Merchants of Taos Ski Valley: Andrea Heckman

Andean Software Adventurer!

In a place full of remarkable people who have been here for decades, one of the most notable is Andrea Heckman. Known as the owner of the apparel-and-arts shop Andean Software, a more complete list of her roles includes global trekking guide, filmmaker, author, college professor, fundraiser, photographer, and artist.

Oh, and bar waitress.

“I moved here in 1975,” she recalls. “I came to ski, as well as for the arts. I had skied in California—at Mammoth and Squaw Valley—but it was here that I became a good skier.” After obtaining a bachelors degree in psychology, Andrea first taught creative writing and social studies in a California junior high school. But her real passion was making woven sculptures; she had gallery representation in Big Sur and Yosemite, and did American Craft Council shows.

“I made a trip out here with a friend, a nurse at my school, whose father lived in Albuquerque. When we got up to Taos, I said, ‘This is it.’”

But it would take a bit of luck for the move to come to fruition. Around 1974, on another visit to Taos Ski Valley, she was introduced to Jean Mayer, owner and director of the Hotel St. Bernard. “I asked Jean if I could work part time at the St. B. He asked me if I’d worked in a bar and, of course, I said yes… With that, I made the leap to living here and my ‘part-time’ job turned into six nights a week!”

Andrea has developed multiple careers but “…no matter what else I did, I kept working at the St. B,” she notes. And she still works there two nights a week. “I love it. That place is the heart of the valley.”

In 1979, she went to Peru on a month-long trek into the mountains beyond Machu Picchu. “I went because of their weaving traditions and I absolutely fell in love with it.” Bill Abbott, who founded the internationally renowned company Wilderness Travel, led her trip. Inspired, Andrea returned to Taos and enrolled in a masters program in Latin American Studies at the University of New Mexico (UNM) to perfect her Spanish and learn Quechua, all while continuing her trips to the Andes. Her friendship with Abbott deepened, and in 1981 she led her own first guiding gig, in Ecuador. Since then, she has led as many as three treks a year to numerous South American destinations as well as to Nepal, Turkey, Ireland, Morocco, and India.

“My dad always said that I was the free spirit of the family. I’d been married when very young and I had no desire to be married again, so it was the perfect life.”

Then came 1984, a big year for Heckman. She returned to Taos Ski Valley from leading treks to Peru, to launch Andean Software. “I did it because my eye was so tuned into good textiles. Friends would ask me to bring them back something—and I’d return here with dozens of sweaters, scarves, hats and such—and they (the gifts) were gone immediately.”

Her first shop, across from the Thunderbird Lodge, was “the size of a closet.” It was only open in winter, but proved successful thus she acquired a larger space, where the Pizza Shack now stands. Around 1989, ski-resort management  approached her and asked if she wished to relocate to a new retail and rental center (where The Blake hotel now stands). She agreed. Once installed there, the business took off. She would remain in that location for more than two decades.

That same year, while guiding an Inca Trail trip, she met artist Ken O’Neil. He followed her to Taos. Despite declaring that she wouldn’t wed again, they soon married. He encouraged her to pursue her dreams. Three years earlier, in 1986, she had fallen in love with a region of Peru capped by Ausangate (a sacred, 17,000-foot mountain) and decided to make its weaving traditions, designs, and people her doctoral focus.

In 1997, with financial support from a Fulbright grant, she completed her doctorate with honors in Latin American Studies, with an emphasis on anthropology and art history. “I was a nerd,” she recalls. “I was so into it! I wore a car out driving back and forth to UNM in Albuquerque.” With her doctorate, she was offered a job at UNM Taos, and has been teaching Latin American history, anthropology, and film studies there for 20 years.

“I always thought there was a book, an exhibit, and a film possible from my doctoral topic. I wanted to give something back in a dignified way to honor the people I had studied. They don’t have a lot in terms of material things but such a rich heritage, spirit, and sense of community.”

So, methodically, with a bit of good fortune easing the way, she began to tackle these projects.

She had taken up photography to support her textiles documentation and, in 2000, she guest-curated an exhibit on Quechua textiles at the Maxwell Museum on the UNM campus. That led to a book proposal from UNM Press, but it was going to cost a great deal and she needed to raise supplemental funds for it. She succeeded. In 2003, the book Woven Stories: Andean Textiles & Rituals was published. It won a national award from the Society for Visual Anthropology.

Soon after, a part-time resident and filmmaker in Taos Ski Valley, Tad Fettig, saw the book and told her “Let’s go there! We have to do a documentary film!” She found herself leading a crew of 13 into South America. After additional rounds of fundraising, in 2006 they released an award-winning film with editor David Aubrey of Lightningwood Pictures of Santa Fe. This turned into a long-term professional relationship that led to additional films including several shot in Nepal and one about the Hotel St. Bernard, marking its 50th anniversary.

Heckman is “always chasing textiles,” and makes annual trips to Bali as well as Brazil, where she was captivated by its geodes, quartz, amethyst and other minerals on top of its folk arts, jewelry, sculpture, and other rare, often handmade goods. She opened and ran two other shops—Crystal Mountain and Legends—for years. Today, she has narrowed that focus to Andean Software at the new base are at the ski valley  and her second shop in the town of Taos. Both are filled with one-of-a-kind arts and crafts of the world that she has carefully curated.

“I am so happy,” concludes the still-energetic Jane of all trades. “It’s been 34 years at Taos Ski Valley and we are, literally, in the center. We are selling beautiful things that we really love and are bringing the heart and soul of people from other cultures here to share. I love it. I love this mountain. I love this place. It is the perfect complement for me to go to the Andes and then come home to Taos. It keeps me happy.”

And what is her favorite run on the Taos Ski Valley slopes?

“El Funko, because it is sort of on the edge; it’s way out there.”

Imagine that…

###

For more on Andean Software and Andrea Heckman, call 575-776-2508 (Taos Ski Valley)
or 575-758-8605 (Town of Taos), or visit www.andeansoftware.com

Thank You Daniel Gibson for the Merchants of Taos Ski Valley Series.
Thank you Sanda Pecina for your editing and supporting the Ski Valley Businesses.

Location

Andean Software
United States
36° 35' 41.424" N, 105° 26' 58.3728" W
US