Why Did the Harley Cross the Road…?

March 31st, 2014 by Kate Nelson

…to get to the other museum.


Today, the New Mexico Museum of Art transferred ownership of its 1940 Harley-Davidson WLD Extra High Compression 45 Special Sport Solo to the New Mexico History Museum. Longtime visitors to MOA will remember the bike on display for years, a thing of beauty and exemplar of New Mexico’s open roads. But our sister museum needed space in its collections vault, and we saw a way to blend it with the “My New Mexico” theme in our main exhibition, Telling New Mexico: Stories from Then and Now.

Eventually, it will join a broken-in-two car that juts from two walls in a lower-level theater. Short documentaries that rotate in the theater include one on Route 66, a road seemingly made for an open-throated, two-wheeled beast of a bike.

72-Pushing-2First, though, we had to get the Harley from their vault to our vault. That posed a number of problems. The engine hasn’t been started in years, so you can’t just fire it up and drive it over. The MOA folks could have loaded it onto a truck, but its bed didn’t reach our loading dock, where its delivery would have been nice, neat and behind-the-scenes. Instead, we went old-school: Their collections staff wheeled it across the street, in through our front doors, down two hallways, into a freight elevator, down another hallway and, finally, into our collections vault.

The original owner of the Harley is believed to be Chris Elliott Davis of Winston Salem, NC, who sold it in 1980 to Francis Harlow. “Frank” is a Los Alamos physicist, an artist, and a noted Native pottery collector and researcher. He specialized in studying the evolution of historical Pueblo pottery and wrote or co-wrote five books about it, including The Pottery of Zia Pueblo (2003), Historic Pottery of the Pueblo Indians, 1600-1880 (1990); and The Pottery of Santa Ana Pueblo (2005).

He moved to Los Alamos to work at the lab in the 1950s, when it was still a closed city. Maybe that explains part of the appeal of the bike. According to the booklet, Harlow, written by Jeanne Hassenzahl in 1975, Harlow wanted “a big, powerful, throaty sounding machine that really rumbled and sounded great.” In 2001, he donated it to the Museum of Art. It first delighted visitors in the 2001-02 exhibition Tourist Icons, Native American Kitsch, Camp and Fine Art  at yet another one of our sister museums, the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture. It went on exhibit at MOA in 2006.

For those who salivate for such details, here goes: The bike has a 3-speed transmission and a 45 cubic-inch flathead engine with aluminum heads. Its color is “clipper blue” with white striping. Customized elements include black leather saddle bags, black saddle and light bar. Enjoy the views:

72-HarleyInCollections 72-Tank 72-License-2



Pinhole Photo Meets Poet Laureate

March 28th, 2014 by Kate Nelson

Opening April 27, the exhibit Poetics of Light: Pinhole Photography took its name from the way light becomes an object of play when set between an object and a pinhole camera. The photos produced take what we think we know of the world and turn it upside-down, backward and more.

It seemed only natural to reach out to Santa Fe Poet Laureate Jon Davis to help us with events during the exhibition’s run. He agreed (see list of events at bottom), but went one better. Using Gregg D. Kemp‘s pinhole photograph, Jane Always Dreaded Flying Home, as his inspiration, Davis wrote a poem that the Palace Press is turning into a broadside.

Director Tom Leech decided to try a new technique, having Kemp’s photograph digitally printed on the paper, then applying Davis’ poem via traditional letterpress. “I’ve never seen this done before,” he said.

Here’s Leech feeding it into the press to apply the poem’s headline:


Studying the typography:


And holding the almost-finished product:


The broadside will be released on the exhibition’s opening day. Copies will sell for around $75.

For Leech, the project held a coincidental quirk: In 1974, he and Kemp owned Virginia Woodworks in Colorado Springs, where they made Appalachian dulcimers. The business didn’t last, but this photography (fittingly, a pinhole image) of the two of them way-back-when survived:


Poetics of Light: Pinhole Photography events with Santa Fe Poet Laureate Jon Davis:

Friday, May 30, 6 pm, “Santa Fe Poets 5,” the fifth of six group poetry readings Davis is organizing as part of his tenure. Joining him in the History Museum Auditorium will be Chee Brossy, Joan Logghe, Carol Moldaw, Henry Shukman, and Farren Stanley. Free.

Sunday, June 1, 1 – 4 pm, “The Poetry of Light,” a writing workshop building on inspiration from Poetics of Light images. Open to high schoolers and older, the event is free, but reservations are recommended. Call  476-5096.





Volunteers: The Hands that Make Us Stronger

March 10th, 2014 by Kate Nelson

Lila-XmasThey led visitors on tours. They scanned WPA oral histories. They shelved books. They catalogued rare photographic collections. They gussied up our filing system. They served cookies.

All in all, volunteers to the New Mexico History Museum and Palace of the Governors in 2013 donated something like 5,300 hours of intelligence and hard work that helped make our institution stronger. For two comparisons:

A full-time employee puts in 1,920 regular hours a year. And, by rough estimate, the Independent Sector values those 5,300 hours of volunteer labor at $117,342.

