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.

The “Threads of Memory” Sews Up Big Numbers

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.

Wanted: Your Opinion on “The Threads of Memory”

ElHiloXbtDid you take a spin through The Threads of Memory: Spain and the United States (El Hilo de la Memoria: España y los Estados Unidos)? If so, we could use your help.

With a little help from Survey Monkey, we’ve devised eight short questions that will help guide us in future exhibits and satisfy some requirements for grants and the like.

It’s fast. It’s easy. And it’s a way of doing your part for a museum we know you love. Click here to get started – and thank you from everyone who toiled away on the exhibit.

“The Threads of Memory”: A New Teaching Tool

LongViewI-VI_72_6x4With the able help of UNM professors (Rebecca Sanchez, Mercedes Valenzuela and Ron Taylor) , the History Museum is proud to announce the online addition of lesson plans to help teachers deepen students’ understanding of the exhibition The Threads of Memory: Spain and the United States. The exhibition, on loan from the General Archive of the Indies in Spain, is making its U.S. debut at the museum through Jan. 9. (It then travels to El Paso and New Orleans before heading back to Spain — making this a rare opportunity to see it.)

Why does it matter? The first known European chronicles describing the lands and native peoples of what is now the United States were written not by pilgrims but by Spanish explorers. Spain’s presence on the continent evolved over 309 years—from April 12, 1513, when Juan Ponce de León took possession of the Florida coast for the king of Spain, to 1822, when a newly independent Mexico lowered the Spanish flag in California. Created in Spain, The Threads of Memory explores a heritage that most Americans missed in their American History classes.

Many of today’s issues – immigration, land grants, cultural traditions, and complex interrelationships among cultures – can be traced to how our predecessors responded to Spain’s role in the American story. When history books too often told the American story from an east-to-west point of view, the role played by Spain faded into the background, if it was even mentioned at all.

4-EH_Washington_72_6x4Many of us were taught how important France’s aid was to achieving U.S.  independence, but far fewer know that Spain’s financial aid essentially underwrote the American Revolution.

We also know that President Thomas Jefferson purchased Louisiana from France, but we may not know that, just one month prior, Spain had ceded Louisiana to France.

The exhibition is organized in 10 sections, including the first accounts of geography; the development of missions, forts, roads and cities; land exchanges among Spain, France and the United States; the threat from Russian exploration and colonization; and the Revolutionary War. The exhibit includes details of Spain’s explorations and settlements in modern-day Florida, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, California and Oregon.

We encourage teachers and homeschoolers to take advantage of the opportunity to fill in the gaps.

The lesson plans are geared to a variety of age groups, encourage individual and group work and provide an early learning lesson in the importance of working with original documents.

The Threads of Memory: Spain and the United States (El Hilo de la Memoria: España y los Estados Unidos) is sponsored by the Fundación Rafael del Pino and, along with the Archivo General de Indias (General Archive of the Indies), and is co-organized with SEACEX (Sociedad Estatal para la Acción Cultural Exterior), in collaboration with Spain’s Ministries for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation and Culture. The exhibition and lecture series are presented in New Mexico with special support from BBVA Compass Bank, the city of Santa Fe, Wells Fargo Bank, Heritage Hotels, Santa Fe University of Art & Design, the Museum of New Mexico Foundation, the Palace Guard, and many individual donors.

Sons of the American Revolution Visit “The Threads of Memory”

The New Mexico History Museum today played host to a contingent of accurate-to-the-period-dressed representatives of the Sons of the American Revolution. The group arrived eager to see the new exhibit The Threads of Memory: Spain and the United States (El Hilo de la Memoria: España y los Estados Unidos), in particular for its final section’s depiction of Spain’s role in helping the revolutionaries win their war against Great Britain.

That they did so in period style enthralled — and sometimes perplexed — other museum visitors, many of whom did the first thing any modern American thinks of in such situation: Pull out the cell phone and snap a pic.

