NEH Teachers Take Up NM Crafts

June 24th, 2010 by Kate Nelson

NEH teachers - retablos 2The Palace Courtyard was cool, with a reasonable amount of shade this morning — a far cry from the lightning storm predicted for later today. A perfect time, in short, to try out a little plein air painting, New Mexico-style. The teachers participating in this week’s NEH-UNM program, “Contested Homelands: Knowledge, History and Culture of Historic Santa Fe,” ditched the lecture tables in favor of some hands-on activities: creating retablos and punched-tin frames, under the guidance of two notable New Mexico artists.

Santero Gabriel J. Vigil is a Raton native who gave up dreams of professional boxing to build an artist’s career in Santa Fe. Winner of multiple awards for his retablos and bultos at Spanish Market, he hasn’t forgotten his roots and regularly works with children, passing along his art skills to them. Thanks to that experience, he likely had a few tricks up his sleeve when he set out to teach our teachers. He gave them a few hints, provided some drawings for them to work off of, then set them loose.

The results? Soulful and stirring.

A group of teachers in the NEH-UNM workshop enjoy painting retablos on a cool Santa Fe morning.

A group of teachers in the NEH-UNM workshop enjoy painting retablos on a cool Santa Fe morning.

A sacred heart design takes wing.

A sacred heart design takes wing.

Inside the Palace, another group of teachers created a din usually reserved for construction sites. Cleo Romero, a Nambe-based artist, showed them a selection of her punched-tin work — which, in 2006, won top honors in Santa Fe’s Spanish Market. With the assistance of some patterns, nails and hammers, she let the participants work off any potential aggressions by pounding out their own creations.

NEH teachers - tinwork 2

Using a paper pattern, one of the teachers lines up her punched-tin design.

With Romero's works for inspiration (hanging, at right), teachers get to pounding.

With Romero's works for inspiration (hanging, at right), teachers get to pounding.

If any of that got you inspired,take note: Cleo will teach a free tinwork class next Wednesday from 10 am to 2 pm at the Museum of Spanish Colonial Arts. (Call 982-2226 for details.) For further inspiration, check out the online version of Treasures of Devotion; Tesoros de Devocion, the exquisite exhibit in the Palace of the Governors celebrating the work of New Mexico’s legendary santeros.

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Whose Homeland Is It Anyway?

June 21st, 2010 by Kate Nelson

“Place is more than a museum. Place is more than stuff in a case. Place is an experience that is shared through connections with people over time.

With that, Erica Garcia, chief educator at the New Mexico History Museum, today began one of what will become many lessons for 40 kindergarten-through-high-school teachers. Gathered from across the nation at the museum this week (like a similar group last week), the teachers are studying the history and interactions between Native Americans and European settlers in a city where those peoples’ descendants still make history.

Erica Garcia (left) introduces teachers to the NM History Museum.

Erica Garcia (left) introduces teachers to the NM History Museum.

It’s also an education in how the settlement of America is not a story focused on familiar names like Jamestown and the Mayflower.

Contested Homelands: Knowledge, History, and Culture of Historic Santa Fe is a special program offered at the museum by the University of New Mexico’s College of Education. Funded by a $160,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Contested Homelands consists of two weeklong workshops held at the museum, with field trips around Santa Fe and Taos.

“Getting a chance to learn about New Mexico’s history in a place that saw so much of it makes this workshop unique,” Garcia said. “The Palace of the Governors is a living testament to the resiliency of New Mexico’s people and cultures. You can tell people about the history, but something special happens when they stand in its footprint.”

Contested Homelands aims to strengthen the teachers’ knowledge of pre-colonial America and stretch their understanding about the scope of European Colonial America – a topic that too often is taught as an east-to-west migration, overlooking the contemporaneous movements of Spanish colonists from south to north. Besides hearing distinguished scholars discuss topics ranging from historic sites to El Camino Real, participants get to try their hands at cultural creation, hammering out tinwork and designing their own retablos.

Garcia talks about the design of the Palace of the Governors during a walk around the Santa Fe Plaza.

Garcia talks about the design of the Palace of the Governors during a walk around the Santa Fe Plaza.

