Creating art born not of heredity but of passion, innovative Santa Fe tinsmith Justin Gallegos Mayrant is the first artist in his family. Northern New Mexico’s traditional crafts are deeply rooted in history and family expertise; the earliest examples of Hispanic tinwork in New Mexico date to the 1840s. But the tinwork of artist Mayrant stands out in its grounded innovation: He came to it organically, rather than out of familial obligation, and has made it his mission to innovate and redefine the form while continually drawing from mastery of tradition.
While his family has always been supportive of his art, his foray into tinwork was spurred by a chance encounter with the medium in public school, and Mayrant began working with tin in earnest at age 12. Encouraged by acceptance into the Traditional Spanish Market’s youth market, he sold his first piece (a chandelier) to the permanent collection of the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art at age 13. He has only flourished since then.
Mayrant apprenticed under renowned tinsmith Michael E Griego for eight years, focusing intensely on quality over quantity, but has not limited his idols and inspiration to those involved in traditional tinwork. Mayrant spent his late 20s working in a 17th-century style frame shop, working with wood, and was drawn to include wood in his tinwork (an entirely new practice); a friendship with famed Hopi-Tewa artists Dan and Arlo Namingha encouraged a sensibility to combine centuries-old craftwork with undeniably modern alterations and augmentations.
For the first 10 years of his career, Mayrant spent all his energy learning the traditional style of the craft, honing his skills to equal those of the masters. By his late 20s, however, he grew weary of encountering the same old perception of tinwork: That it’s just holes punched into tin cans. He knew that his intricate skill and intimate knowledge could transform the art form, so he set out to forge a new path in tinwork.
His style, never before seen in tin, incorporates built-out sculptural elements that catch and reflect light and shadow. Eons beyond the traditional Spanish crafts of nichos, mirrors and rustic chandeliers, in Mayrant’s hands, an ornamental wall sconce becomes a euphoric explosion of ribbon, stud and glowing light; his methods of layering curved, bent and angled metal superstructures are based strongly in traditional tinwork but create an exhilarating new aesthetic, solidly founded in impeccable skill.
Mayrant’s work, created painstakingly by his hand at his home studio in Santa Fe, has appeared everywhere from magazine covers to inside historic New Mexico homes and remarkable residences across the country. He now creates tinwork full-time and, in addition to Santa Fe’s Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, his work is also included in the Museum of International Folk Art (Santa Fe, New Mexico) and the Autry Museum of the American West in Los Angeles, California.