Taking a bow: Gallery owner Frank Rose

Frank Rose, photo Luke E. Montavon/The New Mexican

Something about Santa Fe draws people and keeps them here. Call it the magic of place. Maybe it’s some property of the base layer of obsidian that some say lies beneath the city.

Frank Rose, owner of Hecho a Mano (830 Canyon Road, 505-916-1341, hechoamano.org), came here from Houston in 2008, without much of a plan. And he went from being a salesperson in a gallery to a two-time gallery director to the proprietor of his own art space. That rise to the top was thanks to a combination of determination and an embrace of uncertainty.

Rose, who was raised in Anchorage and Seattle, moved with his family to Houston as a teenager. After high school, he had every intention of becoming a studio artist and enrolled at the University of Houston to study photography. Then something happened in his senior year that lead him on different career path.

“I had an installation class, and we had to find a place outside of the university to put up an installation,” the 39-year-old says. “A friend of mine was running a salon in the museum district in Houston, inside his house. He had a kind of extra living room that he would use as like an entertaining area. I asked if I could do my installation in there, and he said, ‘Go for it.’ My wife’s a photographer, too, and he said, ‘What if you just did a two-person show?’ ”

The Houston Press picked up the event, and more than 200 people attended the opening. “I’m sure most of them had no idea who we were but just read about it and showed up,” he says. That inspired Rose and the salon owner to start curating other shows in the space. “That kind of planted the seed of me wanting to go in this direction of holding space for other artists. It is a very creative practice for me, but I’m not making things. My work became more about supporting other artists. I found that I liked it and I was good at it. I just kept digging into that.”

For the next few years, Rose worked for FotoFest, a nonprofit support organization for photographers, and then he became the publisher of ArtsHouston magazine. “At the end of that stint, I sold the business. My wife, Kara, wanted to go to massage school, and we both wanted to get out of Houston. She found a school here.”

After arriving in Santa Fe, he applied for a sales job at Manitou Galleries and was hired immediately. He rose up through the ranks to become the gallery’s director, a position he held for the last of the seven years he worked there. “I found that the kind of work that they show didn’t really resonate with me,” he says. “If it wasn’t something that stoked my passion, I didn’t feel like I could be the face of the organization.”

He left but was hired to handle marketing and social media for the annual Currents New Media festival. Through co-founders Frank Ragano and Mariannah Amster, he met Sandy Zane, treasurer of the Currents board and owner of Zane Bennett Contemporary Art. It was 2015, and Zane was closing her own gallery that summer but planned to use the space as the venue for something new. “We hit it off really well and started formulating the idea for Form & Concept. It was me and Sandy, primarily, that were developing the concepts around it and formulating it.”

Rose, a frequent visitor to the Mexican state of Oaxaca, was already developing an interest in handmade crafts, spurred by the art he had encountered in Mexico. That fed the vision for Form & Concept as a space dedicated to blurring the lines between fine art and craft by presenting handmade crafts in a fine art context. “People draw boundaries around fine art and craft, and I’m really interested in busting up those distinctions.”

But something was eating at Rose. For the majority of his career, he’d been working for other people, and he felt he couldn’t maintain creative control unless he had a space of his own. “It was really just me coming to terms with my ambition, I guess. I had to start my own thing.”

In Oaxaca, Rose encountered an active printmaking scene. Rose likens it to what Paris might have been like for the painters of the late 19th century. Artists like Zapotec graphic artist Francisco Toledo and modernist Rufino Tamayo helped put Oaxaca on the map. But printmaking in the region really took off after a 2006 teachers’ strike led to a public standoff between protestors and the government in the zócalo, or central plaza, of downtown Oaxaca. Printmaking became a tool for the dissemination of materials for the resistance, as well as symbol of resistance itself, not unlike the prints made by the collective Taller de Gráfica Popular, who used the art form to advance revolutionary ideas and social causes in the mid-20th century.

That is the kind of work that Rose wanted to show. In October, six months after securing a small space on Canyon Road across from the Teahouse, he presented six contemporary printmakers from Oaxaca City in the exhibition Grabados Oaxaqueños. Since opening Hecho a Mano in March, he’s been doing monthly shows. “There wasn’t anything around Oaxacan printmaking happening in Santa Fe, really, let alone in much of the United States. Mexican art in general wasn’t really taken seriously. So, when it came to figure what the gallery was going to be, that was already in my head. I felt like it filled a niche here.”

Although Hecho a Mano, as the name suggests, focuses on works made by hand that don’t involve any automated processes, it has a broader scope than just works on paper from Oaxaca. The gallery represents indigenous and regional artists who work in contemporary ceramics and jewelry and handles historical prints by Luis Arenal Bastar, Francisco Mora, and Leopoldo Méndez, who were integral to Mexican Modernism. The gallery’s current show, Carlos Mérida: Estampas del Popol Vuh (through Jan. 26) is his second exhibition to feature the work of Mérida (1891-1895), a Guatemalan cubist who was based in Mexico. The show features color lithographs depicting the Maya creation story.

“Frank is more than just a gallerist who focuses on selling work,” says Ian Kuali’i, who had a solo exhibition at Hecho a Mano in July. “He actually embeds himself within the community as a whole, which is rare to find among gallerists. He’ll actually go down to Oaxaca and embed himself in the culture, and has knowledge of what’s happening within those communities.”

Rose has no illusions about the fickle nature of selling art. Being in business for himself doesn’t guarantee constancy. Instead, it means going with the flow. “I’m willing to live in a space of uncertainty,” he says. “It’s not that I’m 100 percent comfortable there, but I need it as a motivator. It all falls on my head. If I don’t do it, it isn’t going to happen.” 

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