Beyond the Marlboro Man

March 31st, 2011 by Kate Nelson

When we think of the American West, our minds tend to conjure images of gunfighters, Indian wars and cattle barons. If we think of women at all, it’s most likely a saloon girl or Calamity Jane.

Historians know that’s hardly the distaff story of the West. From Native women who oversaw corn production and the building of adobe homes to Hispanic weavers, artists and property owners, to Anglo businesswomen, physicians and environmental stewards, the female side of the story of the West too often seems to fade into the Victorian wallpaper.

Up to now, that is.

Spanish American Woman plastering, Chamisal, New Mexico, photograph by Russel Lee, 1940. Courtesy Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USF33-012823-M5

Spanish American Woman plastering, Chamisal, New Mexico, photograph by Russel Lee, 1940. Courtesy Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USF33-012823-M5

This summer, the New Mexico History Museum begins filling in the historical gaps with four exhibitions focused on women past and present. Let’s round ’em up:

1. Home Lands: How Women Made the West, June 19-Sept. 11, a traveling exhibition from the Autry National Center in Los Angeles, features additional materials from the History Museum’s collections. The largest of the summer’s four exhibits, it sweeps across the centuries in three regions: the Rio Arriba of northern New Mexico; Colorado’s Front Rage; and the Puget Sound.

Evelyn Fite Tune, a longtime rancher outside Socorro, NM. Photo by Ann Bromberg, courtesy Palace of the Governors Photo Archives.

Evelyn Fite Tune, a longtime rancher outside Socorro, NM. Photo by Ann Bromberg, courtesy Palace of the Governors Photo Archives.

2. Ranch Women of New Mexico, April 15-Oct. 30 in the Mezzanine Gallery, highlights 11 women in this excerpt from an exhibit originally prepared by photographer Ann Bromberg and writer Sharon Niederman.

3. New Mexico’s African American Legacy: Visible, Vital, Valuable, May 15-Oct. 9 in the second-floor Gathering Space, tells the stories of the families who planted their roots and created a home in the Land of Enchantment following the Civil War.

4. Heart of the Home, May 27-Nov. 20 in La Ventana Gallery, spotlights historic kitchen items from the History Museum’s collections.

(Yes, they open at different times; that’s a reality of what it takes to mount an exhibition.)

“Since its opening in 2009, the New Mexico History Museum’s exhibits have included the stories of men, women and children – a conscious effort on our part to broaden the telling of history,” said museum director Frances Levine. “This summer’s exhibits highlight that commitment by focusing squarely on the contributions made by women that don’t begin and end with popular Western stereotypes.”

So you won’t find Miss Kitty or Calamity Jane or even Santa Fe’s own legendary madame, Dona Tules, in any of the exhibits. Instead, their shared focus is the universal desire to set down roots and create that place called “home.” That seemingly simple act is “a potent way of changing the world,” say Home Lands curators Virginia Scharff and Carolyn Brucken. Home Lands puts women at the center of that focus for a simple reason, the women write in their companion book: “Seeing women in history makes history look different.”

Among the women you will see in the exhibits:

Fabiola Cabeza de Baca in front of New Mexican schoolhouse, photographer and date unknown. Fabiola Cabeza de Baca Gilbert Photograph Collectioon, Center for the Southwest Research, University of New Mexico

Fabiola Cabeza de Baca in front of New Mexican schoolhouse, photographer and date unknown. Fabiola Cabeza de Baca Gilbert Photograph Collectioon, Center for the Southwest Research, University of New Mexico

Fabiola Cabeza de Baca. A Las Vegas, NM, native, this teacher and writer elevated both the art and science of homemaking from the Depression forward, blending traditional practices with modern-day conveniences. Beginning in the 1950s, her expertise went global when she started home-economics programs in Central and South America for the United Nations and became a trainer for the Peace Corps. Her story is included in Home Lands.

Legendary cowgirl Fern Sawyer. Photo by Ann Bromberg, courtesy of the Palace of the Governors Photo Archives.

