Farmington art gallery owners invest in new downtown building

Karen Ellsbury, Patrick Hazen bullish on future of district

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
Karen Ellsbury, left, and Ronna Jordan tour the upstairs space at 305 W. Main Street that soon will serve as the offices of Jordan's Houses for Hope nonprofit organization.

FARMINGTON — Karen Ellsbury and her husband Patrick Hazen are well-known local artists and business people, having operated and displayed their work at the Studio 116 Gallery downtown for the past several years.

But the two quickly are becoming some of the biggest and most important boosters of the effort to revitalize downtown Farmington, as well, as they completed the purchase of a building 305-307 W. Main St. in November that they plan to develop into an artists coop and party space, art studios, retail space and office space.

Renovation work on some of the spaces already has begun, and the last of the projects should be complete by spring, Ellsbury said.

"Patrick and I wanted to be more a part of downtown," she said. "We wanted to have something to enhance the art. We wanted to diversify a little bit. We are such believers in the revitalization of downtown … Now is the time to invest in downtown."

The new investment by Ellsbury, a painter, and Hazen, a landscape photographer, is significant, given the looming Complete Streets renovation of the downtown corridor that will restrict access to the front entrances of many businesses in the district. While other business owners have fretted over the impact of that work on customer traffic, Ellsbury insists she's not worried. In fact, she says she is extremely bullish about the future of downtown.

"We get to be in on the ground floor," she said.

The transaction will lead to several new enterprises, chief among them a Native American artists coop at 307 W. Main. Ellsbury said she had planned to manage the space herself, but when the group of Native artists approached her about taking it over, she accepted the offer.

A small office space for the Northwest New Mexico Arts Council also will be part of the space.

The warehouse space behind the coop will be divided into a storage facility and seven small art studios that will be made available for rent to local artists. Ellsbury said half walls will be constructed to separate the spaces, and a bathroom and heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system will be installed. She also plans on converting the small parking lot adjoining the space into a "secret garden" that will be suitable for small, outdoor gatherings in warm weather.

"I can't leave a parking lot alone," Ellsbury said, laughing and referring to the pocket park she and Hazen built behind Studio 116 that opened in June. "During the summer, we can have art parties and paint outdoor murals."

Tweedie Walters stands in the middle of the Nizhoni Trading Company space that will open Jan. 2.

Ellsbury has other plans for the other spaces in the building. Priscilla Saltwater and Tweedie Walters will open their Nizhoni Trading Company at 305 W. Main on Jan. 2, offering Navajo-influenced fashion and artwork. Walters, who spent several years living in Santa Fe but whose local ties run deep, said she is interested in promoting a "street style" for Farmington in the same way Santa Fe and Taos have distinctive fashion looks.

"I think a Farmington look should have a Navajo influence," she said, displaying the Navajo flourishes on some of the shop's skirts.

Ellsbury was particularly excited about having Saltwater and Walters as tenants, and she looks forward to helping their business thrive.

"I'm really proud we own the building, and this feels empowering not only for women, but for Native Americans in business," she said.

The space above the trading post will be renovated into office space for Houses for Hope, a Farmington-based nonprofit organization that builds $400 houses for children and families in need in Kenya. Houses for Hope volunteers will do most of the work themselves in conjunction with local contractor Triple Eagle Construction Inc.

Building owner Karen Ellsbury discusses some of the features of the upstairs space at 305 W. Main St. with Ronna Jordan of Houses for Hope, the organization that will occupy the space.

Houses for Hope founder and CEO Ronna Jordan said she eventually plans to have a staff of eight to 10 people working in the space, and she plans on incorporating African-influenced elements into the renovation and opening a small Kenyan tea/coffeehouse in the space to promote the work her organization does.

"We don't want it to be a normal office," she said, smiling.

Jordan plans to have the work done and be operating out of the space by April.

Ellsbury said she and Hazen had been looking for a downtown building to purchase for a long time, and they were thrilled when the structure at 305-307 W. Main became available, and not just because they found it very affordable.

"This is the best building we saw for what our needs are," she said. "This building has it all."

Mike Easterling is the night editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.