As this week’s session began, Garcia led the teachers on a tour of the Santa Fe Plaza and the Palace of the Governors. Standing at the corners of Lincoln Avenue and San Francisco Street, she noted that the corner, once the terminus of El Camino Real, is now “a great place to get ice cream.” Moving down the sidewalk to the corner of Old Santa Fe Trail and San Francisco Street, she told the teachers they had just reached the end of the Santa Fe Trail.

The Plaza that connects the trails, she said, has been the heart of Santa Fe life for four centures, with  wedding, executions, protest rallies, military enlistments and, just this weekend, a few nude cyclists.

Sprinkled in were stories of the Spanish colonization and its harsh encomienda system that led to the Pueblo Revolt; the technology of building with mud; and a nod to the Palace’s uniquely colonial security system: Anyone intending to storm the place was forced to simultaneously stoop through a low door while stepping up, thereby making themselves a slower and better target of inhabitants.

This week’s teachers hail from places as far from one another as Maine and Oregon, with Iowa, Chicago, the Carolinas, New Jersey, New York and San Antonio thrown in.

Among the questions participants will ponder: What are homelands? How do homelands stretch, shrink and shift over time? What happens when homelands overlap with one another? How does (perpetual) colonization, conquering, and resistance transform homelands and create new ones? What is the spiritual story of a homeland? How do the artistic products and structures of a homeland tell a story? What connections do people have to a homeland and how are these connections manifested in history and in present-day? And importantly, for the purpose of this workshop, how do the Camino Real and the Palace of the Governors exemplify the unfolding of homeland in an area that already had a vibrant system of Pueblo communities prior to European Settlement?

Using what they learn, the teachers will leave the workshop with something they can use in their classrooms – a lesson, a Power Point Presentation, an informational booklet to share with their students, a lecture.

Besides UNM and the museum, the program received support from the Office of the State Historian, Spanish Colonial Arts Society, Wells Fargo Bank, Albuquerque Historical Society, New Mexico Humanities Council, New Mexico Council for the Social Studies, National Geographic, La Montañita Coop, Dr. Thomas Keyes, Dr. Quincy Spuirlin, Dr. Rebecca Sánchez and Albert and Christine Sánchez.

While the workshops coincide with Santa Fe’s 400th anniversary, they make the point that the area’s history stretches centuries before that.

“Vibrant communities flourished in this place long before European exploration and later settlement,” Assistant Professor Rebecca Sánchez told UNM Today. “ As this region moved toward statehood, the United States inherited the memory and material creations of the region. When it became part of the U.S., the country had to incorporate this history into the national narrative of American history. The place is itself a homeland with a larger story.”

The NEH’s “Edsitement” arm has also selected Santa Fe for this month’s virtual excursion, an online opportunity for teachers and, really, anyone to learn more about this place where so many trails converged.

New Mexico Turquoise Meets Tiffany’s Fabulous Blue Box

June 3rd, 2010 by Kate Nelson

tiffany boxFor as long as people have called New Mexico home, they have pulled gems and minerals from its soil. Today, that tradition yields oil, gas, coal, uranium, and always, the gems that decorate our jewelry. Primary among those gems is a a hydrated phosphate of copper and aluminum known worldwide as turquoise.

For that part of the story, head with us to the hills of Cerrillos, south of Santa Fe, where a once-vibrant mining district held a special allure to famed jewelry company Tiffany’s. All because of a particular type of turquoise and that fabled Tiffany Blue box.

The Cerrillos mining district has seen activity since 600 A.D., first from Native peoples, then Spanish colonists and, later, American mining companies. But the history of turquoise mining wasn’t always a cherished one. From the Cerrillos Hills web site:

During the Spanish Period the pueblos continued to mine turquoise for their own use and trade with the unconquered tribes around New Mexico. The Spanish considered turquoise worthless and laughed at the Indians for mining it. Consequently, Spanish documents …  ignore the continued mining of turquoise by the Indians. Only a few Spanish documents even mention the continued use of turquoise by the pueblos.