Legendary cowgirl Fern Sawyer. Photo by Ann Bromberg, courtesy of the Palace of the Governors Photo Archives.

Fern Sawyer. New Mexico’s best-known cowgirl spent 77 years living up to her motto: “Do all you can as fast as you can.” An inductee into the Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame, Cowgirl Hall of Fame and National Cutting Horse Hall of Fame, Sawyer passed away in 1993, still with her boots on, still in the saddle. Ranch Women of New Mexico includes her story.

Clara Belle Drisdale. Photo courtesy New Mexico State University Archives.

Clara Belle Drisdale. Photo courtesy New Mexico State University Archives.

Clara Belle Drisdale Williams. In 1937, she became the first African American to graduate from New Mexico State University. After a career of teaching others, she received an honorary law degree from NMSU in 1980, along with an apology for how she was treated as a student. You’ll find her story in New Mexico’s African American Legacy.

Other New Mexico women in Home Lands: Pueblo potter Maria Martinez; painter Pablita Velarde; photographer Laura Gilpin; archaeologist Bertha Dutton; santera Gloria Lopez Cordova; Santa Clara Pueblo artist Nora Naranjo Morse; and poet and playwright Joy Harjo.

The Autry drew on its extensive collections to organize the exhibit, but also purchased must-have items, including Pablita Velarde’s monumental mural, Green Corn Dance. It’s impressive even in a computer-screen’s small scale:

GreenCornDance_72_3x10

Artifacts range from a 1,200-year-old Mogollon metate to a 20th-century station wagon, textiles, clothing, pottery, paintings, photographs, sculpture, books, and an art piece made of computer components by contemporary artist Marion Martinez.

To kick things off, the Museum of New Mexico Foundation is holding a $200-a-person party called Celebrate on Saturday, June 18. Put on your fancy Western wear and enjoy fine wines and creative cuisine in the Palace Courtyard. Learn more, including how to buy tickets by clicking here.

Throughout the summer, we’ll have special lectures, workshops and symposiums to further deepen your knowledge of women in the West. All these events are free and in the History Museum auditorium unless otherwise noted:

Sunday, June 12, 2 pm: Symposium on “The Journey of the African American North,” including stories from Santa Fe and Española.

Sunday, June 26, 2 pm: “Captive Women in the Slave System of the Southwest Borderland.” Lecture by James F. Brooks, president of the School for Advanced Research and prize-winning author of Captives & Cousins: Slavery, Kinship, and Community in the Southwest Borderlands.

Sunday, July 10, 2 pm: “Fabiola Cabeza de Baca and The Good Life.” Lecture by Tey Diana Rebolledo, regents professor at the University of New Mexico.

Sunday, July 17, 2 pm: “Moving Around to Settle In: Women of the Plains and Range.” Lecture by Virginia Scharff, co-curator of Home Lands and director of UNM’s Center for the Southwest.

Monday, 9 am to 4:30 pm, and Tuesday, 9 am to 12 pm: “Planting Seeds:  Home, Healing and Horticulture.” Conference in collaboration with the New Mexico Committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts. $25.  (Details pending.)

Sunday, Aug. 7, 2-5 pm: “Homespun: Northern New Mexico Spinning and Weaving Techniques.” Members of the Española Valley Fiber Arts Center demonstrate Pueblo, Navajo and Spanish techniques in the Palace Courtyard.

Friday, Aug. 12, 6 pm: “Through Her Eyes: An American Indian Woman’s Perspective.” Lecture by Eunice Petramala, park ranger at the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site.

Sunday, Sept. 25, 2 pm: Symposium on “Entrepreneurship in the African American Community,” from barbers to caterers, mechanics to artists.

Home Lands is generously supported by Cam and Peter Starret, Ernst & Young, Eastman Kodak Company, the National Endowment for the Humanities, Unified Grocers, Wells Fargo, KCET and the Friends of the Autry. Local support is provided by Stanley S. and Karen Hubbard, Dr. Ezekiel and Edna Wattis Dumke Foundation, the Museum of New Mexico Foundation, the Palace Guard and the Montezuma Ball.

