By Marianne Schwab | Best Travel Deals Tips Blog

Santa Fe Art Gallery in a Starbucks?

More than a Coffee Shop, It’s an Art Gallery!

Although I was definitely expecting a great cup of coffee when I walked through the front doors of a Santa Fe Starbucks, what I wasn’t expecting was a cultural experience of a whimsical nature. One of the activities I enjoy most when I travel is going to museums and art galleries. Perhaps it’s because I travel a lot with my sister, Katrina West, who is an artist, or because it reminds me of the years I lived in New York City, but however you look at it, museums and art galleries are always a part of my travel experience.

You don’t have to love art to love Santa Fe, but it doesn’t hurt since you can’t help but bump into amazing artwork everywhere you go in this town, even if you’re not in a gallery or museum there. Maybe those close encounters with art are due to the fact that Santa Fe has the third largest art market in the U.S. next to New York and Los Angeles. It’s easy to see why artists flock to this city since the landscape and town are visually inspiring. In fact, the local landscape is also frequently used for movie locations like True Grit because of the gorgeous land that surrounds this pretty little southwestern town.

If you’re an artist living in Santa Fe and find it difficult to get a showing of your work at a local gallery, don’t worry because almost every restaurant or coffee shop in the area will be more than happy to hang your paintings on their walls. Most of the local restaurants and coffee shops actually rotate featured artists’ paintings and change artwork out about once a month.

[Photo: Crash by Leah Saulnier]

For many artists, like Leah Saulnier, who's work I'm featuring here, find the restaurant "gallery" is a better venue than even some of the art galleries on Canyon Road. When your paintings are hanging in a restaurant, people have an entire meal to spend with your paintings while they dine which is usually just enough time to fall in love with a work of art and decide to bring it home with you. This informal “restaurant as a gallery” phenomenon is not exclusive to Santa Fe as this is a custom widely practiced at restaurants around the world.

I don’t know about you, but when I travel around the country or around the world, the one thing I make a goal at each location is to NOT eat at a franchise restaurant. I really want to experience the local cuisine, including coffee shops, where ever I can as this is a big part of soaking up the local flavors and cultures in the travel experience.

My one exception on the franchise rule is Starbucks. I’ve been to Starbucks in Zurich, Barcelona, and even Beijing and Badaling at the Great Wall of China. I’ll make no apologies that I’m a Starbucks addict and coffee is my drug of choice. Although, on foreign soil I’m not as likely to go to a Starbucks, I certainly am on American soil especially if I’m on a business trip. There’s nothing like a quality cup of coffee to get my day started right when I have a series of early morning live shots to deal with on production. A cup of java also can give me a great pick me up in the late afternoon and that is how I stumbled upon the Santa Fe Starbucks located at 106 West San Francisco in the heart of the town.

[Photo: Amazing Race by Leah Saulnier]

On the walls of the Santa Fe Starbucks were the most captivating paintings I have ever seen. I’ve been to art galleries around the world, but there was a humor, whimsy and satire in the vision of the artist, Leah Saulnier, whose oil paintings were featured on the walls of the Santa Fe Starbucks in the month of November. Her paintings have a sense of Far Side meeting Norman Rockwell as they capture whimsical scenes that are embedded with profound meanings, mirthful meanderings and untold stories of everyday life portrayed with a wink.

[Photo: Dirty Socks by Leah Saulnier]

Her oil paintings like the one above titled "Dirty Socks" are also laced with expressions of humor, hints of the macabre and elements of surprise. I think that’s why I find them so captivating. The imagery she’s created lives in your mind long after you’ve seen it much like characters live inside your head when you're reading a good novel, and I think that says a lot about an artist.

Now here’s a little info about Leah Saulnier. She is a surrealist painter with influences from other genres and describes herself as a “writer-by-paint” and is influenced by authors like O. Henry, Shirley Jackson, and Lewis Carroll, to name a few. Born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago as the daughter of an artist-musician, she has lived in Santa Fe since 1992 and currently paints full time.

[Photo: Gizmo7 by Leah Saulnier]

I’ve shown you a few photos of the works of Leah Saulnier, but you will love her online website and gallery if you’re interested in putting a Leah Saulnier oil painting in your home or office. Now, if an original may not be in your budget but you love her work as much I do, she has a great line of products like sneakers and coffee mugs featuring her whimsical designs at I know I’m definitely going to have a Leah Saulnier original in my home, but the question is: Which one? *

[Photo: Lazy Bird by Leah Saulnier]

When you're looking at Leah's paintings, you will also want to look for the significance of seemingly unrelated events, the convergence of the absurd with the rational, the role of machines in the world of people and the curious appearance of animals in unusual surroundings. Leah shared this just off the easel "Lazy Bird" painting with me. Did you notice that the lazy bird is a "dodo" bird? Very clever and so much fun!

You can check out Leah's work while you're in Santa Fe at the new El Milagro restaurant (2239 Old Pecos Trail, Santa Fe, NM) where she is the featured permanent artist and her earlier works are also exhibited at the El Milagro located at 3482 Zafarano Dr, Santa Fe, NM. Louie's Cafe (229 Galisteo Street, Santa Fe, NM) is exhibiting her just off the easel oil paintings. You can follow Leah Saulnier blog or follow her on Twitter @paintingmaniac like I am doing.

If you’re headed to Santa Fe, find out the top places to visit in Santa Fe, along with my personal visitors guide on where to stay, where to eat, and must do day trips when you visit. If you go into the Santa Fe Starbucks today there will be a different featured artist, but I’m sure you’ll enjoy the view and the coffee as much I did.

Location Note: Santa Fe Starbucks, 106 W. San Francisco in Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501 [Open 6am to 8pm daily.]

*Secret's Out: I just purchased the Amazing Race! I think I'm Leah's new number one fan (but not in the Kathy Bates Misery sort of way). Santa Fe is a wonderful town full of artistic surprises.

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