Tandy Lucero Draws New Mexico

By Brian D’Ambrosio

New Mexico artist Tandy Lucero recollects the day that he last worked at the KiMo Theatre in downtown Albuquerque. It was June 4, 1960, and he had just graduated from Valley High School. The movie being shown that night was the Elvis Presley marquee “Viva Las Vegas.” In addition to working the comedy-musical as a doorman, he had put together its “clip art,” or promotional images, for media distribution in advance of the show’s big premiere.

“There were at least 10 other theaters nearby and some drive-ins, too,” said Lucero, 78. “We were paid two dollars and 50 cents a shift for five hours of work.”

Built in 1927, the KiMo is noted for its Pueblo Deco style, a mix of Native and Art Deco design. Lucero would later draw it in his illustrations, which are appreciated as much for their historical relevance as for their value as pieces of art.

Artistic Career Awaiting

Lucero, who says he has always been enamored with New Mexico history, comes from a family with roots that date back 300 years in the state. His parents were both teachers, and his dad was also a carpenter. The first thing that Lucero drew was a cowboy twirling a lasso when he was about 4 years old. In an attempt to give the young boy something to do, Lucero’s older brother had handed him a newspaper and a sheet of paper. Lucero started copying a picture printed in the publication. It was so well done that none of his relatives believed that he had drawn it.

In high school, Lucero liked to doodle and sketch portraits of classmates. Lucero then in the Vietnam. In the early ‘70s, he opened The Munch Inn, a sandwich shop on Central Avenue in Albuquerque, where sandwiches were sold by the ounce. Similar to the set-up at today’s Subway delis, patrons selected their own cheese, meat, and bread.

Later, Lucero started Los Chileros, a spice, herb, and dried goods business, which became well-known locally for its own signature line of taco and burrito mixes. In addition to creating all of the dried products, Lucero designed the brand labels as a means of injecting artistic oomph into his work.

“Blue corn, pozole, atole – I added recipes to the back of the labels, and business boomed,” he said.

Twenty years after he started it, Lucero sold the company, which still exists. He then launched Select Southwestern Specialties, a distributor of about 40 New Mexico food products, until his retirement from entrepreneurship in 2015. It was only then that he was able to re-connect with his more creative, carefree side that he had exhibited in his youth.

“I retired and waited to get into art,” Lucero said. “I could have been a starving artist, but I couldn’t take my family down that route.”

Lucero first sketched drawings in black charcoal, before experimenting with colored charcoal, and eventually moving into colorization using Photoshop software and phone apps. His prints and popular 5-inch by 7-inch greeting cards, which include written accounts of certain periods in New Mexico’s history, resonate with people who appreciate their combination of visual and verbal.

“The history is what I am about,” Lucero said.

Stories and Stories Galore

Lucero’s historical inspiration is as culturally diverse as our state – derived from ancient Acoma Pueblo potters, to illustrations of Santa Fe’s Palace of the Governors, to the Soldiers’ Monument on the Santa Fe Plaza, which memorializes deaths from several historic battles. He also portrays the recent past, including renderings of the KiMo and the Algodones Trading Post, a successful roadside attraction that sprung up during the boom of Route 66.

One of Lucero’s drawings depicts the close of the Santa Fe Trail in 1869, and the store that his great-grandfather, trader James Madison Giddings, once owned. It stood across the street from the Exchange Hotel, now La Fonda.

“I like living the life of art but without the pressure,” Lucero said. “I did a lot of hustling with those other businesses, and they were successful. But now I just want to do art.

“Subject matter in New Mexico is abundant. It is the roadrunner, the chiles, the Zia history – literally one story leads to another, and art ties them all together.”

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