The Woman Who Helped Make Chile Hip

Fabiola Cabeza de Baca (far left) with the Sociedad Folklorica in 1945. Courtesy Palace of the Governors Photo Archives.

Tough economic times and persistent droughts were nothing new to Fabiola Cabeza de Baca. The native New Mexican, home economist and author saw them as an opportunity to thrive.

During the Depression, she worked for the New Mexico Agricultural Extension Service, helping Hispanic and Tewa women learn new gardening and poultry-raising techniques, along with how to can vegetables and fruits, use sewing machines, and make simple home repairs. She valued traditional ways and documented the recipes for everyday fare that would one day grace restaurant menus throughout the state.

At 2 pm on Sunday, July 10, you can learn even more about this amazing woman when Dr. Tey Diana Rebolledo, regents professor at the University of New Mexico,  speaks on her life and legacy.  “Fabiola Cabeza de Baca and the Good life,” in the History Museum Auditorium, is free with admission; Sundays are free to NM residents.

The State Historian’s excellent web site has a comprehensive article on Cabeza de Baca, who’s also featured in the History Museum’s new exhibit, Home Lands: How Women Made the West. What follows is but a brief glimpse — an appetizer, if you will, to Dr. Rebolledo’s lecture.

Born in 1894 in Las Vegas, NM, she could trace her ancestry to Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca, a 1530s Spanish explorer. She grew up on her family’s ranch, but was schooled by the Sisters of Loretto and in Spain.

Fabiola in front of New Mexican schoolhouse

In 1916, she took her first job as a school teacher in a one-room school in rural Guadalupe County six miles from the family ranch but a day’s ride from the closest town. During her teaching career, she was introduced to a new field of study called Home Economics. She quickly became hooked and was eventually hired by the Extension Service at the start of the Great Depression.

At the time, none of the other extension agents spoke Spanish, even though more than half of the state’s resident spoke no English. Not only did Cabeza de Baca speak Spanish, but she learned enough Tewa to work with Pueblo women as well. Focusing at first in Rio Arriba and Santa Fe counties, she traveled among towns from dawn until midnight. “Some of our counties are larger in area than many of our eastern states,” she once said. “We say so many miles to a person rather than persons to a mile.”

In the 1940s, Cabeza de Baca began writing – Extension Service bulletins, including “Noche Buena,” documenting traditional cultural practices; The Good Life: New Mexico Traditions and Foods, a fictional account of a family that included recipes of their favorites foods; and We Fed Them Cactus, which told of her family’s four generations on the Llano Estacado, blending nostalgia with a critical view of how progress was affecting Southwestern Hispanics.

In the 1950s, Cabeza de Baca’s extension work went global when, with the United Nations, she began developing home economics programs in Mexico and, later, consulted for the Peace Corps.  She was an active member of La Sociedad Folklorica of Santa Fe, an organization that to this day is dedicated to preserving Spanish culture. Cabeza de Baca died in 1991, and is still fondly remembered by those who were lucky enough to know her when.

NM History Museum and Partner Museums Win “Threads of Memory” Awards

The American Association for State and Local History has given The Threads of Memory: Spain and the United States a 2011 Award of Merit by the group’s Leadership in History Awards Committee. The awards are the nation’s most prestigious competition for recognition of achievement in state and local history.

The New Mexico History Museum, El Paso Museum of History, and The Historic New Orleans Collection collaborated on bringing the exhibition of rare documents, paintings and maps from Spain, developing a robust series of public programs, and publishing a bilingual companion catalogue. The exhibition made its U.S. debut at the New Mexico History Museum from Oct. 17, 2010 to Jan. 9, 2011. It then traveled to El Paso through April 24, and is on exhibit in New Orleans through July 10.

“This award means so much to all of us on our international team—in New Mexico, Texas, New Orleans, and Spain,” said Dr. Frances Levine, director of the New Mexico History Museum. “I’m especially proud of the History Museum’s exhibition design team and the way our team members and partners at the University of New Mexico’s Spanish and Portuguese and Education departments melded their best efforts with those of our partners’ staffs. Such a collaboration was the only way that an exhibition of this caliber could have been accomplished. We are honored by the recognition.”

Besides the AALSH award, the American Association of Museums gave graphic designer Natalie Baca a second-place award for her invitation to the Threads of Memory opening gala.

Consisting of nearly 140 documents spanning Ponce de León’s first contact in Florida through New Mexico’s incorporation as a U.S. Territory, The Threads of Memory: Spain and the United States (El Hilo de la Memoria: España y los Estados Unidos) drew more than 20,000 visitors to the History Museum during its tenure. Visitors included numerous school groups focused on learning more about U.S. history and the Spanish language.

The exhibition, presented in Spanish and English, featured such documents as Pedro de Peralta’s orders to establish Santa Fe, a letter signed by Francisco Vázquez de Coronado detailing his travels through the Tiguex province, and documents that detailed the aid given by Spain to the United States during the American Revolution. A small illustration of a buffalo, drawn in 1598 by Vicente Zaldivar, introduced Europeans to an animal whose herds then covered hundreds of miles.

