Centennial Stamp Pays Homage to New Mexico Volcanoes

On Friday morning, January 6, the New Mexico History Museum will teem with stamp geeks (a term we use with sincere fondness and respect) as the US Postal Service holds its First-Day-of-Issue ceremony for the 44-cent “forever” Centennial stamp. Honoring New Mexico’s 100th year as a state, the stamp features Sanctuary, a painting by artist Doug West that shows off a prototypical New Mexico landscape. Or at least it’s prototypical if you’re a volcanologist, which, it turns out, Larry Crumpler is.

And not just any volcanologist. Crumpler is the research curator for volcanology and space science at one of our sister institutions, the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science in Albuquerque. He was also part of the NASA team that developed and oversaw the Mars Exploration Rover and, in return, had a feature on that planet named after him: Larry’s Lookout (take a virtual ride toward it here).

Despite those stellar creds, Crumpler insists that he had no part in helping the Postal Service choose two of what he considers “the more scenic volcanic necks” in New Mexico — or in the world.

Some of the news stories have said the painting features Cabezon, that flat-topped volcanic plug you see between Bernalillo and Cuba, NM. In fact, Cabezon is hidden behind them. The painting features Cerro de Santa Clara (the one on the left) and Cerro Guadalupe (the one on the right). “Both are the shallow interiors of relatively young volcanoes of the Mount Taylor volcanic field exposed by the back-wasting erosion of the Rio Puerco,” Crumpler said. “The Rio Puerco volcanic necks of New Mexico are among the best exposures of the interiors of small volcanoes in the world.

“I was kind of surprised to see it on the stamp and happy to see it because I’ve been trying to get a copy of that Doug West serigraph for a number of years now, because that’s one of my favorite areas of New Mexico. It’s a part of New Mexico that’s very distinctive. You won’t see it anywhere else on the whole stinking planet.”

Aerial view of Cerro de Santa Clara, by Larry Crumpler.

At one time, say, 2 million years ago, the cones were part of the Mount Taylor volcanic field, where numerous small volcanoes burbled and burped around the towering mountain. The Rio Puerco eventually cut through the field and helped erode all the soft material surrounding the lava ponds inside the volcanoes, leaving the little bumps we see today.

“If you dig underneath it, none of that rock would be down there, except for a little crack where the lava came through,” Crumpler said. “It’s like a miniature mesa.”

Cerro de Guadalupe at sunset, by Larry Crumpler.

In his chapter for Telling New Mexico: A New History, the book produced for the opening of the New Mexico History Museum in 2009, Crumpler calls New Mexico “a giant museum of volcanoes.”

“Many Western states certainly have volcanoes, and some really spectacular and grandiose ones, too,” he writes. “But … the volcanoes here are refined, world-class examples of many different volcanic landforms, many of which are either not as well-preserved or not as abundant elsewhere.”

Today, if you walk up to the edge of Cerro de Santa Clara, you’ll see the actual crack that the lava came out of, surrounded by the ash and tuff it left behind. You’ve already seen plenty of volcanic tuff if you’ve been to Bandelier National Monument — though it’s a different remnant of a far more violent volcano. When the Valles Caldera exploded about 1 million years ago, it emitted a blanket of ash, much like a certain Icelandic volcano far more recently did. By the time it settled into a geologic formation, the Valles Caldera ash cloud had mixed with enough other substances to create a surface that after a few more millennia of erosion was deemed perfect living quarters for ancestors of today’s northern New Mexico pueblos.

Should the postage stamp whet your appetite for learning more about New Mexico volcanoes, Crumpler has three getting-started suggestions:

Aerial view of Capulin Volcano, by Larry Crumpler.

1. Drive to the top of Capulin Peak, an old volcano between Clayton and Raton.

2. See lava flows that he considers better than Hawaii’s at El Malpais National Monument.

3. Visit Bandelier.

And if you’re hoping to see a volcano come to life while you’re there, prepare to wait.

“There are no active volcanoes in New Mexico right now, but the conditions exist to make a new one,” Crumpler writes in Telling New Mexico. “Molten rock, or magma, is even now spreading out like pancake batter between deep rock layers about 12 miles below the surface in an area between Belen and Socorro. … The Socorro magma body may erupt someday — or maybe not. It is too early to tell.”

At 7 pm on Thursday, March 29, Crumpler will speak on “Icons of New Mexico: Volcanoes and the New Mexico Centennial Stamp” at the Natural History Museum, 1800 Mountain Road N.W. in Albuquerque. Tickets cost $6 ($5 members, $4 students). Ensure you get a seat by logging onto www.NMnaturalhistory.org or purchase tickets at the door before the talk.

We Pledge Allegiance to Our 47-Star Flag

It took some very careful maneuvering to get it into place, but in honor of next year’s New Mexico Centennial, our 47-star flag was moved into its display case today. The fragile flag was secured to 5-by-9-foot board (by rough estimate) that had to be transported down two flights and through the lower-level Collections Storage Area to join our existing statehood exhibit.

(That’s Palace Press Printer Jame Bourland on the near end and Exhibition Preparator Doug Jewell on the other slooooowly moving it through, at left.)

We readily admit that the flag is unofficial, maybe even a tad illegal. By federal law, new stars could only be added to the U.S. flag once a year: on July 4th. But 39 days after New Mexico’s Jan. 6, 1912 admission, Arizona sneaked in, robbing us of the chance to have a flag with only our additional star. That didn’t stop manufacturers from churning out a few, including the three in our possession.

