Hands-on approach fits local workers

CNJ staff photo: Andy DeLisle
Luis Saenz, 17, of Muleshoe steams a hat Friday to help in the cleaning and shaping process at Joe’s Boot Shop in Clovis. Luis learned everything he knows about hat creasing through hands-on experience at the store.

Freedom Newspapers

Editor’s Note: The following is a series of profiles of people in the Portales and Clovis area who work with their hands.

High schooler considers hat-creasing a form of art
Luis Saenz views creasing cowboy hats as an extension of his passion for art.
The high school senior said he learned his craft through hands-on experience.
“I probably messed up 10 or 20 hats at first,” Luis, 17, said with a direct gaze and a maturity that belies his age. “But now I can do one in about 10 minutes.”
With more than 15 crease styles for customers to choose from, he said the job requires skill and patience.
“People look at what I do and think it’s easy,” said Luis, who learned to crease hats when he was 10. “But it’s not an easy thing to do, and it took me two months to really learn.”
The hats begin with rounded tops and flat brims. Using steam and adept hands, Luis shapes each chapeau to meet a customer’s individual preferences. He said he also considers the shape of a person’s face and the person’s age before creasing a cowboy hat.
“It really just depends on the person,” he said.
Luis enjoys drawing and creating different styles of hats, he said. “I like art, and I see this as art.”
Wearing a straw cowboy hat with curled sides, Luis said he loves working with his hands and might even consider making it a career.
“Sometimes I think I could make a good living out of this, but I still have one year left in high school.”
— Tonya Garner

l Friend leads Bell to flowers
Linda Bell has worked as a florist at Joe’s Flowers in Portales for about 28 years. She enjoys the job because she interacts with so many people.
“I like working and visiting with the people,” Bell said, “and helping them to enjoy their lives more.”
Bell was born and raised in Portales. She graduated from Portales High School in 1962 and attended school at Eastern New Mexico University for several years.
She became a florist because she had a friend, Rena Foster-Clark, who already had experience with the job.
Foster-Clark taught Bell the trade, and they opened Joe’s Flowers together in 1978. They work together at the flower shop to this day.
Bell said the only difficult part of her job is when she makes floral arrangements for families who have lost loved ones. She said it is hard because she feels the pain with them.

— Bryant Million

Hairstyling brings Mitchell happiness
Creating new hairstyles and making people feel good about the way they look are just a few reasons why 23-year-old Kristina Mitchell decided to become a hairstylist.
Since she was 6, Mitchell said, she has tried to get people to let her style their hair.
“I was always doing my friends’ hair,” she said. “My uncle used to have long hair. So I always messed with his hair, too. Sometimes he would even let me curl it.”
Mitchell graduated from House High School in 2001 and attended cosmetology school in Clovis.
Last year, she moved to Portales and accepted a job with SmartStyle located inside the Clovis Wal-Mart.
“It makes me feel good to see people happy with what I’ve done with their hair and hopefully it will build my clientele for when I am able to open my own business,” she said.
— Paula Cronic

Hands work for home cooking
In a tiny shop off the beaten path, Luciano and Bobbie Madrid knead dough, chop chiles and boil rice.
The husband and wife assemble 300 to 400 burritos a day at their family restaurant, El Taquito Cafe in Clovis, which they opened eight years ago.
The cafe serves traditional New Mexican cuisine, distinct from Mexican and Tex-Mex in its heavy use of garlic and salt, rather than cilantro and oregano, according to the couple.
Their hands and minds are trained so well they have retired their taste buds.
“We never taste our own food,” Bobbie Madrid said. “We know exactly what to put in our food, exactly how much is needed.”
She learned the art of cooking from her mother, who also owned restaurants in Clovis.
The smell of onions and chiles clings to their hands and clothing, the Madrids said. But potent soap and cleaning supplies can dull the lingering odors of the kitchen — a stash is always nearby at the restaurant, and used frequently, they said.
Above all, these chefs are proud of their loyalty to traditional New Mexican cooking, they said.
“It’s all we’ve ever eaten,” Bobbie Madrid said.
“These days, everything is fast food, prepared and frozen. It just doesn’t taste like homemade,” Luciano Madrid said.

— Marlena Hartz

Mayo’s hands decorate hot rods
Rick Mayo’s hands flow across the surface with steady energy. Beneath the tip of his brush, a line is formed.
Known by friends and acquaintances as “8-Ball,” Mayo, 50, practices a dying skill — pinstripes and hot rod art. Without masking or guides, he puts his hands to the task of creating illustrations, designs and icons on cars, motorcycles and an array of other items in a small, neatly kept garage on Seventh Street in Clovis.
He describes the relationship between his hands and his mind as symbiotic.
“My hands know what to do. … I trust that my hands are going to make the right movement. I let them go and trust them to do what (they’ve) been trained to do,” he said.
Art and drawing became part of his life early, fused with his love for comic book art and hotrods. He found a niche in the world of custom art. He’s been doing it professionally for 30 years.
Mayo revels in the pressure of painting designs on top of an expensively painted street rod.
From under the tip of his brush emerge lines. Some dance and intertwine while others show high energy in jagged points.
“I see this as music — I can hear it in my mind,” he said.
Computer-generated pinstripes and graphics don’t convey the same spirit as those rendered by hand for Mayo. For him, the end result is not about perfection but feeling and spirit.

— Sharna Johnson

A cake as her canvas
Brenda Gonzales is wearing a new hat, a baker’s hat that is.
She began work in the Super Save Discount Foods Bakery in Portales three weeks ago. She’s gone from flipping burgers at McDonald’s to using her hands to create eye-catching delicacies at Super Save.
“I made two cakes the other day and as soon as I put them on display, I sold them,” 20-year-old Gonzales proudly said. “I just want to get better on making roses out of whipped cream frosting for the elegant cakes. It’s a matter of just knowing the right hands techniques, how to move your hands a certain way to make it look nice. My aunt, Jennifer Bustamante, who is a baker here, is teaching me.”
Gonzales also wants to work her way up to decorating the more fancy cakes for weddings and quinceañera, or 15th birthday, celebrations. She said the marble cake, a mix of chocolate and vanilla batter, is the most popular cake. She also said people are requesting “Cars” movie and NASCAR themes, anything with automobiles.
— Helena Rodriguez