From 6 am until 5:30 pm—and often later—the New Mexico History Museum and Palace of the Governors fall into the capable hands of our security staff. Currently 14 people strong, the crew does everything from ensuring precious artifacts are safe to dealing with customer complaints, helping fix broken toilets, finding lost children, explaining portions of exhibits to visitors—and then some.
“A lot of things happen in a day that most people don’t see,” said Steve Baca, the museum’s security captain. “Most people don’t even realize how many things we have going on.”
As director of the Palace Press, Leech considers the type of paper he prints on to be as important—sometimes, more important—as the choice of fonts. While he often scouts around to purchase the perfect material, he also whips up his own versions—most recently, with yucca fibers as part of a project for Eric Blinman, director of the state’s Office of Archaeological Studies and an expert on the traditional uses of yucca by Native Americans.
“It’s a good paper-making fiber because it’s extremely strong,” Leech said, “and it’s plentiful. But it’s difficult to process. You always end up with a couple nasty stab wounds, and it’s known for its soapiness.”
The first time he tried it, Leech said, he ended up mimicking an “I Love Lucy” episode in his home studio. “Suds poured out of the beater,” he said.
Now he moves the beater outside and lets the suds fall where they may. Other fibers and additives he’s used include barley straw, hollyhocks, iris leaves, old Levi’s, flax, hospital linens, beer cartons and Bibles. (The last two were for a recent broadside featuring a poem, “Permission,” by Barbara Minton.) This February, when the Museum of Art features Shakespeare’s First Folio, Leech may recycle an edition of Hamlet into paper for yet another project.
“To me, it’s sort of the yin-yang of the art form,” he said. “The two make a more beautiful whole. I don’t consider a printing job until I figure out the paper. When you read, you’re really looking at the paper—the tactile quality, the sound quality sometimes—all that is there, embedded in it.”
Not all pressmen make their own papers, said Leech, who’s also accomplished at creating marbled papers.
“It’s more a passion than a necessity,” he said. “We’re so used to looking at a blank sheet of white paper and not really seeing it. To me, paper is full of all sorts of mysteries and paradoxes. You see it and you don’t see it. It’s precious and it’s expendable. It’s born out of water, and yet water can easily destroy it.”
After artist Audrey Hinsman and her husband retired to Santa Fe six years ago, she began looking for a volunteering opportunity. She enjoyed being a docent at the Museum of International Folk Art, but three years ago, her love of books drew her off Museum Hill and into the Fray Angélico Chávez History Library.
“I love history. I love books, and there was a need for somebody to sort things out,” she said.
The “need” was significant. More than five years ago, folklorist and aural historian Jack Loeffler donated a bounty of his taped interviews and music performances to the library, but the collection needed an online search tool to help people know what they might find. Working for two to three hours a week, Hinsman combined Loeffler’s spread sheet of each reel-to-reel tape’s contents with what he had long ago written on the box holding each one.
How big a task was that? The collection had 902 tapes that fill an entire bookcase inside the library.
In the 10th through 13th centuries, Spain flowered into a golden age, as Muslim, Jewish and Catholic peoples achieved new heights in science, philosophy and the arts. That triculturalism, though, endured repeated challenges, first by fundamentalist Islamic Almohads in the 12th century, then by Christian kingdoms in the late-14th century, when it finally deteriorated into dissent, segregation and riots.
By 1492, when King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella unified the nation under the Catholic crown, cultural chaos roared forth. A royal edict ordered all Jews to either leave the country or convert to Catholicism within four months—or else. (A similar edict befell Muslims in 1502.) The Spanish Inquisition (and later, the Portuguese and Mexican Inquisitions) stood ready to persecute any Christian who failed to abide. Violators endured prisons, torture and death.
What would you do? Repudiate the language, religion and customs of your people in order to stay in your home and with your family? Or walk away from all you owned, all you knew, and embark upon treacherous journeys across land and sea toward a life you could barely imagine?
Fractured Faiths: Spanish Judaism, The Inquisition, and New World Identities, opening May 22, 2016 (tentatively through December 31, 2016), stands on the brink of that chasm and leaps into a diaspora that dates to biblical times. For the first time, a major institution tells the comprehensive story of how Spain’s Jewry found a tenuous foothold in North America. Despite continued persecution and investigation, its people persisted—sometimes as upright Catholic conversos, sometimes as secret “crypto-Jews”—to finally make a mark as successful merchants, artists and philanthropists in New Mexico. Emblems of that struggle for cultural identity appear even today: A menorah carved into a tombstone in a Catholic cemetery; oral histories of tangled roots; Hispanic villages where genetic clusters speak to Jewish lineage.
Jacob Erickson long wondered about his grandfather’s service in World War II but, he said, “Understandably, he never wanted to talk about it—and he passed away a few years ago.” A new oral-history program started by Meredith Davidson, the museum’s curator of 19th– and 20th-century Southwest collections, and Department of Veterans Services Secretary Jack Fox fulfilled that interest for him.