George C. Garcia, Charles Martinez y Vigil and Gene Tomlinson

George C. Garcia, Charles Martinez y Vigil and Gene Tomlinson

Why did they pick today for a visit? With the group’s national president, David Sympson, in town, the time seemed right to see firsthand some of the documents that form their heritage. So, after lunch at the Osteria restaurant, they strolled over to the museum, having stashed their 9-foot lances in a room at the eatery.

“(Deputy Director) John McCarthy told us beforehand, `Don’t bring any weapons,'” said SAR New Mexico President Gene Tomlinson.

He was joined by the Santa Fe Chapter president, Charles Martinez y Vigil, and George C. Garcia. With their brass-buttoned knickers and Zorro-style hats, they were authentic from their 1780 Santa Fe Presidio garb down to their personal DNA. Tomlinson claims an ancestor who fought in the American Revolution; Martinez y Vigil and Garcia claim ancestors who contributed to Spain’s bankrolling of war against the Redcoats.

“If we were to walk in the front doors of the Palace of the Governors,” Tomlinson said, “these uniforms probably haven’t been worn there since 1790.”

Curator Josef Diaz (left) with George C. Garcia

Curator Josef Diaz (left) with George C. Garcia

A primary goal of Threads of Memory is to deepen Americans’ knowledge of just how much muscle Spain exerted in the Americas in the centuries that are often taught from an East Coast perspective. From the earliest explorers in the 1500s, through the establishment of Santa Fe in 1610, the colonization of today’s New Mexico, Florida, Texas and California, and the multi-nation efforts in the American Revolution, Spain has made Americans far more Spanish than many believe they are.

That’s also a goal of the Sons of the American Revolution, which has been reaching out to descendants of all Spanish soldiers to research their lineage and apply for society membership. From the NM Patriot website:

When the American colonies waged a war for independence against England, King Carlos III of Spain sought opportunity to regain land Spain lost to England at the end of the Seven Years War in 1773. Spain agreed to join France as an ally and beginning in 1776, covertly shipped arms, munitions, cattle, uniforms, medicine, blankets, and money to the American colonies using France as the go between. Spain declared war on England in June 1779

In March of 1780, Carlos III decreed that to sustain the war against England, “his vassals in America” were to contribute a one-time donativo (donation) of one peso (approximately $30 by year 2002 standard) per Indian and other castes and two pesos per Spaniard and noble. Collectors (such as alcalde mayores or military commanders) went to towns and pueblos in the New World and collected one peso per Indian over 18 years old and other castes, and two pesos from each Spaniard. Donativos were collected from soldiers and citizens throughout Cuba and Spain’s hard-pressed North American colonies, including the provinces of California, New Mexico, and Texas.

–Robert H. Thonhoff, The Vital Contributions of Spain in the Winning of the American Revolution: An Essay on a Forgotten Chapter in the History of the American Revolution, 2000, (2), self published

The SAR recognizes a variety of ancestral involvement in the war as worthy of membership: service in the Spanish military, the militia, or as Indian auxiliaries; donating money to defray expenses of the war; Spanish cowboys (in Texas) who drove cattle to feed the American colonial troops; and mission priests who led public prayers on behalf of Spain’s support of the American Revolution.

Upon entering the exhibit, the SAR contingent proved themselves true students of history by becoming engrossed not only in the exhibition’s final section, but by creeping through its length, magnifying glasses in hand. We were delighted to welcome them — and just as delighted to give our unsuspecting other visitors an interesting dinner-table tale to share later.

The Threads of Memory Weaves its Magic

ExteriorSign5x7Opening this weekend, The Threads of Memory: Spain and the United States (El Hilo de la Memoria: Espana y los Estados Unidos) weaves the story of Spain’s first 300 years in the Americas. The History Museum marks the U.S. debut of 138 rare and precious documents, maps, illustrations and paintings — but it’s only here until Jan. 9, 2011, so get it on your calendar. (You’ll also enjoy the 12 weeks of lectures, concerts and Chautauqua performances accompanying it; every one of them is free.)