Behind the numbers is something far more important: The names and faces, heads and hearts of people who brought us their best. That includes the museum guides who led 693 tours for 198 children and 5,634 adults. Library volunteers put in 973 hours, and Photo Archives volunteers logged another 900 hours.

Read the rest of this entry »

Donald Woodman Photographs Celebrate New Mexico

March 4th, 2014 by Kate Nelson


Beginning with his early years working as a research photographer at the Sacramento Peak Solar Observatory in southern New Mexico, photographer Donald Woodman honed a photographic vision first through stars and clouds and then through sandy soil, majestic peaks and his own interior life. You can experience that journey in Donald Woodman: Transformed by New Mexico, in the Mezzanine gallery through Oct. 12.

Moon from 4x5 B&WThe exhibit represents the first of a yearlong series of events celebrating all the museum has accomplished since opening in 2009. In 2011, Woodman was the first person to donate his photographs and materials to the Photo Legacy Project at the Palace of the Governors Photo Archives. Since then, numerous other contemporary photographers have added their archives, including Jack Parsons, Sam Adams, Herbert A. Lotz, and more.

Curated by Mary Anne Redding,photography chair at the Santa Fe University of Art and Design, Transformed by new Mexico includes more than a dozen examples of the Belen-based photographer’s work from the early 1970s to 1998. Among the images are ones taken at the Sacramento Peak Solar Observatory in Sunspot, NM, and intimate selections from his Therapist Series. Each one invites you to look deeply at the tones, forms and shapes; to begin to understand the relationship Woodman has with his cameras, his world, and himself as he moves quietly from behind the lens to placing himself in its focus.

Kids in doorway“In many ways,” Redding said, “Donald Woodman is one of the stereotypical free spirits who arrived in New Mexico in a VW van in the early 1970s, searching for a new life unfettered by the conservative conventions and stodginess of the East Coast, to experiment with new-found freedoms involving hallucinatory drugs and liberated sexual exploration. And yet, Woodman’s long personal aesthetic trajectory, which continues today, is uniquely his own.”

After his initial New Mexico work at Sunspot, Woodman became a personal assistant to legendary painter Agnes Martin in Galisteo. In 1985 he married artist Judy Chicago, whose paintings will be at the New Mexico Museum of Art in Local Color: Judy Chicago in New Mexico 1984-2014, opening June 6.

Images above, from top: Sand Dune with Bush — White Sands, NM, ca. 1972. Silver gelatin print, 9×12 in. Waning Moon, ca. 1970s. Archival pigment print, 5×5 in. Two Boys in a Doorway, ca. 1970. Archival pigment print, 25×20 in. All photos by Donald Woodman. Palace of the Governors Photo Archives, Photo Legacy Project.

Crazy ’bout a Sharp-Dressed Man

February 26th, 2014 by Kate Nelson

BenConradInSuit-2Pinhole photography, at its heart, combines the most low-tech materials with the highest ideals of art. Nowhere can that be better seen than in Ben Conrad’s pinhole suit.

Lately, the only place to see it has been the Conservation Lab behind the museum’s administrative offices. There, Casey Mallinckrodt, an intern for the Conservation Department of the Museum of New Mexico, has painstakingly repaired cameras that consist of little more than cardboard, duct tape, electrician’s tape and glue. In 1994, Conrad used Velcro to affix 125 of the rickety cameras to a pair of Big Ben coveralls and a motorcycle helmet. Working with assistants in a darkroom, he loaded the cameras with film. His helpers covered him with a tarp and ferried him outside, where they lifted the tarp to expose the film. Quickly covering him again, they returned to the darkroom to develop the multi-eyed vision of his surroundings.

As Conrad explained the purpose in 1995: “The pinhole suit is an experiment to see what it would look like if the pores of the human skin were camera apertures. … (I) want to photograph on locations in public areas that are under surveillance, such as banks, airports, parks and grocery stores. With the pinhole suit I’m exposing myself and exposing the film. Where the 35mm is a spectator, the pinhole suit is both spectator and spectacle.”

Caroline Lajoie, designer of the exhibition, Poetics of Light: Pinhole Photography, opening April 27, has devised a way to display the suit on a mannequin surrounded by the images it took.

As basic as Conrad’s materials may have been, nothing goes on exhibit without conservators taking a serious look at them. Mallinckrodt did just that, even subjecting various parts of the suit to spectral examination, solubility tests, and Fourier-Transform Infrared Spectroscopy. Knowing the suit’s roots, her report almost reads scientifically tongue-in-cheek: “The motorcycle helmet is structurally sound. … There are areas of fine cracking in the outer layer of plastic that may be the result of impact or deterioration of the material, but these cracks do not impair use in this assembly.”


Sewing up History with a Box

February 25th, 2014 by Kate Nelson

Upon learning of that Frances Levine, director of the New Mexico History Museum/Palace of the Governors will soon take over leadership of the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis, many of our supporters asked what she might want for a going-away present. The answer? Nothing.

At least nothing for herself. In a selfless display of generosity, Fran is asking folks who want to honor her years of accomplishment to instead consider donating money to the Museum of New Mexico Foundation’s Acquisitions Fund.

