I had big hair, big eyebrows, and big shoulder pads in the Eighties. I listened to The Blasters
, Los Lobos
, Dwight Yoakam
and all the rockabilly
I could get my hands on in the Eighties. I went to shows at El Rey
and El Madrid
to see the Broadway Elks, The Muttz
, and The Strawberry Zots
in the Eighties. I was all about ‘new wave’ fashion with a whole lot of vintage mixed in – neon colors, stacks of rubber bracelets, and Guess
jeans with little zippers at the ankles or little black vintage dresses and cat eye glasses. I shopped in Nob Hill at Beeps
, Wear It and the In Crowd.
The In Crowd was one of my all time favorite places to shop. It never failed me when it came to fashion, prison art, postcards, Mexican folk art and the best penny candy. Kenny Chavez
, co-founder and owner of the In Crowd, is still around and flourishing as one of Albuquerque’s premier folk artists.
My daughter and I had the pleasure of hanging out with Kenny in his Nob Hill home and studio. It was like walking into a giant folk art shrine! We took a tour of his backyard and saw all of the delicious morsels of rusted cans, bottle caps and old glass bottles that make up his fabulous art.
Although Kenny wasn’t born in ‘Burque, he certainly is a 'Burqueno through and through. A graduate of Manzano High School
in 1977, he told us the funniest story about being in the Chicano Club at MHS. His family lived in the Winrock area and he, his sister Cindy, and friend Vicki made a pot of beans to take to a Chicano Club potluck. To get the beans to the potluck at Manzano, they had to ride the city bus. With two people carrying the large pot by the handles, they were trying to cross Pennsylvania to get to the bus stop. As soon as they started to cross, one of the handles broke and the beans were all over the street! That street was paved with New Mexico gold
! What’s cool is that Kenny still has the handle that broke off that pot.
After high school Kenny went to TV-I
and after that his first job was working at Larry’s Hats
on Central. He began doing window displays for everyone in town – Margo’s, Casual Corner, Martha’s Body Bueno, Wild Rose, Mountains and Rivers and Wear It to name a few. Kenny and friend Larry Roybal, who liked to think of themselves as Burque's 80s fashionistas, needed a place to store all their mannequins, hangers and clothing racks. They rented what had been L. Black Beauty Salon on Amherst for $100 bucks a month. They realized had the perfect makings for their own store. They eventually took over the space that is now Masks Y Mas
. The In Crowd sold vintage clothes from the eras they loved, the 50s and 60s. They started branching out into funky night club clothing and were the first in town to sell Doc Martens
. That end of Nob Hill was beginning to become cool again with Bow Wow Records and Martha’s Body Bueno across the street from the In Crowd.
Larry passed away in 1990 and Kenny kept the store running. He decided to take the store in a different direction and focused on Mexican folk art. Day of the Dead
art was scarce in ‘Burque and Kenny was in the forefront of bringing it to the city. He also brought prison art to the store as well. He met a woman who taught art to prisoners and was blown away by the talent. He featured two prison artists, Timothy Duncan and Carl Smith. When the Alibi
featured a story about their art at In Crowd, requests from other prison artists came pouring in. The work was incredible - roses created from plastic spoons, paper mache Harleys
made from toilet paper, pañuelos
embellished with santos
or gang imagery.
Kenny decided that it was time to close up the In Crowd in 2004 and concentrate on his own art. His recycled art is inspired by what he discovers while "treasure hunting." He could be in the glass graveyard near El Modelo
, or in a vacant lot and discover the perfect bottle cap, rusted nail, or as he showed us, a wonderful old pair of rusted scissors. Not everyone can see the beauty in these items, yet Kenny can look beyond the obvious and find life in these found objects. It occurs to me that prison artists make objects from unlikely materials, recycling ordinary things to create extraordinary art, just like Kenny.
My favorite pieces are the bottle cap figures he creates. Oh and I love the hanging bottles
, and the signs
too. I especially love the signs that say "Mi Casa is Mi Casa." Kenny is involved in the art community and is in many shows
throughout the year. I'm excited for him because he has been selected, along with Goldie Garcia
, Johnny Salas
, and Alex Chavez
to be in the upcoming New Mex New Mix show that will be at the National Hispanic Cultural Center
on August 8.
It was fun hanging out with Kenny and reminiscing about the old days. We were chattering away when he pulled out his scrapbooks and showed my daughter pictures and articles about the In Crowd. Being quite the fashionista herself, she loved seeing the old eighties styles. There are a lot of wonderful memories in those scrapbooks.
It's apparent that Kenny loves 'Burque and Nob Hill in particular. He said he loves Nob Hill because it is liberal, smart, gay-friendly, and says it is his comfort zone. Because he has been in the neighborhood so long, he knows his neighbors well. Kenny also works at Ghost Town Trading Company
where they make and sell beautiful recycled furniture. Go in and say hi to Kenny and check out his work. I know whenever I run into him anywhere, it always makes my day to see his wonderful smile.