Art History

Roots and realism are on offer at Heritage Fine Art gallery

By Dena Miller

If you were to close your eyes and imagine the quintessential cowboy art gallery then you would no doubt conjure Heritage Fine Arts, the entrance to which is tucked away in Wengert Patio on Kit Carson Road.

Stepping under the archway, you’ll find a short stone walkway leading into an idyllic hidden garden blooming with a riot of colorful hollyhocks. Gallery owner Tree Menane and his dog, Levi, welcome guests to the historic building housing six rooms of some of the most representational Western art that you could imagine.

Acclaimed artists such as Andersen Kee, B.C. Nowlin, Roberto Ugalde, Mitch Castor and Roger Williams grace the walls: a veritable sweet tooth’s worth of eye candy. And don’t miss the hidden gem of the estate room, boasting the prints of R.C. Gorman and works from the likes of Gene Kloss, Walter Gonske, Jim Wagner, Ron Borsano and Ray Vinella. An intricate Ben Johnson saddle resides in the corner, but, “It is definitely not for sale,” he smiled.

That Menane has been known his whole life as Tree — “an old family nickname so it may as well be my birth one,” he said — is particularly fitting, as the one thing that consistently comes up in conversation with him is roots: The roots of generations past; the roots of this town, Taos, that he chose to make his home; the roots of friendship.

BC Nowlin

“I grew up outside of Santa Barbara (California) which, back then, was an old Spanish town with fiestas and parades led by Gabby Hayes and Leo Carillo” he recalled. Menane’s family had a ranch “on the other side of the mountains” and his days were filled with ranching and rodeos. “My parents eventually went from cattle to restaurants in Santa Barbara,” but one of his sons continues to live the rodeo life. “My daughter-in-law races chuck wagons,” he laughed.

“So I ‘get’ what Taos is all about,” he continued. “We are an historic art town,” with Native American, Spanish and old West influences that need to be preserved, and his deep conviction was an impetus for opening Heritage in 2019, his personal collection of art providing the seeds. “Yes, I’m a traditionalist and I want Taos to be recognized for its place in history and the amazing sparks of creativity that always existed here.”

There is much more to the story of this gallery owner, however. Menane is an accomplished musician whose work and friendships with major players in the country music scene are renowned.

Tatiana Koch

His 2021 CD release, “About Time,” was a project he put off for years until, he recalled of the title track, “I first played it for friends at a house-warming party we were having for Jessi Colter’s new home, using Waylon’s (Jennings, Colter’s late-husband) black acoustic guitar. It was then, from the comments I received, that I realized it was ‘written.’”

Somberly, he noted, “Mentor Williams was like a brother to me,” until Williams’ death in 2016. Williams is best known for his hit song, “Drift Away,” and had lived with country/crossover megastar Lynn Anderson in Taos. “Lynn always said we were like two spirits from the same soul.” The two men worked together, songwriting and publishing, between Nashville and Los Angeles and places in between, but Taos was where they kicked back to relax.

He also boasts a long-standing friendship with Michael Hearne, who brings the rollicking Big Barn Dance Festival to Taos every September. When Big Barn is in town, Menane and gallery neighbor Robert Parsons host an accompanying shindig; using the small casita adjacent to Heritage as a stage, Wengert Patio becomes a hub for live music and afternoon parties that attract hundreds of followers.

Photo by Mark Estabrook

“Beside the point of having fun, we want to really celebrate Taos, the artists, the music,” he said.

It’s just one of the many ways Menane has established a loyal clientele for his gallery and an equally loyal following for his music. He is a real pleasure to meet and talk with, full of stories that often invoke celebrity but are more about the values of family and friendship.

“I really have fun with my clients,” he said. “I’ve always believed in living outstanding, not standing out.”

Stop by Heritage Fine Arts and have some fun with Tree Menane and Levi. You, too, will leave with a smile and, if you’re lucky, some great cowboy art.

Heritage Fine Art
122 Kit Carson Rd, Taos