Clem “Pop” Shaffer was born in Harmony, Indiana on July 20, 1880 and was the 13th of 16 children of a blacksmith his wife. His father’s blacksmithing occupation was a common and necessary trade during the era, and his skills, he apprenticed to Pop. Pop wasn’t just a blacksmith though, he was also a merchant, horse trader, land speculator, philanthropist, patriot and more. The creative artist was a dreamer whose main efforts included materializing his dreams. In the early 1900s, Pop chose Mountainair, New Mexico as his artistic outlet. Mountainair, at the time, was a thriving community known as “The Pinto Bean Capital of the World” and was a beehive of activity and enterprise; it served as a picturesque and savvy setting that allowed Pop Shaffer’s efforts to culminate into reality.
The Shaffer Hotel and Pop’s equally impressive woodwork museum, Rancho Bonito (one mile south of Mountainair, NM on Hwy 55), show what happened in 1923 when Pop Shaffer met Mountainair, NM.
In 1908, Pop arrived in Mountainair and tired of wooden buildings that kept burning, Pop crafted a building out of cast-concrete that he reinforced with old iron fractions. These scrap pieces soon became Pop’s Indian motif interpretation: the Shaffer Hotel. The artist didn’t stop with the impressive Shaffer Hotel however, he continued shaping and molding concrete until he circled today’s western gazebo area with an exquisite motif concrete gate.
The Shaffer Hotel, in Mountainair, NM is located a block south of Broadway at Route 55 and is 75 miles south of Albuquerque.
Pop did not arrive in Mountainair alone. After his first wife died, Pop met Lena Imboden Shaffer, a Mountainair native, who eventually became his second wife. Lena was affectionately nicknamed “Ma” and is said to be “the reason it all worked.” When Pop later wrote his memoirs, he said, “Lena was the most wonderful stepmother that ever was.” Jackie Hudgeons, Pop’s granddaughter, said: “She must have been a saint. She was awfully tolerant of Grandpa.” Ma, Pop, and their children (two of which were from his first marriage) lived on a homestead (Rancho Bonito) south of Mountainair. Pop’s Rancho Bonito, is located just south of Mountainair and is decorated as elaborately as the Shaffer Hotel. Pop’s Rancho Bonito creations are considered among the finest works of the Pueblo-Deco period and are a delight to see.
The Shaffer Hotel and Rancho Bonito are both listed on the National Register of Historical Places.
Below is an excerpt of their nomination document:
Like other artists The Folk Art Environmentalist seems to be driven by the need for expression, but in this case the expression often takes the form of a lifetime, single project which is guided by the desire to form an environment over which the artist has complete control. The unity of the artist’s vision is readily apparent but the underlying motivation is much more difficult to discern. On the whole, works by American Folk Environmentalists seem to share no direct relationship with the art of the past or awareness of developments in the art of their contemporaries. They work outside the mainstream, intently focusing on an inner vision, the content, scope, and style of which is the sole product of the artist. What the forces were that motivated “Pop Shaffer” to begin work on his small animals and decorated buildings are not known nor do we know what guided the creation of such a unified vision. We do know that there are no other examples of Folk Environments on this scale in New Mexico and that efforts should be made to preserve this humorous and impressive monument to one man’s vision.
A Tourist’s Delight
Mountainair grew with the developmentof the Santa Fe Railroad. The wonderful old railroad station, though no longer carrying passengers, still runs and is a delight to see. In fact, at the turn-of-the century, new railroads brought “immigrant trains” full of homesteaders who turned Mountainair’s desolate plains into “The Pinto Bean Capital of the World.” When not capturing the hearts of train enthusiasts, Mountainair, New Mexico is also appropriately sought as the “Gateway to the Ancient Cities.” Here, you’ll find the remains of majestic mission churches that once footed now deserted pueblos and settlements. The ruins of ancient pueblos and grand 17th century churches, scenic mountains, unique folk-art Pueblo-Deco buildings, and a downtown right out of a Western movie, all create a rustic yet alluring New Mexico hot spot.
Near Mountainair, you’ll also find several charming Spanish towns that have grown up along the picturesque Manzano Mountains. These northern villages include the charming and rumored to be haunted towns of Abo, Manzano, and Torreon. During the last 60 years, a drought has turned Mountainair from a bustling enterprise town to a quiet cowboy ranching town. Today, Mountainair’s rich history and cultural affluence has reverberated and many residing artists help create a Mountainair that allows visitors and residents a “step back in time!”
Headquartered in Mountainair, NM, the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument is a Federal tourist attraction that draws approximately 50,000 visitors a year. The Salinas Monuments consist of three ancient Indian pueblos sites and their 17th century Spanish mission churches. Grand Quivira, the largest site, is 26 miles south of Mountainair. Abo is nine miles west of town and Quarai is eight miles north of town. All sites have visitor centers and rangers on duty, however for interested patrons, the informative Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument headquarters location is 2 blocks north of the Shaffer Hotel.
A Historic Downtown
Mountainair is a gem of the Old West. The broad Main Street has provided the set for more than one movie including the 2007 Val Kilmer film, A West Texas Children’s Story, and most recently was the set for the new filming “My One and Only,” with Renee Zellweger. Along that wide stretch of avenue is the ancient yet charming Rosebud Saloon. The cigar bar offers a considerable menu and is rumored to even host a few real cowboys. Among the many shops you can visit in Mountainair are fine art galleries and studios. These galleries offer quality Southwestern art but at a fraction of Santa Fe, Toas, and Ruidoso’s prices because dozens of top artists now make Mountainair their home.