Stars converge over New Mexico

All types of artists drawn to the state

Art, food, music, UFOs — four good reasons why many in Hollywood, from stars to supporting players, have left the craziness of the coast for the zenlike calm of Santa Fe, Taos, Las Cruces or Albuquerque.

New Mexico has lured artists of every kind for years — in terms of sales, the art market in Santa Fe is second only to New York — and has produced an iconic cuisine and iconic art. The state has long provided a refuge for creative types, and for some Hollywood players, it’s a place to take a break from the biz without fear of paparazzi.

But what is it that draws successful showbiz folks to the Southwest?

“It’s a place that not only sparks and feeds your imagination, but everything that you imagine becomes real,” says resident and state champion Shirley MacLaine. “On any given little mountaintop, if you like to hike, you can scoop up a handful of crystals and start a shop.

“You have art, culture, literature, (diverse) intersections of people … and that provides a really rich cultural background against which you can know yourself better.”

Gene Hackman, Julia Roberts, Patrick Swayze and Alan Arkin also call New Mexico home (March 15 was declared “Alan Arkin Day” in the state). Even D.H. Lawrence spent a couple years outside Taos in the 1920s and planned on returning but died of tuberculosis before he realized those plans.

“I fell in love with New Mexico when I was shooting ‘Red Dawn,’ ” says Swayze, who owns a 20,000-acre ranch in the northeast part of the state with his wife, Lisa. There, he’s turned his ranch into a model of forest and ranchland conservation, and also works on conservation projects in Africa. “New Mexico is like Africa: You step onto the land and feel the ancient energy and feel the ancient spirits and spirituality. … It’s my healing place. I jump on my horse and disappear into the mountains. If I didn’t have this place, I don’t think I would have stayed in the movie industry.”

Life at a different pace attracted Val Kilmer, who owns a ranch on the Pecos River just north of Santa Fe.

“On the (state) license plate, it says ‘The Land of Enchantment,’ but I say it’s more like the ‘Land of Entrapment’ because you get hooked here. There’s something about it,” says the thesp on the set of indie feature “Conspiracy,” which is shooting in New Mexico.

When it comes to filmmaking, “It’s more like what the old timers I know tell me Hollywood used to be,” he says. “There’s still time in the day for people to laugh or enjoy something that’s happening.

“There’s a kind of innate pride in any area you look. It’s kind of an artist-based philosophy. Also the Wild West. It’s legal in my state to wear a gun to dinner. I mean, that’s absurd, but it makes for a lot of humor as well — kind of an outlaw, Mark Twain-type take on the United States,” he says.

Ali MacGraw is straightforward about what makes New Mexico so rewarding, from “really clean air” to “a population that is socially and environmentally conscious, with a capital C.”

Perhaps the art of Georgia O’Keeffe, herself a Midwest transplant, best conveys the region’s charms, with its sensuous shapes, deep pastels and palpable earth tones, an amalgamation of the enchantment that draws outsiders to the state.

“You can sum up what is great about New Mexico in one word: personality,” says scribe Max Evans, whose novels include “The Hi-Lo Country” and “The Rounders”; his latest book is “For the Love of a Horse.”

“The landscape has a magical personality.”

Swayze notes that although Santa Fe is a little bit trendy, it’s full of great shops, restaurants and art. But what does he like most? “The people are wonderful and there’s a real warmth. It’s about integrity and my handshake is all you need.”

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