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The “Threads of Memory” Sews Up Big Numbers

March 4th, 2011 by Kate Nelson

Whether in person or online, it seems, you like us. You really, really like us.

During the Oct. 16-Jan.9 run for The Threads of Memory: Spain and the United States (El Hilo de la Memoria: España y los Estados Unidos), the New Mexico History Museum/Palace of the Governors welcomed 19,337 visitors. That number included 22 school groups of 813 students from around the state, and an additional 1,054 children who came through with friends and families, or schools that did not use our school registration site.

The French Ship La Belle, 1684. Sevilla. Archivo General de Indias. MP-Ingenios y Muestras, 9.

The French Ship La Belle, 1684. Sevilla. Archivo General de Indias. MP-Ingenios y Muestras, 9.

The exhibition’s lectures and performances attracted another 848 visitors.

The herculean efforts of staffers to create an online exhibit paid off: Since Oct. 17, the Threads of Memory web site accounted for 16,414 page views. Although we can’t claim a direct causality, during the exhibit’s 11-week run, the web site saw:

• A 21 percent increase in visitors

• A 49 percent increase in pages viewed

• A 23 percent increase in the average number of pages per visit

• A 13 percent increase in the average amount of time on site

We were honored to be chosen by the Archivo General de Indias (General Archive of the Indies) for the exhibit’s U.S. debut and delighted to work with our international partners, including the Fundación Rafael del Pino, the State Corporation for the Spanish Cultural Action Abroad (Sociedad Estatal para la Acción Cultural Exterior, or SEACEX), and Spain’s Ministries for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation and Culture.

The web site remains a valuable tool for teachers and others interested in the roots of Spanish life in the United States. And if you weren’t able to see the exhibit while it was at the History Museum, it’s at the El Paso Museum of History through April 24; then at the Historic New Orleans Collection May 10 – July 10, before heading back to Spain.

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Mary Jane Colter’s Legacy of Southwestern Style

March 4th, 2011 by Kate Nelson

An 1893 portrait of Mary Jane Colter by Arthur Mathews,  one of her professors. Photo by Tom Alexander, courtesy of the Pioneer Museum, Flagstaff, and the Arizona Historical Society.

An 1893 portrait of Mary Jane Colter by Arthur Mathews, one of her professors. Photo by Tom Alexander, courtesy of the Pioneer Museum, Flagstaff, and the Arizona Historical Society.

In 1910, a young architect named Mary Jane Colter was hired by the Fred Harvey Co. and the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. Over the decades that followed, she created some of the most iconic buildings along the railway and at the Grand Canyon.

Today, 11 of her buildings are on the National Registry of Historic Places; five are designated National Historic Landmarks. A maverick and a visionary, she broke with European architectural tradition, blending Mission Revival, Spanish Colonial and Native American elements. She embraced the Arts & Crafts Movement’s simple but sophisticated designs and exquisite craftsmanship. She methodically researched indigenous art, architecture and building techniques. As one writer observed: “She could teach masons how to lay adobe bricks, plasterers how to mix washes, and carpenters how to fix viga joints.”

On April 1 and 2, the New Mexico History Museum joins with La Fonda on the Plaza — itself housed in a building she elevated with her interior designs — to explore Colter’s life and legacy. “A Mary Jane Colter Weekend: The Shaping of Southwest Style” is an exclusive event featuring lectures by noted experts and special dinners prepared by La Fonda’s Executive Chef Lane Warner.

Tickets start at $100 ($50 tax-deductible); $200 for the events plus an April 1 sponsor dinner ($100 tax-deductible). The Museum of New Mexico Foundation is co-hosting the event with La Fonda on the Plaza. Proceeds benefit the New Mexico History Museum. Call 505-988-1234 or log onto www.TicketsSantaFe.org for tickets. Act now: Space is limited.

Once called “the best-known unknown architect in the national parks,” Colter is nearly revered for her buildings at the Grand Canyon, including Phantom Ranch, the Watchtower, and Bright Angel Lodge, among others. In 2008, the magazine of the National Parks Conservation Association published a lovely biography of her. (Find it here.)

