Hasta la Vista

hanging out with radio girl

Giant duckies, whirligigs of every description, a “love” fence, the Quaker Oats man, and other cool pieces of found sculpture make themselves at home in Santa Fe.

This article first appeared in Spring II 2007 Su Casa

Say you’ve got a small backyard and say further you’ve got an acute sense for finding and creating beauty among offbeat, castoff, and incongruously coupled found objects. Now it would only be natural—if you were a lot like Margaret Moore and you liked to spend time outside, and if your also-creative and, well, unconventionally insightful artistic friends gave you weird, cool stuff, like a blue marlin fountain or life-size metal silhouettes of Boston terriers—that your yard might look something like this.

A photographer and antique dealer, among other things, Moore has lived several years in her Santa Fe barrio home, long enough to transform the place—inside and out, top to bottom—into a wall-to-wall gallery of the “quirky and odd,” in her words. Moore’s talent for both collecting and photography is a reminder that the work of the artist begins with seeing: “My photographs are like picking—it’s finding what’s there.” Picking, in this context, means rummaging through card tables of junk at flea markets, pawing through boxes at garage sales, browsing curio shops on the blue highways, pausing wherever the flotsam and jetsam of modern society wash ashore. Moore combs that high-tide line, buying, scavenging, trading, accumulating. Then she assembles objects in vignettes that overlap, encompass, and extend each other on the walls and ground of her 250-square-foot courtyard. Some of it goes to market: she sells these treasures at a booth inside Antiques & Things in Albuquerque.

It all started a long time ago. “I was a picker when I was pretty young, buying stuff and decorating with things that were quirky and odd,” Moore says, savoring that last expression. “I like folk art, obviously, and I like junk. I love odd little yard things.” She gestures to the oversized jacks lodged in a dirt planter near the dwarf rock musicians, looking like Snow White’s backing band, if she were a Las Vegas lounge act. Somewhere, a pink flamingo lurks nonchalantly below a climbing honeysuckle.

“And I like graphics,” she adds. My eye roams to the “Love” picket fence, with its colorful, oversized letters spelling the word. A few antique signs hang around the patio walls: Red Crown Gasoline, Victor (the Jack Russell terrier cocking his head, mystified by the sound of its master’s voice emanating from the trumpet-shaped speaker of a Victrola), and the mysterious, six-foot-long Pioneer sign—Moore doesn’t know the origins of that name.

Autophile that I am, I naturally turn to the intact 1960s vintage Chevrolet front grill/headlight surround (I’m guessing a ’64 Chevy II). “I’m trying to figure out how to mount it,” Moore admits, gesturing to the bare wall above the bodywork.

Unquestionably more than half the fun for Moore must be in the picking, the hunt, the extended forays into the boondocks. Pointing to what looks like a red checkerboard on one wall, she explains that it once served as a tabletop. It looks like a sign for Tres Equis beer, with its “XXX” and “Superior” lettering. Moore and friend Larry Sparks (another gifted junk hound/artist once featured in Su Casa) were walking through a Mexican village when they spotted a table up on the roof of what turned out to be the local constabulary. A short negotiation later, they were the proud owners of a Superior checkerboard table. Sparks removed the table legs so he could carry it onto the plane for the flight home to New Mexico. Somehow, they never got reattached. Somehow, Moore ended up with the checkerboard hanging on her patio wall.

A tall, spinning sculpture like a transmogrified clothesline tree came from “Mr. Tuister” in Texas. The two-foot-tall, carved-stone Coca-Cola bottle came from the Tarahumara tribe in Mexico. The spring-mounted children’s playground pony came from—well, never mind.

Like an ancient Greek spotting connect-the-dot pictures among the stars in the sky, I instinctively seek patterns, a method, a theme in Moore’s collection, her display, her installation. There are Wind Things, as Moore says: plastic whirligigs, the Quaker Oats–inspired sheet-metal whirligigs, painted wooden whirligigs (by a California master), rooster whirligigs from Kmart, the flying girl wind chime. Then there’s Plastic. And Antique Stuff. Or what about Surprising Pairings: metal hoops tangent to a bowling ball nestled into a hanging planter: “It’s a galaxy thing.” A bowling ball also rests on a pedestal made from an upended automobile spring. Then there’s my favorite; let’s call it “Radio Girl”: a small metal sculpture—maybe a trophy figurine?—with its arms cast wide in a dreamy dance, placed by Moore in a moment of brilliant inspiration atop a pink antique radio. Metaphorically rich and allegorically transparent, gracefully composed, witty, nostalgic, hopeful—Radio Girl rules!