Late 1800s documents make references to Santo Domingo and Cochito Puebloans traveling to the Cerrillos Hills to collect turquoise. With the arrival of the railroad in 1881 and the development of tourism, travelers began snapping up Pueblo turquoise jewelry. A fad was being born.

In 1889, George F. Kunz, Tiffany & Co.’s renowned gemologist, won an award in Paris for a collection that contained a sample of New Mexico turquoise. In 1892, Kunz announced that certain colors of turquoise had come to be considered “gem quality” – namely, the Tiffany Blue color.

tiffany pendantAccording to a New York newspaper: That is a turquoise far and away the finest in America, and it came from these new mines in New Mexico. It is worth $4,000. … (I)t is probable that gems to the value of $200,000 a year may be obtained from this mine. Kunz recognized the possibilities of further branding the Tiffany Blue color by maintaining almost-exclusive rights to the turquoise he had made suddenly valuable.

That year, James P. McNulty came to Cerrillos to mine turquoise, eventually landing with the American Turquoise Company, which owned the claims to a number of mines. The ATC sold almost all of its turquoise directly to Tiffany & Co., where designer Pauling Farnham (regarded by some as “Tiffany’s lost genius”) crafted some $2 million worth of it into jewelry.

McNulty died Jan. 26, 1933, and is buried in the Masonic section of the old cemetery on Cerrillos Road in Santa Fe.

Herculano Montoya at the Tiffany mine(1937). Palace of the Governors Photo Archives

Herculano Montoya at the Tiffany mine(1937). Palace of the Governors Photo Archives

Today, the Tiffany Mine and with five other mines in Cerrillos are owned by Doug Magnus, a Santa Fe jewelry designer whose Santa Fe 400th line is available in the Spiegelberg Shop at the New Mexico History Museum.

Magnus says the mines are, in all likelihood, played out. Still, he was able to obtain several specimens of the raw ore “that had been hoarded for 80 or 100 years by the man that did all the mining for the American Turquoise Company.”

Despite such difficulties, Magnus said, turquoise seems to be enjoying new verve. “I’ve been working with it since 1972, and I’ve watched it become the single most popular semi-precious gemstone in the realm of semi-precious gemstones. And that’s worldwide.”

Magnus will talk about the mines and about the use of turquoise in jewelry-making at the 5th annual Palace of the Governors Gem & Mineral Show, 9 am-5 pm, June 18-20, in the Palace Courtyard. The event is free via entrance through the Blue Gate south of the History Museum’s main entrance at 113 Lincoln Avenue.

Miners, merchants and jewelers will display (and sell!) specimens ranging from raw ore to polished finery.

Guest speakers at the event:

Garrick Beck, “The History of Fakery in Gemstones,” 11 am Saturday

Beck’s Santa Fe company, Natural Stones, specializes in genuine, natural stones that are not dyed, synthesized, “stabilized” or “enhanced.

Doug Magnus,”The Cerrillos Mines,” 2 pm Saturday

Magnus, a Santa Fe jewelry designer whose Santa Fe 400th line is available in the Spiegelberg Shop at the New Mexico History Museum, has owned the six mines in Cerrillos, N.M., including the fabled Tiffany turquoise mine, since 1988.

Sandy Craig,”The Opals of Ethiopia,” 1 pm Sunday

Craig’s Orca Gems and Opals of Littleton, Colo., carries specimens, rough, rubs and cut stones from Nevada, Mexico, Honduras, Ethiopia, Lightning Ridge, Lambina, Mintabi, Yowah and Koroit.

Lila with crystal 5x3 72The Gem & Mineral Show, in conjunction with the Palace of the Governors Native American Artisan Program, allows gem and mineral dealers and Native American artisans to tell their unique stories about the historical relationships that have existed between Native silversmiths and jewelers, miners, and gem and mineral traders.

Exhibitors will include: Garrick Beck; Orca Gems and Opals; Roadrunner Mining and Minerals; Bright Star Gemstones; and Will Steerman.

Come to look, come to touch, come to buy, but most important, come to learn more about the historic interplay between miners, mineral traders and the artisans who bring life to these fruits of the earth.