the general manager of Josh’s Barbecue in Santa Fe, yet still finds time to express his creativity through his art pieces.

“A lot of my friends don’t know that I make art. It’s tough to juggle being a general manager of a busy restaurant and trying to create art. I find an equal balance. I do it whenever the mood strikes,” he said.

In mid-April, Estrada was especially busy getting ready for a show at the Bond House Museum in Española. “I knew this show was coming up and I had so many pieces I had to put together. I had to look at the space to see what pieces would fit in there,” he said.

His show opened on April 16 and had what Estrada described as a “wonderful crowd of people.” His artwork ranges in price from $75-$3,500, but he says he’s not concerned with how much he sells. He said just being able to show his work in different places is rewarding enough.

“The (Española) Valley is a special place. That’s where I grew up. I’m very fortunate for the opportunity (Plaza de Española Director) Andrew (Herrera) gave me,” he said.

There’s still time to see Estrada’s work at the Bond House. The exhibit runs through May 15.

The Bond House Museum does not charge admission and is open from noon-4 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information visit http://cityofespanola.org/comm-svcs-plaza.html.