Between the Earth and Sky

The Aylwards’ summer home in Santa Fe inspires a robust appreciation for fine art, indigenous culture, and a harmonious coexistence with nature.

James Tyler’s China Fe, named in tribute to the crossing of cultures at the Aylwards’ New Mexico property, faces west toward the Jemez Mountains.

The road that winds up the hills above Old Santa Fe Trail leads to a seemingly inhospitable wilderness where the air is thin and junipers and ponderosa pines provide cover for coyotes. On one of the peaks, an adobe clings stubbornly to the hillside, its portals open to rugged desert, an amphitheater of mountains, and shimmering copper sunsets.

Cloudstone’s main entrance (right) leads into a charming courtyard around which the adobe house is arranged.

Even in a place as charismatic as Santa Fe, New Mexico, this house, and the piece of land it sits on, stands out. Perched on a ridgeline next to Sun and Moon mountains, it overlooks the sprawling city, the Galisteo Basin, and, beyond, the Jemez range. The silence up there is so complete, you can hear the flutter of a hummingbird’s wings.

Bill and Christine Aylward felt the property’s pull the moment they first encountered it, in 2004. “The minute I saw it, I knew it was the house I wanted,” Bill says. “We must have looked at 30 other houses, but it didn’t matter.” He was impressed by the Pueblo-style, true adobe architecture and the craftsmanship of the custom doors by renowned decorative artist Jeremy Morrelli. But what really sold him was the siting. “The way you drive up the driveway and ascend to the house through two curves … it’s like you’re going up to the sky.”

Christine, however, was not 100 percent convinced. “The setting really is special,” she says. “I loved the sensibility of inviting the outdoors into almost every room. Even in the bathrooms you have views of the mountains. But it wasn’t practical for a young family.”

Technically, she explains, the main house had only two bedrooms. The compound was laid out in casitas, or guest quarters, that connected to the main house. While their daughters, Caitlin and Casey, were young, that wasn’t an option. On top of that, the schools weren’t a good fit and, Christine admits, “it was too rural for me.” They let the house go.

Vigas and latillas, such as those on the living room ceiling, are characteristic of Santa Fe adobe design. Qui Deshu’s Fissuring–Divine Tree claims a prominent place next to the stairs leading to the dining room.

In the years that followed, they kept New Mexico front of mind. Though based in Palm Beach, they’d often venture west “like happy tourists,” even teaching their daughters to ski at Taos Ski Valley. But they never forgot that view, and when the girls were off to boarding school, Bill brought up Santa Fe again.

By some incredible luck, when they began their hunt anew in 2011, the hilltop house was back on the market. They bought it on the spot—and named it Cloudstone because of its closeness to earth and sky.

Genesis Recuerdo Profundo by Jorge Jiménez Deredia speaks to the life cycle.

Even before the Aylwards first saw the house that would become their beloved summer retreat, they had a history with New Mexico. In 1973, while still in college, Bill traveled overland across the country from his native Wisconsin, camping along the way, and got stuck in the Land of Enchantment en route to Flagstaff. On his first night there, he witnessed one of the state’s famous fiery sunsets.

“I’d never seen sunsets like that before,” he says. “Purple mountain majesties [a line from “America the Beautiful”] are real. The mountains actually turn purple.”

The spectacle was seared into his memory for years and reemerged after he met the woman he wanted to share it with.

Phenomena Spiral Cauldron by Paul Jenkins hangs above a sideboard by Southwest Spanish Craftsmen.

Christine Ju Yuan was a graduate student from Jiangsu Province, China, who was working on her second master’s degree, in engineering, at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee as part of a joint venture program between the U.S. and China. She’d already earned a master’s in information science from Jilin University of Technology (now Jilin University) in Changchun, and she was eager to study and work in the States. In 1986, upon graduation, she got a job at Neenah Foundry, a manufacturing company making construction and industrial castings. Bill, who worked at Neenah Corporation, which his family owned, took an interest in Christine.

“He had all these books on Confucius and Taoism,” she recalls. “Even then, Bill was extremely well-read. We started talking about Eastern philosophy, and our conversations brought us closer.”

Bill and Christine Aylward have appointed their 25-acre property with monumental art, native vegetation, and lovely outdoor living areas, including portals, shade structures made from indigenous timber.

They began dating soon after and married in 1990. By 1997, Bill had sold the business and was looking to escape the Wisconsin winter. “He remembered how stunning the New Mexico light was, and we came [to Santa Fe],” Christine says. “He rekindled his love for this place.”

She wanted town and he wanted country, so that conversation went nowhere. They opted to relocate to Palm Beach instead. But Bill had succeeded in planting that seed, even if it didn’t bear fruit until 14 years later.

It took Christine a while to warm up to the idea of living in Santa Fe, but once she did, she gladly traded her Chanel stilettos for cowboy boots. The first thing she did to make Cloudstone feel like home was to grow things. An accomplished gardener whose orchids are the talk of the town in Palm Beach, where she is a member of the Garden Club, Christine planted a kitchen garden and flower beds full of geraniums, roses, delphiniums, blue phlox, and petunias. She admired them for about a day before they were ravaged by deer and rabbits.

Hugging by British sculptor Sophie Ryder, had been displayed at Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens before journeying to the Southwest.

It took years of trial and error to outsmart the wildlife; in the end, she decided to go with the flow. “My kitchen garden is a constant learning ground,” she says. “It has really taught me how to live with nature.”

