is one of those rare and wonderful cities where artistic, even
eccentric, expression is standard fare. Well-known in Santa Fe
is Sombrero Man......Forrest "Rusty" Rutherford,
who not only is the keeper of a collection of some 3000 items
of Mexican tourist art, but who has also adopted it as a conversation-piece
identity. Wearing tiny sombreros (and cloth dolls wearing sombreros)
pinned to his jacket, Rutherford has added his own arty touch
to the weeekly Friday evening art gallery openings for years.
At Christmas, he is Santa Sombrero for the traditional Farolito
Walk up Canyon Road on Christmas, as well as at local schools;
and, at Halloween, he makes appearances as Sombrero Pumpkin. Being
in the public eye seems to come with the Rutherford name. His
brother, Tom Rutherford, served as a New Mexico State Senator
for 27 years and is currently the Chairman of the Bernalillo County
Commission. Another brother, James, ran the Governor's Gallery
at the State Capitol for several years and then ran Copeland /
Rutherford Gallery on Canyon Road which was known for it's outre'
art openings and poetry "bouts". Rusty was also an art
dealer for several years, running a gallery in Los Angeles before
moving back to Santa Fe. His droll sense of humor manifested itself
after coming back to Santa Fe in his "low art" collection.
"I didn't go to Mexico myself. I bought from people who had.
It was a memento, a memory of a trip. Essentially I have collected
people's memories of Mexico without the experience of actually
going. I started collecting Mexican tourist art in 1989 mostly
because it was there. And it was cheap. I had a friend who went
to the flea market a lot, so to have something to do, I bought
things that could be used as costumes at first. Then I became
intereested in the meaning of the sombrero or charro hat
and my collection wrapped around anything with a sombrero in it.
The popularity of the charro hat had it's heyday in the 20's and
30's because of Emilio Zapata and Pancho Villa. Noble landowners
wore them to show their support for the revolution." Rusty's
collection grew to 400 actual sombreros (miniature to massive
and elaborate), as well as all manner of figurines wearing sombreros
(some made in Occupied Japan), toys, ashtrays, platters, paintings,
etc. The collection now includes over 25 categories of Mexican
tourist art. " However, I've recently decided to go in the
direction of offering the whole collection for sale - perhaps
who wanted to donate it to a museum, such as the Museum of International
Folk Art or the Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum." At the
same time, he admists, "I'm still actively collecting because
I can't stop" At last count he had amassed some 3000 pieces
of Mexican tourist art.
Excerpt from Santa Fean Magazine - March 1999
Journal Santa Fe Section
Jun 27, 2007
KEEPING A LID ON IT
HATS OFF …
… to the Sombrero Man, whose collection is somewhere
BY POLLY SUMMAR Journal Staff Writer
fun in the summertime for Forrest “Rusty” Rutherford
is donning a heavy wool sombrero and slipping into a vintage tuxedo
jacket dotted with tiny sombreros.
“This is my busy season,” said Rutherford, 56, a.k.a.
Sombrero Man. He kicks off his informal personalappearance schedule
this year at the Fourth of July pancake breakfast on the Plaza,
hits the ethnic trade show, then makes tops at Spanish Market
and Indian Market, Fiesta, Halloween and, finally, Christmas Eve
on Canyon Road.
He easily puts together his “look” from the approximately
1,100 items of Mexican tourist items stacked floor to ceiling
in his South Capitol apartment.
“I’d say I have 3,000 total, the rest in storage,
but I stopped counting at 2,885,” said Rutherford, wearing
a Hawaiian shirt, oddly, with no sombreros.
When he hit the 2,885 mark, Rutherford quit buying the items —
“Well, I limit myself to four pieces a year,” he said,
smoking a Marlboro Light.
But the collection of sombreros is not just the kind for wearing.
There are sombrero book ends, trays, pillows, bobbleheads, salt
and pepper shakers, planters, dolls and pillows.
“Back in the ’80s, I used to go to the flea market
with a friend,” Rutherford said. “She collected Pendletons,
and I had to buy something.”
Rutherford said his collection, which dates back to 1915, is made
of quintessential tourist items.
“I didn’t buy anything in Mexico,” he said,
explaining that he hasn’t gone to Mexico — he just
bought the items from people who did. “So if I didn’t
buy anything in Mexico, it means that some tourist did.”
He paid from $10 to $50 for most of the items, and he estimated
some of the sombreros are worth $200 now.
It was about 1990, he thinks, when he started taking his collection
off the shelves to wear at Fiesta and the pancake breakfast.
For Fiesta, Rutherford continues to favor a sombrero that holds
a flowered bra and Mardi Gras-like beads in its brim — and,
of course, his sombrero-studded tuxedo jacket.
For Christmas Eve, he covers the crown of a sombrero with a Santa
cap and hands out plastic toys. One year, he gave a 6-year-old
girl a Lamb Chop toy and discovered that she collected them. Last
year, he happened to run into the girl, who was then 14, and he
managed to produce another Lamb Chop from his bag.
“I live by being in the right place at the right time,”
Rutherford’s family moved to Albuquerque from Ohio when
he was a young boy. He said his father, James, came here to be
former Gov. John Simms’ campaign manager. Rutherford was
one of five children; his brother Tom was a state senator, and
his brother James ran the Governor’s Gallery at the Roundhouse
and then opened the Copeland/Rutherford gallery on Canyon Road.
Rutherford said he left New Mexico to attend Purdue University
in West Lafayette, Ind., where he received a degree in art history,
but he returned to New Mexico in 1988 after a stint in Los Angeles.
When he’s not sauntering about clad in sombreros, Rutherford
works in property management and as a personal driver.
“I got to be the chauffeur for the Dalai Lama in the early
’90s,” Rutherford said. “I gave him a tiny sombrero
that he put on his head, and we all laughed for 20 minutes.”
Now he’d like to see his collection displayed somewhere
in the Railyard, explaining that when people got off the train
there, they’d be immediately greeted by tourist items from
New Mexico’s neighbor.
“It’s fitting,” he said.
to view shirts and cards
available from the collection
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