The U.S. partners also developed a Threads of Memory curriculum and computer interactive for use in classrooms. It remains available as a valuable teaching tool here.

In a letter supporting the museums’ nomination for the award, Dr. Light Cummins, state historian of Texas and Bryan Professor of History, wrote that “The Threads of Memory blends together the best of documentary history, material culture, and the judicious use of artifacts, documents, and images to present one of the most complete and cogent analyses that I have ever seen on the subject.”

Guillermo Corral Van Damme, cultural counselor for the Spanish Embassy in Washington, D.C., said: “This is a wonderful award that rightly recognizes the exceptional work of the three American museums involved in the project. Few times have I seen such an incredible amount of interest and attention to detail put into an exhibition. Working with them, one could feel how our common Spanish-American history is still very much alive today.”

The exhibition was sponsored by the Fundación Rafael del Pino and co-organized by the Archivo General de Indias (General Archive of the Indies) and the State Corporation for Spanish Cultural Action Abroad (Sociedad Estatal para la Acción Cultural Exterior, or SEACEX), in collaboration with Spain’s Ministries for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation and Culture.

“I believe that for all of us who worked on El Hilo, this was a model of collaboration for North American and Spanish cultural institutions,” said Isabel Simo, director of the Archivo General de Indias in Seville, Spain.

The AASLH award will be presented at the group’s annual meeting on Sept. 16 in Richmond, Va.

New Perk for Museum Foundation Members Debuts

History Museum Director Frances Levine talks about a portrait of Don Diego de Vargas.

On Monday morning, the History Museum was proud to serve as a launchpad. Thanks to a new summer program by the Museum of New Mexico Foundation, more than 70 foundation members gathered at the museum for the premiere of “Member Mondays.”

Besides pitchers of cool cucumber water, the members were treated to intimate talks and tours of museum exhibitions led by key members of the museum’s staff.

Dr. Frances Levine, director of the museum, led visitors into the History Museum’s main exhibition, Telling New Mexico: Stories from Then and Now,  with a focus on the the life and times of Gov. Don Diego de Vargas, leader of the 1692 reconquest of Santa Fe.

Participants rotated through two other tours:

Collections and Education Programs Manager René Harris explored highlights of the new exhibition, Home Lands: How Women Made the West.

And Josef Diaz, curator of Southwest and Mexican Colonial Art and History Collections, talked about the centuries-old bultos, retablos and crucifijos showcased in the exhibit Treasures of Devotion: Tesoros de Devoción inside the Palace of the Governors.

Plans for additional Member Mondays are in the works for the New Mexico History Museum/Palace of the Governors, as well as the other state museums in Santa Fe.  Tempted to give membership a try or learn more about Member Mondays? Contact Mariann Lovato at (505) 982-6366, ext. 117 or


The Palace Press Beefs Up Its Bodoni

Few people would consider a drive to Roswell to pick up pounds of lead a pleasure journey, but to Tom Leech and James Bourland of the Palace Press, it was all that and more.

Earlier this week, the two traveled to the site of the old Hall-Poorbaugh Printing Co., now the Copy Rite Co., to load up 24 cases of cherished Bodoni and Caslon metal type.

Tom Leech, curator of the Palace Press, pulls out a case of Bodoni type.

“We figured it was at least 1,000 pounds altogether,” Leech said, adding that they broke up the burden by moving it case by case. “It’s a dubious honor that comes with being a letterpress printer — the opportunity to move large cases of lead.”

“By the fifth case,” Bourland said, “the weight doubles. It’s true, I felt it.”

Jeanine Best, owner of Copy Rite, donated the type to the New Mexico History Museum because “I didn’t need it and, as long as someone else can use it, they should have it.”

She purchased the Hall-Poorbaugh building in 2007, along with its old linotype press and various and sundry stacks of type. (The building, at 210 N. Richardson Ave., is known to locals by the UFO mural painted on its side.) As part of the family that operates the legendary Corn ranch — “three centuries old,” she said — Best understands the power of antique furniture and old equipment to move people’s emotions.

“I’m a big history buff,” she said. “I donate a lot of stuff to museums.”

For Leech, laying hands on a cache of Bodoni that ranges in size from 10 to 72 point, including italics, meant broadening his access to one of his most preferred fonts.

“It’s a really nice type,” he said, citing its straight serifs and balance of thick and thin lines. “It’s significant to New Mexico because when the first type arrived by the Santa Fe Trail in 1834, it was Bodoni. It was the only type used for a decade or so and got well-worn.

“I’ve been trying to use Bodoni in the last couple of years. A couple of books have used it, but we never really had enough to do much with it. These letters are finite. It’s not like a word processor. Over time, they become damaged, worn out, lost, misplaced, and then you don’t have that letter you need.”