She learned, eventually, that four-legged visitors don’t touch certain indigenous plants, so she replanted with apache plumes, catmint, chamisa, Russian sage, iris, and lavender—lots of lavender. Throughout the property, she insisted on strictly native plantings like piñons and ponderosas, preserving the ecology of the place.

Paintpots by British sculptor Sophie Ryder, had been displayed at Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens before journeying to the Southwest.

Gardening wasn’t the only passion Christine indulged in the City Different. Since Santa Fe is a hub for artists and indigenous culture, it was natural for her and Bill to broaden their art collection to include Native American pieces as well as contemporary sculpture that complemented the rugged landscape. They started with two monumental brick heads by James Tyler, which they’d originally commissioned for their home in Palm Beach but found they fit much better in the Southwest. The male head, South Facing, greets visitors along the snaking driveway, and the female, China Fe, sits in front of the portal, its clay color deepening as the sun sinks behind the Jemez.

Those familiar with the art scene in Palm Beach will recognize two bronze sculptures by Sophie Ryder, who exhibited at the Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens in 2017. Afterward, the Aylwards decided to acquire a piece, but couldn’t agree on which one—he liked Hugging, she liked Paintpots—so Christine negotiated a deal to buy both.

The bulk of the Aylwards’ collection is focused on Asian contemporary art, displayed mostly in Palm Beach with select pieces in Santa Fe. One of Christine’s favorites, Chanel (2005, part of Wang Guangyi’s Great Criticism Series), takes center stage in the dining room. She calls the piece “a personal journey.”

Christine calls Chanel, from artist Wang Guangyi’s Great Criticism Series, “a personal journey,” as the imagery recalls her childhood in China during the Cultural Revolution.

“I saw it at one of the fairs and had tears in my eyes,” she says. “That was me in that era.”

Christine was a schoolchild during the Cultural Revolution in China, which lasted from 1966 to 1976, and recalls marching with the Red Guards. “We had to do all these revolutionary dances,” she says. “Anything considered bourgeois—books, art, ceramics—was confiscated and burned. [This painting] was a familiar scene. It meant a lot.”

Living in Santa Fe has helped the Aylwards cultivate an appreciation for Native American art that they’d never had before. It took a long period of education to understand the discipline and symbolism that indigenous artists employ, and, Christine says, they’re still learning. Like all their other art, they buy what moves them.

Preston Singletary’s Raven Eats the Moon is evocative of animal spirits and Native motifs.

A favorite is Preston Singletary’s Raven Eats the Moon, a glass sculpture evocative of animal spirits and traditional Native motifs. They met the artist at the Seattle Art Fair and

John Nieto’s Medicine Man hangs at the entrance of Bill’s office. “Bill loved the composition,” Christine says. “He thought it was one of Nieto’s greatest pieces.”

were impressed by the allegorical quality of his pieces. Bill loved Raven but lost it to another collector at auction, so Christine commissioned Singletary to make another.

“It’s important to support the artistic community where you live,” she says. “Native American art is very prominent in Santa Fe. Some of it is difficult to understand if you’re from the East Coast, let alone Chinese. But living here, you see their dances and the way they live with nature, and you appreciate their culture and the deep meaning in their work.”

Historically, Santa Fe has attracted artists because of its light and profound connection to nature. Christine herself has felt that call. An amateur carpenter, she once bought some old doors and had them made into headboards with the help of master craftsman Wayne Hayes. She was so impressed with his work that she asked if she could study with him. He reluctantly agreed, or, as she puts it, “he allowed me to be amused and taught me all the techniques.”

A bench by Southwest Spanish Craftsmen sits beneath Santa Fe Summer, one of Christine Aylward’s original woodwork assemblages.

For six years, Hayes illustrated the importance of proper finishing by making Christine repeat processes until she got them right. Under his tutelage, she crafted several contemporary wood pieces with geometric and minimalistic detailing, but her signature is a series of rabbit napkin rings and wall sculptures, a tip of the hat to the critters that decimated her petunias.

Though Hayes died last January, Christine continues to create in wood and has recently moved on to Lucite fabrications. Next up: making maquettes she can expand into monumental art. “I want to do big pieces, to build with concrete or stone or mosaic,” she says. “With my engineering background and interest in art, I can experiment with something that fits in with the land. It’s all to do with being in Santa Fe.”

Cloudstone, a true adobe house, is oriented around a courtyard, where Christine has planted native vegetation that is impervious to the local wildlife. A Buddha statue nods to her Asian heritage and adds a note of serenity.

The city has gotten so deep under Christine and Bill’s skin that they’ve recently purchased a second house on the same hillside, just below Cloudstone. A double adobe with even more expansive views, it had a lot of potential but was in need of significant renovations. They restored the existing structure, built garages and a second portal for outdoor living, added a master suite, and planted a courtyard garden that allows Christine to stay a step ahead of the wildlife. Used as a guesthouse, the second adobe has expanded their property to 25 acres. “It’s like a little hill of our own,” says Christine. “It embodies everything that Santa Fe is.”

Blessed with otherworldly beauty, the place is so close to the elements, you can almost feel the earth’s ancient rhythms. “You get up in the morning and see the cloud formations and the sunrise,” she says. “You get double rainbows, even after a few drops of rain. The sunsets are almost religious. Your environment and you become one entity.”

“Purple mountain majesties,” a line from “America the Beautiful,” might have originated in Santa Fe, where the waning sunlight colors the Jemez in deep lavender tones. The Aylwards enjoy this view of Santa Fe and the Galisteo Basin every summer night.

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