Erickson and Ivana Vidal, part of New Mexico Highlands University’s Media Arts program, were picked as interns, partly funded by Fox’s agency. They tracked down people to interview and videotaped Davidson’s conversations with them. Over the summer, the trio traveled from Las Vegas, NM, to Santa Fe, Rio Rancho and Las Cruces, interviewing a total of 18 men and women, including draftees, enlistees, and home-front workers.
The Press at the Palace of the Governors will receive the Edgar L. Hewett Award by the New Mexico Association of Museums. The award is made to individuals or organizations whose actions exemplify leadership and service to the New Mexico museum community and for their achievements in the museum field. Past recipients include the New Mexico History Museum (2009), the Palace of the Governors Photo Archives (2011), and the Museum of New Mexico Foundation.
The Palace Press, as it’s informally known, was nominated by the general membership, with the final selection by the executive board. The group noted in particular how the Press has preserved the state’s printing traditions and invites visitors “to explore this fascinating facet of New Mexico history.”
In 1969, the museum acquired the contents of the Estancia News-Herald Print Shop and in 1972 gave birth to its own print shop. Facing the courtyard of the centuries-old Palace of the Governors, it welcomes thousands of visitors annually and serves as a vital center for the revival, stimulation, and pursuit of the book arts and frequently sponsors programs of interest to book-lovers. Award-winning, limited-edition books are published on historic presses, and a research library related to the book arts is available to the public during museum hours. It houses permanent exhibits that feature the press that printed the first-ever book of cowboy songs (1908) and a re-creation of the studio of renowned artist-printer Gustave Baumann.
Two people carry out all that work: Curator and Director Thomas Leech (at left in photo), and Printing Specialist James Bourland.
¡Orale! Take a ride into the creative reimaginings of American steel as captured in photographs, hubcaps, hood ornaments, car show banners and, yes, actual cars. Lowriders, Hoppers, and Hot Rods: Car Culture of Northern New Mexico, opening May 1 (through March 5, 2017) focuses on mobile works of art and their makers—home-grown Nuevomexicanos who customize, detail, paint and upholster these favorite symbols of Hispanic culture.
Photo Curator Daniel Kosharek has pulled together an extensive collection of images by Don Usner, Annie Sahlin, Jack Parsons, Sam Adams, Norman Mauskopf, Dottie Lopez, Gabriela Campos, Meridel Rubinstein and others. In addition, visitors will see a chromed and touchable engine, miniature-scale model-car collections, trophies, memorabilia and other ephemera. The museum lobby will host a rotating selection of cherry examples.
And the thrill ride doesn’t stop there.
On May 20, the New Mexico Museum of Art will unveil an exhibit curated by Katherine Ware showing photographs and art inspired by car culture. Also in May, the Museum of New Mexico Press will release a companion book featuring essays by Ware and Usner.
During World War II, Santa Fe was the site of one of the nation’s largest Justice Department internment camps. It primarily housed Japanese immigrants, among them the Rev. Tamasaku Watanabe. On Sunday, November 15, at 2 pm, Watanabe’s granddaughter, Dr. Gail Y. Okawa, speaks on a brain-twisting aspect of that heartbreaking period: Even as our government locked up Japanese residents over fears of their supposed disloyalty, their own children put on soldiers’ uniforms to defend the nation.
“Compounded Ironies: Japanese Internee Fathers, American Patriot Sons” is a free-with-admission lecture in the New Mexico History Museum auditorium. (Sundays are free to NM residents.)
Tensions between the United States and Japan were brewing well before the December 7, 1941, bombing of Pearl Harbor. Officials with the War and Justice Departments were working together to identify the leaders of Japanese American communities. As a minister, the Rev. Watanabe made one of their lists. Within hours of the Pearl Harbor attack, he was arrested and eventually exiled from Hawai`i. He and others ended up at the camp that today is the site of Santa Fe’s Casa Solana neighborhood. Between March 1942 and April 1946, 4,555 men of Japanese ancestry were held there. (The Army also operated an internment camp in Lordsburg.)
“Love conquers all. Love is eternal.”
That’s according to participants in the latest Community-in-Residence program held last month at the Santa Fe Opera and supported by the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project and the Academy for the Love of Learning’s Lifesongs program. The New Mexico History Museum began working with Gary Glazner and the Alzheimer’s project several years ago, inviting people with memory illnesses and their care partners into the museum to enjoy an hour of creative poetry, music and dance inspired by our exhibits.
Last year, we held a daylong conference on ways to use the arts to reach such people, which inspired other local arts organizations to collaborate on Community-in-Residence. The program offers occasional events at venues that have included the Museum of International Folk Art and Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.