Exploring the Arts and Cultural District

by Stephanie Cameron

This past February, I set off on a journey with Amy Tischler and Caitlin Jenkins, founders of @TravelNewMexico™ on Instagram, to explore Silver City. @TravelNewMexico documents New Mexico road trips by giving guest instagrammers a chance to take over the account to share their unique experiences through imagery and stories. I approached Tischler and Jenkins about collaborating on our travel issue and having edible do a takeover of @TravelNewMexico to share our experiences putting the issue together. When we met to discuss the details, it took them only about five seconds to identify Silver City as the place they wanted to visit. They had previously organized a Silver City InstaMeet (an event where people gather in a predetermined place, at a set time, to take photos and upload them to Instagram), so they knew they could curate a fantastic trip for us utilizing the contacts they had made earlier.

I had traveled to Silver City for business before, but had never had the time to uncover all the magical things it has to offer. On our forty-eight-hour trip, this special community welcomed us with open arms. Our guides consisted of natives and transplants, and each one of them took extreme pride in what Silver City offers visitors.

After a long morning on the road, a hiking tour of Boston Hill and historic mining sites sounded like a great start to our exploration of the area. Tischler, Jenkins, and I enlisted local rockhound Sylveen Cook, owner of the gem and mineral shop The Royal Scepter, to guide us. The hike up Boston Hill was moderately strenuous and provided great vistas of the town below. Cook entertained us with stories of the bygone claim days and the mining history that gave Silver City its name. Although Silver City is home to the first operating and fifth-largest copper mine in the United States, its name is from the silver ore deposits that were discovered just before its founding.

After our hike, Kitty Stolzenbach, the digital media coordinator for Silver City Arts and Cultural District, took us to see La Capilla (little chapel), an adobe church that sits alone atop another of the town’s many hills, Chihuahua Hill. The chapel was the first of many examples we would see on our tour of the community’s work to preserve and celebrate the culture of this region. Built in 1885, the chapel fell into disrepair and was demolished in 1914. The hill sat vacant until 2004, when the city came together to rebuild La Capilla and to develop a twenty-one-acre heritage park.

Famished from hitting our ten thousand steps (according to Jenkins’s Fitbit), we found a good taco at Mi Mexico Viejo to tide us over until dinner. The unassuming trailer with a drive-thru on the backside is run by sisters from Mexico, and offers a large menu that ranges from breakfast burritos to a variety of well-dressed burgers and tacos. The barbacoa tacos called to me, but alas, we had arrived too late in the afternoon to get the crowd favorite, so we went with the carne asada taco plate, which comes with beans, rice, and salad. One plate was enough for the three of us to share. Meal in hand, we enjoyed our take-out on some 1960s lawn furniture under the cottonwood trees behind the trailer.

Top Left (Clockwise): Silver City is famous for red dots on the sidewalks and windows, marking the way to art (photo by Stephanie Cameron); touring Boston Hill with Sylveen Cook (photo by @TravelNewMexico); Zia detail at La Capilla (Cameron); La Capilla overlooking downtown Silver City (@TravelNewMexico).

After lunch, we checked into the Murray Hotel, located in the heart of historic downtown. First opened for business in 1938, the Murray Hotel has maintained its original Streamline Moderne Art Deco style. As we entered through the front door, I felt I was walking into a Wes Anderson movie; even the concierge in his dark brown tweed suit seemed to have stepped out of a bygone era. The refurbished mint-green rooms also recall the style of yesteryear.

Our next stop was Power and Light Press. Run by Kyle Durrie, Power and Light produces greeting cards, signs, coasters, and notepads on letterpresses from the early twentieth century. Being in the print business myself, this was a big geek-out moment for me. Durrie started her printmaking business with Bad Cards for Good People, a line of greeting cards created in 2009 in Portland. She moved to Silver City in 2013 to form Power and Light Press, which is owned and operated by a fleet of all-female letterpress printers. In late December, Durrie launched a new totebag that said “I Went To Planned Parenthood And All I Got Was A Breast Exam, A Pap Smear, Physical Exam, STD Testing And Treatment, Information And Counseling About My Sexual And Reproductive Health, Cancer Screenings, A Pregnancy Test, Prenatal Services, And Access To Affordable Birth Control.” She posted a picture on Instagram, noting all proceeds would go to Planned Parenthood. Seventeen thousand bags and seventy thousand dollars in donations later, she has gone viral. Shipping seventeen thousand bags is no small task—and much more business than the Power and Light Press does on average. In the true community spirit of Silver City, more than seventy locals have volunteered to help with the overwhelming task of readying the bags for shipment.

We left Power and Light Press inspired and headed to Little Toad Creek Brewery & Distillery for a pre-dinner drink. This would be the first of three visits to the Little Toad as it was the perfect spot to gather with locals and out-of-towners. The brewery had an impressive list of Little Toad-produced craft beers and spirits to choose from, including green chile infused vodka and the house favorite, Sapo Grande Whiskey. I opted for one of their specialty cocktails, the Gila Rita, made with one of the few agave spirits produced in the United States. Little Toad Creek Brewery & Distillery moved from Mimbres Valley to downtown Silver City in 2013, and co-owners Theresa Dahl-Bredine and her husband David Crosley have been building momentum ever since. The Toad brew crew will begin brewing beer and distilling spirits inside an old skating rink in downtown Silver City in March, allowing them to increase their capacity from three hundred barrels to nine thousand barrels a year. Little Toad puts on community events throughout the year, including Oktoaderfest, Halloween costume contests, a New Year’s Eve party, and a Mardi Gras carnival. They also throw an annual Spring Toad Fest: New Mexico Brewer’s Guild Tap Takeover. The brewery’s food is pretty darn good as well—the locals we spoke to all raved about the burgers, and the Cowboy Irish Nachos are a must-try. As if the brewing and distilling weren’t enough to keep her busy, Dahl-Bredine’s nonprofit Virus Theater recently purchased El Sol Theater, where they plan to create a performing arts center for local and traveling acts.