Invented by Giambattista Bodoni in the late 18th century, the type is nevertheless considered an exemplar of modern types. From a Web site that font addicts will love:

Bodoni had been hired by Duke Ferdinand of Parma, a noted patron of the arts, to establish a premiere royalty press. His concern was printing of the highest quality not for the masses, but for the aristocracy. The craftsmanship of Bodoni was superb and his attention to detail was legendary. The quality of his printing was unmatched and he came to be regarded as the finest printer of his day. …

Bodoni’s desire was a type which was suitable for contemporary times rather than the age of the scribe. Instead of the stroke of the pen, his inspiration was the mathematical precision and delicate hairline strokes characteristic of copperplate engraving, which was very popular at that time.


Bodoni A

For some lovely examples of Bodoni and an essay on how the font has evolved since Giambattista’s time, click here.

The box that Leech and Bourland collected also contained cases of Caslon type — another historic font so respected that printers since the time of Ben Franklin have said, “When in doubt, use Caslon.”

Caslon A

William Caslon hit his printing stride slightly before Bodoni did and in another country, England. In 1716, he opened shop in London as an engraver of gun locks and barrels, and as a bookbinder’s tool-cutter. After rubbing elbows with printers, he was inspired to open a type foundry and developed a style so legible that the leading printers of the day brought him their work.

Caslon was used on the original printing of the Declaration of Independence, and George Bernard Shaw insisted that only Caslon be used for all his books.

You can find examples of Caslon’s fonts here.

Besides collecting and displaying New Mexico’s historic printing equipment, the Palace Press is a working print shop, and Leech thinks he’ll likely dip into his new toy box for some upcoming poetry broadsides. And although it took only a day or two for the new cabinet to be engulfed in all the stuffage that comes with a print shop, he’s open to adding to the clutter with other acquisitions — should they exist.

“A lot of this stuff just gets melted down or thrown away,” he said. “It’s not uncommon for someone to walk in and say, `I just threw some of that away, made bullets out of it, fishing weights.’

“That’s why it’s important that a museum keeps this stuff — and knows how to use it. If you don’t, it is just heavy, dusty stuff.”



Let Us Now Praise Doris Fields

Doris Fields at the opening for "African American Legacy"The new exhibition on the museum’s second floor, New Mexico’s African American Legacy: Visible, Vital, Valuable, has been drawing visitors keen to learn more about how Black families planted their roots in Las Cruces and Albuquerque. At the exhibition’s opening last month, we were particularly honored by Dr. Doris A. Fields, who wrote a poem specifically for the exhibition’s stay at the New Mexico History Museum, through Oct. 9.

She graciously agreed to allow us to reprint it (below) that we might share it with an even larger audience. (Personally, my heart felt an extra thump when she read the line, “Selling goods/not being goods sold.”)

Doris is a performance artist and poet whose work has appeared in publications like the most recent issue of Malpais Review. She holds a doctorate in International Communication Competence,  is an activist and scholar of health care, and teaches a variety of courses at the University of New Mexico, including “Health Issues in Death and Dying” and “Stress Management.” She has conducted workshops for Black women, gifted students and women across cultural differences.

On top of all that, she’s simply one of the warmest people you’ll ever be lucky enough to meet. Her poem has now entered the archives of the Fray Angelico Chavez History Library, and we hope you’ll enjoy it here, as well.


Movers and Journeys in Freedom

Sacred                       -ness

Of        footprints

Impressions   in dust

Rising like phoenix                powder

Free to            drift                  to roam

Settle              where Ever

It pleases

That is the implication of freedom




I see you                     do you             see

You                  see me

Peer    through eyes

Of  dead         soldiers

Heads of wool

Come alive

Dressed         in foreign fare

Traditional skins

Left on mother continent’s shores


Left behind


Iridescence    you see

Threads    a cultural quilt                   into being

Being as how

The vital organs of existence


A shelter of light         -ness



Critical for survival     freedom

Build   churches                    towns



Links to Eatonville




Miners            mine    coal                gold

Silver              turquoise

Defying stereotype


Lawyers          archeologists             pastors

Soldiers          salesmen                   cowboys

In saddle

Ride                            the range


African silhouette in one

Brilliant           orange




Markets                      cannot             dictate

What   determination            mitigates


Retailers                      wholesalers

Selling goods                        not being goods sold

Unquenchable           thirst for knowledge

Drinking freedom like moonshine on a Saturday night


Soak up dried desert bones

Swallow life whole

Breathe          in


To break chains

Explore depths of death-defying souls


Turn earth                   water               seed

Into apples                 pears                          peas

Quench thirst              for        freedom


Resolve that   skills count

More than color

Ingenious        to wash alkali             from soil

Enrich dirt                   with brown sweat

Talk of promise

Teach the soil                        its own potential

Black soil                   black dirt

Fertile as Africa         herself

Cooks             porters            rail workers

Link     with Chinese             to join

West with East                      South to North


Find faith in one another

Hearers of G-d

Finding G-d                inside

Outside           the limiting      expectation


Visible                        Vital                            Valuable

These             are the sounds           of freedom


Doris Fields

05/14/ 2011