The Mary Jane Colter Weekend begins with a wine-and-appetizers reception at La Fonda on the Plaza, one of the most iconic buildings on the Santa Fe Plaza. Sponsor-level participants will then enjoy an exclusive dinner in La Fonda’s Santa Fe Room, an old-world setting that most distinctively captures Colter’s design aesthetic. Large terracotta tiles surround the entry door. A fireplace Colter commissioned by Arnold Ronnebeck promises to keep you warm. Elsewhere, you’ll see a beautiful latilla ceiling and paintings by Gerald Cassidy. You’ll have a chance to meet our weekend’s presenters—Arnold Berke, Stephen Fried and Barbara Felix, and hear Felix speak about what she learned of Colter during her own renovation of La Fonda. (We’ll also have a special bag of goodies for each of our sponsors, including a pair of New Mexico CulturePasses and a book of Harvey House recipes compiled by Stephen Fried.)

On April 2, all participants will take in a series of lectures, a La Fonda dinner and an Actors Studio-style discussion of Colter’s legacy led by Dr. Frances Levine, director of the museum.

“Mary Colter’s vision of the Southwest created a style that was simple and yet grand,” Levine said. “She left a magnificent legacy in regional architecture and interior design that we cherish today as much as in the past.”

South Portal of La Fonda Hotel (1925-45?), designed by Mary Jane Colter. Photo by T. Harmon Parkhurst. Palace of the Governors Photo Archives, No. 054316.

South Portal of La Fonda Hotel (1925-45?), designed by Mary Jane Colter. Photo by T. Harmon Parkhurst. Palace of the Governors Photo Archives, No. 054316.

The weekend’s speakers:

Arnold Berke, award-winning author of Mary Colter: Architect of the Southwest (Princeton Architectural Press), will bring his meticulously researched book to life, revealing Colter in the social and historical context of her time.  “By steeping her buildings in the culture, history, and landscape of the Southwest,” Berke said, “Colter both charmed American travelers and taught them about the region she loved. Her pioneering works delighted the eye and engaged the mind.”

Stephen Fried, author of Appetite for America: How Visionary Businessman Fred Harvey Built a Railroad Hospitality Empire that Civilized the Wild West, will  present the colorful Harvey House history of La Fonda on the Plaza. “The opportunity to spend a weekend exploring Mary Colter’s contributions to life in the Southwest – as design guru for the Fred Harvey Company – will be a rare treat,” Fried said. “I’m also looking forward to discussing the Harvey family women of that era who were vital supporters of Colter’s pioneering work.”

Santa Fe architect Barbara Felix, who was instrumental in the 2009 renovation of La Plazuela, La Fonda’s dining room, on “Preserving the Architectural Fabric of a Santa Fe Icon.” “Colter’s work has inspired me to be passionate about craftsmanship, the use of natural light, regional materials and the transformation of the ordinary into the magical,” Felix said.

The schedule:

Friday, April 1

6 pm: La Fonda, Welcome reception with hosted wine and light hors d’oeuvres.

7 pm: Santa Fe Room, La Fonda, Sponsor dinner

Saturday, April 2

Breakfast on own

10:30 am: NM History Museum, lecture by author Arnold Berke

Lunch on your own

2 pm: La Fonda, lecture by architect Barbara Felix

4 pm: La Fonda, lecture by Stephen Fried, author

7 pm: La Fonda, dinner and Colter discussion with Frances Levine, Arnold Berke and Stephen Fried

“This will be a wonderful weekend for anyone who has visited any of Mary Jane Colter’s extraordinary buildings or been fascinated by this profoundly talented woman who was so ahead of her time,” says Jennifer Kimball, chairman of the board of La Fonda on the Plaza. “We are so proud to be part of the Mary Jane Colter legacy and to share in the sponsorship of this vibrant weekend with the New Mexico History Museum.”

A limited number of special room rate of $109 a night is available for out-of-town guests. Call (800) 523-5002, ext. 1, or (505) 954-3500.