SC_Sewing_Box-72The item we’re dying to buy is this sewing box, a rare example of an 18th-century delicacy from Michoacán, Mexico, still bearing its original, hand-lacquered finish in the Chinoiserie style. As for what else makes it so special, read Fran’s description of it, along with details about how you can help her leave an even longer-lasting legacy.

Read the rest of this entry »

New Mexico Legislators Honor Frances Levine

February 20th, 2014 by Kate Nelson

Fran-1Wednesday, February 19, 2014, found New Mexico History Museum Director Frances Levine on the floor of the state Senate, for all the right reasons. Given a seat of honor on the rostrum, she heard the reading of a certificate honoring her service to the state and wishing her well on her next adventure as president and chief executive officer of the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis.

Fran was thrilled to tears. (Literally, tears, but then our staff is fond of saying she cries at puppies.) After the certificate was read, Sens. Peter Wirth, Bill Payne and John Ryan heaped on the praise. Both Wirth and Payne called the event “bittersweet.” Happy as they are for her new position, they said, New Mexico will sorely miss her. To that end, Ryan, who happens to be married to Levine’s boss, Department of Cultural Affairs Secretary Veronica Gonzales, joked that he had heard Gonzales would not be accepting Levine’s resignation. Read the rest of this entry »

Wanted: History Buffs with Shoes Made for Walkin’

February 4th, 2014 by Kate Nelson

4-72-PalaceWalkingTour2012The Historical Downtown Walking Tours led by museum-trained guides have grown into a popular pastime among locals and tourists alike. This year’s tours will run from April 14 through Oct. 11. To boost the ranks of volunteer guides, the New Mexico History Museum and Los Compadres del Palacio, a support group of the Museum of New Mexico Foundation, are inaugurating a special recruitment and training opportunity.

You could be just the person we’re looking for. Do you possess a deep love of Santa Fe and knowledge of New Mexico history? Enjoy spending time outdoors and meeting people from all over the world? This could be your perfect niche.

Learn more at a special event on Tuesday March 4. At 9:30 am in the museum’s auditorium, noted Santa Fe archaeologist Cordelia (Dedie) Thomas Snow will use historical photographs to present a history of Santa Fe’s storied downtown core. Afterward, Los Compadres will host a coffee in the Meem Community Room where you can ask all the questions you have about the program. The event is free; no reservations are required. Read the rest of this entry »

Cowboys + O’Keeffe = A Big Win for the Palace Press

January 27th, 2014 by Kate Nelson

4-72PP_TomPrintingThorpCover-1When Tom Leech, director of the Palace Press, used native grama grass to create end papers for his recreation of Jack Thorp’s Songs of the Cowboys, we knew he was onto something special. Now, the University of Texas at El Paso’s Friends of the Library knows it, too. Along with Arlyn Nathan, a book designer and typography instructor at the Santa Fe University of Art and Design, Leech won UTEP’s 14th Carl Hertzog Award for Excellence in Book Design.

But that was just the start. Leech and J.B. Bryan also won an honorable mention for the design of Margaret Wood’s memoir, O’Keeffe Stories—the first time a single Press reached such heights in one year.

“It is tremendously gratifying that the judges noted the very qualities that we attempted to get into the book,” said Leech, who also picked up a 2013 Santa Fe Mayor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts.Arlyn and I are equally thrilled for everyone else who worked on the book. Mark Lee Gardner introduced the book, and Ronald Kil created beautiful illustrations. We also included a compact disc with the songs performed by Mark Gardner and Rex Rideout. My colleague James Bourland assisted with the printing, and Priscilla Spitler did the beautiful binding.”

How fitting is it to win for Songs of the Cowboys? Consider: The Press at the Palace of the Governors was established in 1970, when the museum acquired most of the contents of the Estancia News-Herald print shop, including the platen press that printed Thorp’s original Songs of the Cowboys in 1908. Read the rest of this entry »

History Museum Director Frances Levine Takes the Santa Fe Trail … East

January 21st, 2014 by Kate Nelson

4-staff_72-FranLevine-2013Dr. Frances Levine, who became director of the Palace of the Governors in 2002 and led construction of the New Mexico History Museum into a world-class institution, has been named president and CEO of the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis. She will remain at the New Mexico History Museum until March 15 and start her new job on April 15.

“Everything I have done with the help of our staff, donors and volunteers has prepared me for this next set of responsibilities and challenges,” Levine said. “It’s not a coincidence that I would be traveling to a museum that shares so much of our Mexican period and territorial period history. This new position will also introduce me to another perspective on the American story. I look forward to learning about the diverse cultures and historical experiences brought together here at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers and made St. Louis a dynamic American city.

“New Mexico is fortunate to have a robust museum system capably administered by our Department of Cultural Affairs, Secretary Veronica Gonzales and Deputy Secretary Michael Delello, the Museum of New Mexico Board of Regents, and the support of so many donors to the Museum of New Mexico Foundation.

“I will miss red and green chile. And of course I will miss New Mexico most of all.” Read the rest of this entry »

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