On Thursday, we took a small group of journalists through the still-under-construction exhibit for a sneak peek. And we figured you deserved to ride along.

WorkersGeoWashington5x7Here, the installation crew buzzes in the part of the gallery where we’ve hung Giuseppe Perovani’s 1796 portrait of George Washington. Many Americans are unaware of the critical role Spain played in helping to win the Revolutionary War.  Perovani lived for several years in the United States and, in 1801, with the prestige he had earned, went to Cuba on contract with Archbishop Espejo to help decorate the Cathedral of Havana. He also worked as a teacher there and, afterward, moved back to Mexico, where he became an academic of merit and second director of painting in the Academia de Bellas Artes de San Carlos.

This portrait was likely commissioned by Jose de Jaudenes y Nebot, Spain’s representative in Philadelphia. Jaudenes knew Washington through Thomas Jefferson and had also been consulted on the negotiation of borders.

FranwDeAnza5x7Dr. Frances Levine (left), director of the museum, points to and talks about one of her favorite pieces in the exhibit,a 1786 agreement, hand-written in the Palace of the Governors, between Gov. Juan Bautista de Anza and Comanche Captain General Ecueracapa. The agreement laid out how much help de Anza would receive from the Comanches in an action against the Apaches.

Dr. Levine says that when she first saw the Threads of Memory exhibit in Sevilla, Spain, this particular document not only brought her to tears but convinced her to lobby for its American debut in Santa Fe. The fact that it was written in the same building that she works in every day carried special meaning, along with a deeper knowledge of the conditions that both colonists and Native peoples lived with.

MediaInXbtSome of the media members who came to our preview was the EFE News Agency of Spain, which is preparing a story for distribution across that nation this weekend.

MayorBeingInterviewedAmong EF’s interviews was one with Santa Fe Mayor David Coss. The city of Santa Fe, celebrating the 400th anniversary of its founding by Spanish colonists, played a key role in bringing the exhibit to life here.

JosefFranLaBelle5x7Dr. Levine and Josef Diaz, the museum’s curator of Southwest and Mexican Art and History, examine an illustration of La Belle. The image is the main “brand” of the exhibit; see it above as part of the exhibit title.)

La Belle, a ship, was part of an attempt by France to displace the spreading power of Spain on the lower Mississippi and what is now the American Southwest. The expedition was led by René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, who left France with four ships to claim and colonize the area around the mouth of the Mississippi for France.  En route, one ship was lost to pirates, one ran aground, its cargo taken by local natives, and one returned to France. La Salle continued to sail La Belle but missed the Mississippi by some 400 miles, landing on the Gulf Coast, not far from what is now Corpus Christi. The ship was later lost in a storm with about 20 survivors, including La Salle. In 1995, less than 12 feet deep, the remains of the ship were discovered and recovered by the Texas Historical Commission.

At 2 pm on Dec. 19, Eric Ray, a maritime archaeologist with the Texas Historical Commission, will deliver a lecture about La Belle in the History Museum Auditorium.

Finally, meet part of the people responsible for bringing the exhibit here. From left, Falia Gonzalez, Spanish curator of the exhibit from the Archivo General de Indias; FaliaJosefMayorFran1_5x7Josef Diaz; Mayor Coss; and Dr. Levine.

Please join us for this weekend’s activities — Saturday’s private reception (tickets $100 at the Lensic) and Sunday’s grand opening. Each week through Jan. 9, we’ll have The Threads of Memory Lecture Series — all of it free with museum admission. (Remember: Children 16 and under are always free; Seniors free on Wednesdays; NM residents free on Sundays; and everyone free 5-8 pm Fridays.)  Bring your family and enjoy learning more about our rich Spanish roots.