Taos by Design
What do you do when you’ve amassed thousands of pieces of priceless art? Adorn the walls of your hotel with them, naturally. Just ask Richard Kessler, owner of New Mexico’s El Monte Sagrado Resort.
Richard Kessler loves color.
He loves bold strokes, he loves hues that evoke mountain rocks, and he loves the infinite variations on the desert sunset. Even more than color, Kessler loves art, and he loves giving it a home at his Taos retreat, El Monte Sagrado.
For 40 years Kessler has been visiting galleries, museums, and art fairs in a quest for works that speak to him. Along the way, Kessler has amassed somewhere between 6,000 and 8,000 works. “I started with sculpture and bronzes in the early 1970s, then moved to art glass and Oriental rugs,” he says. “Finally came furniture, clocks, and paintings.”
This would be a problem for most collectors, but not so much for Kessler, since he also owns ten hotels and resorts around the country that can help accommodate this trove of art. He displays what works, thematically, in each property, figuring that if he has a gut reaction to a painting or a sculpture, his guests probably will, too.
From a young age, Kessler connected his passion for art and bold colors to the hospitality business. At the tender age of 23, he helped Cecil Day found Days Inn—and also came up with that iconic yellow sun, surrounded by a black border. “I designed that logo one afternoon,” says Kessler with a chuckle. “It took five minutes.” (And the black-and-gold scheme was no accident: They’re the colors of Kessler’s alma mater, Georgia Tech, where he received a master’s in engineering.) He eventually became the Days Inn CEO; once the company was sold, he set about starting the Kessler Collection of hotels, which is now part of the Autograph Collection.
For El Monte Sagrado, Kessler cherry-picked artwork that reflects his appreciation for the Southwest. It’s a singular vision. Nearly every scene, even the portraits of people, is set outdoors. Nature comes through loud and clear. “I love New Mexico,” Kessler says. “It has a very strong personality and character. I like the variety of cultures that are there.” Assertiveness defines the works he picked—the bright shades of the paintings, the strong shapes of the bronzes. “Color is a very effective way to create mood,” says Kessler.
The artists represented include New Mexicans like Susan Contreras and Elias Rivera, who live near Santa Fe, as well as those who inhabit more far-flung places, like France and Italy. “The collection is harmonious,” says Kessler. “Everything works together, even though it’s not all the same.” For him, that gets to the heart of what makes Taos singular. “It’s a very eclectic town in terms of architecture, people, and things to do. The hotel and the art should reflect that.”
Guests are often inspired by the pieces that surround them at El Monte Sagrado, and Kessler is happy to tender his personal tips on buying art. “It’s a cliché, but it’s true: Buy what you like,” he offers. “Buy the pieces that make you say, ‘I want to wake up every morning looking at that.’” Think of them as an investment, in other words, and you may find yourself staring at a trendy painting that in five years’ time you can’t stand the sight of.
His other piece of advice: Pound the pavement. “You have to see many different styles and artists to find your taste. You have to talk to gallery owners and educate yourself.” By Kessler’s math, if you go into 10 galleries every week, within a year you’ve trained your eye on more than 1,500 pieces. “After that, you’re ready to buy yourself a painting that really means something to you.”
Certainly for guests of El Monte Sagrado, Taos itself is the perfect place to commence that educational quest. “The local art galleries are great,” says Kessler. “There are 50 or 60 of them, and three beautiful museums. The Millicent Rogers Museum is a particular favorite.”
For a restless spirit like Kessler, artistic variety is key. And he’s tried to provide the same kind of stimulation to his guests by lavishing his collection on the walls of El Monte Sagrado. Sharing his collection, swapping out pieces from time to time, has helped him fulfill his primary hospitality motto, one that he’s held fast to over 40 years: “I never want guests to be bored.”
Creativity is just connecting things