in Todos Santos,
Baja California Sur
the Artist’s Life
the Pandemic
By Micah Ling
in Todos Santos, Baja California Sur
Living the Artist’s Life During the Pandemic
By Micah Ling

n March 13th, Ty Brookhart left his home in Gold Hill, Colorado, to travel to Todos Santos, Baja California Sur, for the wedding of his two good friends. Todos Santos has a reputation for catering to surfers, mountain bikers, and artists of all kinds. It was supposed to be a long weekend away from the fresh snow that had fallen in the Rocky Mountains, to relax in the sand and celebrate friends. But with another round of snow headed to the mountains of Colorado, and COVID-19 forcing more and more travel restrictions, it was easier for Ty to fly his three-year-old son, Wilder, and his son’s mother, Rachel, to Baja, rather than getting back to Colorado himself. The respite lasted nearly three months.

Ty lives a rugged, simple life in the mountains as a full-time ceramics artist. The cabin he lives in with Wilder was built in 1928 as an artist studio for his great-great-aunt. Ty spent 20 years living in several other places around the country before moving back to Gold Hill — an old mining town an hour northwest of Denver — three years ago. He says Gold Hill is the perfect balance of solitude, community, and nature. 

For Ty, this whole experience has centered on adapting (living in a Colorado mountain town has taught him much about this). Many times, weather or access to necessities forces life in Gold Hill to be flexible. Ty says after the wedding, he gave Rachel a call. The two are divorced but remain friends and share parenting responsibilities. Ty told her, “The whole atmosphere down here is so preferable compared to the empty shelves and scared people [in the U.S.]” He talked Rachel into bringing Wilder down — they booked flights for March 18th through the 25th.

ceramic mug with stripes
Rachel had just lost her job as a server in Boulder because of COVID-19, so she had no real ties to staying in Colorado. The Boulder Potters’ Guild, where Ty fires his work, had also just announced it would close, so that meant he really couldn’t work either. “I figured, why not spend another week in Baja — at the time, they still hadn’t reported a single case of COVID-19, while the numbers in Colorado were already growing.” 

After the vacation vibe of his trip to Baja wore off, Ty connected with a local pottery studio in Todos Santos. He worked there to create pieces to sell on his website, in order to produce some income while in limbo. Right before he left for Todos Santos, Ty put the finishing touches on several new mugs and pots. He still has a full kiln of finished pieces waiting to be unloaded when he gets home.

mother and son sitting on ground eating ice cream next to small dog
Two days after Rachel and Wilder arrived, the State Department said it would be closing the border to non-essential travel. The following day Southwest cancelled all outgoing flights. “I had already been looking for a vehicle, having seen the writing on the wall, and that same day we bought a Suburban for $2k. By the day of our planned departure we had negotiated with our AirBnB to stay for another month and I had met local artist, Christa Assad, and arranged to work with her at her studio — Taller de Terreno.” 

So housing and transportation were taken care of, but they hadn’t thought to buy any new clothes before Mexico locked down all stores. “We ended up buying a few things for everyone at the large grocery stores in Cabo and La Paz during our early supply runs. Certainly not the most fashionable options, but enough that we didn’t have to do laundry every four days.” 

During discussions about how to handle the situation, Rachel searched the Internet for kilns in Todos Santos, and discovered Christa and Taller de Terreno. “A quick social media check revealed we had a few common connections in the ceramics world. I contacted Christa, who at the time was actually in the states as she had planned to attend the National Council for the Ceramic Arts annual convention. Upon her return I met her at her studio and we immediately started planning to produce the necessary work to fire her kiln.” 

ceramic cups, mugs, and smoking pipes burned in kilns
Christa’s kiln is unique. It’s a multi-fuel kiln (wood and propane) and meant to be fired with salt/soda. Salt firing is a vapor-glazing process where sodium chloride is added to the kiln and then vaporizes, forming a hard glaze. It often allows for especially colorful finishes. “The plan was to do a lot of smaller pieces — cups, mugs, smoking pipes — along with a handful of larger pieces to fill the top archway of the kiln. I had never fired salt, but my co-teacher at the guild fires exclusively in salt so I was familiar with which styles of mine should work well.”

Ty enjoyed learning about such a different kiln, and created some pieces he’s excited about. Over the course of several weeks, Ty, Rachel, and Wilder really came to love the community in Todos Santos, and even found some overlaps to Gold Hill. “Both places focus on outdoor activities. Both have dogs running around off-leash, kids playing in the dirt roads, limited conveniences, and an overall slower pace of life.”

In many ways, Todos Santos is the opposite of Cabo, the tourist-trap party town to the south. Artists of all kinds have set up shop. There are mountain bike trails, and hidden empty beaches. Sunsets can’t be beat. Still, Ty is excited to return to Colorado. “I’ve missed the trees, the crystal-clear mountain creeks, the wildflowers, the thunderstorms and rainbows, the sound of humming birds, and of course my family.” While there have certainly been stresses during their time in Todos Santos, Ty says its been fun to watch his son discover so many new things. “Wilder has matured and grown enormously in these two months.” Wilder is of the age where he’ll likely remember this time forever. 

Artistically, this both stretched Ty’s creativity and refined some of his existing concepts. He learned a lot about different firing methods, glaze recipes, and throwing techniques. “Perhaps the most obvious change to my work was the time spent per piece. Since I had over a month to produce a relatively small amount of work, I spent longer on each piece — it was less craft and more art. Given that productivity is generally the bottom line when it comes to making money as a potter, being almost forced to pursue more complex or highly decorated work was very expansive.”

ceramic mugs and young boy in car looking out window
Ty, Rachel, and Wilder are finally heading home. They will take their time driving back to Colorado — maybe stop in Moab to visit friends. Ty is certain this will be the first of many trips to Todos Santos, though. “Already Christa and I have discussed my return — hoping to produce work for the annual studio tours in mid-February. Maybe I’ll drive my big truck down and leave it here next time.” A reason to always return.