Opposite, left column: Power and Light Press entrance; letterpress from the early twentieth century; sample printing blocks (Cameron). Opposite, right column: Bad Cards for Good People; infamous Planned Parenthood bags; drawers of various sizes of letterpress blocks (@TravelNewMexico).

Researching where we’d eat on this trip, I’d discovered this description on the website for 1zero6: “We are a small cafe, six tables, and we are by reservation. Our menu is shopped local and prepared fresh daily…from scratch.” I was sold. Chef and proprietor Jake Politte changes the menu nightly and is open only Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Politte spends his week sourcing his ingredients and cultivating inspiration for the next set of meals. The menu changes nightly and can be traditional or fusion, with strong influences from the Pacific Rim, Southeast Asia, Oaxaca, and Politte’s Italian roots. He makes many trips every year to Mexico and Central America to source exotic ingredients, and friends from Thailand and Singapore often send him spices and other delicacies to try with his customers.

The dining room reflects Politte’s international tastes, with a big canvas theater sign from Jakarta on one wall and a Buddhist shrine in the corner, and only has a half dozen tables. The night we visited, the room buzzed with locals, and the only other person on the line was the waiter, Roger, who provided stellar service. After savoring the chicken satay and the Heavenly Beef, marinated in hóisīn, garlic, soy, and Vietnamese smoked black pepper, I was convinced Politte knew his stuff—ingredients and technique shined through. Then came the Oaxacan chocolate and avocado cake, hands down the best take on chocolate cake I’d ever had. I asked Politte how he runs a restaurant that requires so much time sourcing ingredients and creating new menus, especially in a small town like Silver City. “Seventy percent of my customers are the same customers every week,” he answered. “I listen to my customers, and I make my restaurant feel like the living room of my home.” Staying creative and pushing the envelope are what drives Politte. As of this story’s writing, his website reads, “I will be heading to Oaxaca March 6 through March 15. The cafe will reopen Friday the 17th with all kinds of goodies and new recipes.”

Sunday morning we headed to brunch at Revel, the new kid on the block, with Callie Kennington, executive director of the Silver City Arts and Cultural District. Revel opened just two weeks before our visit, and we could tell the locals were excited to have a new brunch option. Owners Jesse Westenberger and Brian and Kelsey Patterson moved 1,500 miles from Minneapolis in November to open their dream restaurant. The clever menu, filled with elevated comfort food, made selection difficult, but I went with the Truck-Stop Biscuits with wilted greens, poached eggs, parmesan fondue, and pickled red onion. As we finished up our last bites, Kendra Milligan, a Silver City native, invited us on a tour of Silver City’s graffiti.

Fiesta Pequeña Del Grafito (Tiny Festival of Graffiti) is in its second year in Silver City. Milligan told us that they bring the region’s graffiti artists together to tag the town. Usually, graffiti artists work beneath the radar of police, city officials, and property owners, but in Silver City, public spaces are becoming condoned canvases for muralists and graffiti artists to express themselves. During Grafito, the city designates two closed sites that artists apply to use, as well as several sites where anyone can participate in creating graffiti on legal spaces. Some of the artists use stencils and compose works in a fine-art style, while others freehand graffiti reminiscent of old school tagging. Graffiti is just one more form of artistic expression that adds to the charm of Silver City.

Left column: French toast at Revel; coffee at The Jumping Cactus; beer marks the spot at Little Toad Creek Brewery (@TravelNewMexico). Middle column: Murray Hotel (Cameron). Right column: tacos from Mi Mexico Viejo; Asian beef at 1zero6 (Cameron). Bottom: front of 1zero6 restaurant (Cameron).

Next on our tour of the town’s art was A Space Studio Art Gallery. The space features the work of local artists in addition to owner Jean-Robert Béffort’s mixed-media constructions with surreal juxtapositions of recycled found objects. Like Santa Fe’s Meow Wolf, the four-thousand-square-foot space allows visitors to wander and discover off-the-wall art—and even to create their own. For twelve dollars, visitors can dive into the bins of found objects and make their own piece to take home or to leave behind for others to find.

The last stop on our tour of local art was Syzygy Tile Factory, where twenty artisans collaborate to produce an exquisite line of handmade tiles. Each tile is cut, pressed, and glazed by hand. Owners Lee Gruber and David del Junco say, “Our goal is to keep the handmade craftsman tradition alive in the production of our beautiful tile.” To my surprise, touring the operation was one of the highlights of our trip. I watched with amazement as the craftsmen worked through every step of the process, dreaming of my next kitchen remodel.

Despite a population of just ten thousand, this bustling town sparkles with its artistic, culinary, and historical offerings. As we hit the road for home, I buzzed with anticipation of discoveries to be made on my next trip to this magical town.

We would like to thank @TravelNewMexico for a great
road trip collaboration and suggest you to follow them on Instagram as they post more about our Silver City trip!

Silver City Arts and Cultural District
Boston Hill and La Capilla www.silvercitytourism.org
Mi Mexico Viejo 204 E Broadway Street
Murray Hotel www.murray-hotel.com
Power and Light Press www.powerandlightpress.com
Little Toad Creek Brewery & Distillery
1zero6 www.1zero6.com
Fiesta Pequeña Del Grafito
A Space Studio Art Gallery
Syzygy Tile Factory

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