They’ll be rotated through display, a year at a time, to spare them from too much exposure to light. The first one up is the monster-sized version, 65×115¾”. It came to us via a donor in  Drexel City, Penn., who said her father had owned it. Getting it into condition to be displayed came courtesy of conservation work done by Rebecca Tinkham Hewett and Cindy Lee Scott.

Here’s a photographic journey of what went down (or is that up?) today:

The “before” wall, above. (This is at the bottom of the staircase from the mezzanine; the wall used to have a huge Depression-era photograph on it.)

Cindy checks the existing light levels to determine how much adjustment will be needed in their brightness to protect the flag.

Doug attaches a rail to what will be the top of the exhibition case.

At one point, he had to retreat and let Cindy fix part of the edging with that most trusty of any conservator’s tool: A Swiss Army knife.

After wrestling it out of the room, along the way managing to avoid any number of perilous obstructions, they laid it flat then lifted one end to a vertical position. (“It’s like Iwo Jima,” James said to appreciative laughter.) Then — one, two, three — they pushed it into its exhibition case:

We still have a few Centennial tricks up our sleeve, including a front-window display that will let you pose in a replica 1912 parade float, and a yearlong schedule of statehood-related Brainpower & Brownbags lectures. On Jan. 6, the United States Postal Service will join us for a First-Day-of-Issue event for the official Centennial stamp, designed by New Mexico artist Doug West. It’s all part of what we call 47 Stars, an installation supporting our main exhibition’s section about statehood.

In the meantime, we’re justifiably proud of all the staffers who worked hard to bring this once-depressing (or at least Depressioning) wall in our museum to life.

Come by and check it out, along with all the other pieces of the statehood story we have to tell.


The Officially Unofficial Kind of Illegal 47-Star Flag Comes in for Repairs

On April 4, 1818, Congress enacted the Flag Act of 1818, setting forth a rule that no new stars could be added to the flag until the Fourth of July immediately following a state’s admission to the Union. Thanks to that once-a-year-and-only-once-a-year mandate, New Mexicans hoping to share their pride at becoming the 47th state were essentially forced into committing their first illegal acts as U.S. citizens.

And flag manufacturers, only too happy to supply the demand, made their day by stitching together 47-star flags in willful disobeyance of that 1818 law.

In celebration of New Mexico’s centennial, the History Museum will commemorate that dip into the dark side with 47 Stars, an exhibit of the officially unofficial 47-star flag. (Actually three of them, shown in rotation to reduce the strains of being on display.) From January 6 through November 25, 2012, the flags will join a collection of long-term exhibits about statehood and a tongue-in-cheek front-window installation marking our entrance into the Union.

Here’s the news nugget: This week, Rebecca Tinkham Hewett, part of the crackerjack conservation team for the Museums of New Mexico, began prepping the smallest of the three flags for display.

She started by pinning it to an acid-free board covered with fabric and will next stitch it to the fabric around the flag’s edge and in a network pattern within it to ensure it doesn’t sag when the board is hoisted to a wall in the museum’s Telling New Mexico: Stories from Then and Now exhibition. The statehood section within that exhibit already includes:

·        Audio re-enactments of arguments for and against New Mexico’s entry into the Union, produced by aural historian Jack Loeffler.

·        A photo of the 1910 Constitutional Convention.

·        President Taft’s proclamation of statehood and the pen he used to sign it.

·        The top hat worn by William McDonald to his inauguration as New Mexico’s first governor.

What makes the flags officially unofficial? Just 39 days after New Mexico became a state on January 6, 1912, Arizona stepped up to the statehood plate on February 14, 1912. By virtue of coming in second, Arizona would receive its just due on July 4, when the official flag of the United States was to switch from 46 to 48 stars. In the meantime, patriotic New Mexicans wanted a flag of their own , and eager U.S. flag manufacturers came up with the unofficial 47-star flag.

How the three flags ended up in the museum’s hands involves a whole lot of out-of-state miles. The 34½-by-72¼” flag Tinkham Hewett is working on was delivered to the museum in 2001 by a Mrs. James Hetzler, office manager of a church in St. Louis. While cleaning out a closet, she found the flag and figured it was left by a since-disbanded Boy Scout troop. The medium-sized, 43½-by-93½” flag was donated by a Fredrich Liberet in 1988, who said it had been passed down by his great-great-grandfather. And the largest, 65-by-115¾” flag arrived in 2000 from a woman who said it had belonged to her father in Drexel City, Penn.

Made of a plain-weave wool, the small flag is missing a few stars on the side visitors won’t see. On the side they will, a few of the stars show slight stains. Tinkham Hewett isn’t certain what made the stains, but said she won’t take pains to remove them.

“It’s earned these stains,” she said. “It’s part of the evidence to a life an object has had. To remove them takes away that evidence, part of its history.”

Come Jan. 6, Tinkham Hewett’s careful work will come to fruition, helping the museum bring the centennial to life.

“Conservation concerns have kept us from bringing our 47-star flags out of collections for public view,” said Dr. Frances Levine, director of the History Museum. “But the Centennial was too good of an opportunity to pass up. By letting visitors see these artifacts in specially designed display cases, we hope they’ll become engaged in the amazing story of New Mexico’s struggle for statehood.”