Las Posadas and Christmas at the Palace, a virtual journey

The weekend of December 13, 2013, saw the 29th annual version of our two most popular events, Christmas at the Palace, on Friday evening, and Las Posadas, on Sunday. More than 1,500 people turned out for each event, some eager for some quality time with Santa, som72-BoyWithSantae looking to help recreate Mary and Joseph’s search for an inn. The Palace Press let folks work one of the antique presses. Local groups provided live music, hot cider and cookies were abundant, and we even pulled out some kids’ crafts and a few pinatas.

Couldn’t come? Take a virtual visit here… Continue reading

Yippie-Yi-Oy-Vey: Nice Jewish Cowboys and Cowgirls

4-72-Cowboys_JewishCowboys_007890Members of pioneering Jewish families, Bernard Seligman, Zadoc Staab and Lehman Spiegelberg became freighters on the Santa Fe Trail. Married to a Jewish merchant in Deming, Ella Klauber Wormser took what may be some of the earliest photographs documenting the transition from cattle drives to rail transport in the early 1890s.

In the second half of the 19th century, Jewish families began playing prominent roles in cattle ranching and sheep raising – roles that continue into 21st-century New Mexico. At 2 pm on Sunday, Oct. 27, the New Mexico History Museum joins with the New Mexico Jewish Historical Society and Temple Beth Shalom to present “Nice Jewish Cowboys and Cowgirls” in the History Museum auditorium. The event is free with admission; Sundays are free to NM residents.

Award-winning news: Before the event begins, Bethany Braley, executive director of National Day of the Cowboy, will present the museum with a 2013 Cowboy Keepers Award in recognition of its work documenting the life of cowboys in its main exhibit, Telling New Mexico: Stories from Then and Now,and its latest exhibit, Cowboys Real and Imagined. (For more on the award, log onto

For “Nice Jewish Cowboys and Cowgirls,” Noel Pugach, professor emeritus of history at the University of New Mexico, will lead a panel discussion featuring members of the Gottlieb and Wertheim families, who will share their families’ stories and explain what “the cowboy way” means to them. Meredith Davidson, curator of 19th- and 20th-century Southwest collections, will present a selection of Wormser’s images also on view in Cowboys Real and Imagined.

The event is part of a layered programming schedule for the exhibit that explores the diverse cultural backgrounds and heritage of New Mexico’s cowboys and ranching traditions.

Through March 16, 2014, in the museum’s Herzstein Gallery, Cowboys Real and Imagined explores New Mexico’s cowboy legacy from its origin in the Spanish vaquero tradition through itinerant hired hands, outlaws, rodeo stars, cowboy singers, Tom Mix movies and more. Guest curated by B. Byron Price, director of the Charles M. Russell Center for the Study of Art of the American West at the University of Oklahoma, the exhibit grounds cowboy history in New Mexico through rare photographs, cowboy gear, movies and original works of art. It includes a bounty of artifacts including boots and spurs, ropes, movie posters, and the chuck wagon once used by cowboys on New Mexico’s legendary Bell Ranch.

Photo: Freighters on the Santa Fe Trail, Bernard Seligman, Zadoc Staab, Lehman Spiegelberg and Kiowa Indian scouts. Palace of the Governors Photo Archives 007890.

A Bittersweet Farewell to an Exhibit that Touched Our Souls

On Monday, Dec. 31, 2012, museum staffers will begin tearing down Illuminating the Word: The Saint John’s Bible and Contemplative Landscape. Housed together in the museum’s second-floor Herzstein Gallery, the exhibits speak not only of art, of the history of the printed word, and of the role that spirituality plays in our state, but they also speak to a place uniquely special within each of us.

A hallmark of the exhibit has been a golden-hued meditation space nestled within its center. As we headed into the Christmas holiday, we decided to hold a small ceremony in that space to honor the exhibit with our thoughts about what it meant to us and how we saw it change others.

Tom Leech, who curated The Saint John’s Bible portion in concert with Saint John’s University and Abbey in Collegeville, Minn., kicked it off.

“We pulled off something great, something above and beyond what we were expecting,” he said. “Fran (Levine, the museum’s director) keeps talking about teamwork, but this proves that it really happens. At times it felt like pulling teeth, but we sailed through a lot of heavy stuff.”

Here’s the thing: Several years ago, Tom fell in love with the Saint John’s project — the first calligraphed and illuminated Bible commissioned by Benedictine monks in something like 500 years. Donald Jackson (at left), Queen Elizabeth’s calligrapher, conceived the project while on an artists’ retreat at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico, then oversaw it from his scriptorium in Wales. The Ghost Ranch piece that kicked off years of fund-raising, hand-writing, and the final “Amen” last year, was displayed for the first time in our museum’s version of the exhibit, which has appeared in other cities.

Pairing our 44 pages with photographs of sacred places — from Tony O’Brien’s work at Christ in the Desert Monastery, historical images from the Palace of the Governors Photo Archives, and interpretations by contemporary shooters — initially sounded like an odd shoe-horning. But in meeting upon meeting, we brought our ideas out, sanded here, excised there, and together built an exhibit so eloquent that Saint John’s Abbey extended its run in Santa Fe and is borrowing elements of it for future exhibits in other cities.

“I’ve had so many people say, `Whose idea was this to bring these exhibits together?'” Fran said. “And I say, `Our team.’ It was an iterative process. It was building this — this meditation room (I really hate to see this go). It comes from that respect we have for each other as museum people. I suppose we could get to the place where we say, `No, the walls have to be white and you can never put a nail in the floor,’ but that’s not what we do.”

“It’s a community and it’s how it is molded by us together,” said Caroline Lajoie, the exhibition designer. “We catch ideas from one time or another, and we all came to a place where it makes sense. My daughter, who was in my belly when I was designing exhibits years ago, she is a fanatic of this. It’s her completely favorite exhibit. She cares very little for the work I’ve done, but she goes straight to the pages whenever she’s here.”

Even the meditation space was an idea in need of evolution. Originally, we dreamed of building a labyrinth in the space and inviting visitors to walk it slowly. As the design for it became complicated with questions that included how more than one person could walk it at a time without bumping shoulders, we decided to create a simple spiral — and even researched some lovely information about the way spirals appear in all of nature. Finally, we stripped it down to bare essentials: curved walls, four benches, and phases of the moon on high.

Surrounding the meditation space are the cases holding the Bible pages and surrounding them are the photographs. Outside the exhibition, in the museum’s Gathering Space, we grouped couches around a television showing documentaries about The Saint John’s Bible and Christ in the Desert Monastery. On occasional weekends, local calligraphers demonstrated their work in the space. A robust programming schedule included lectures by artists and photographers and several performances by Schola Cantorum and the monks of Christ in the Desert Monastery.

Larry Luck, one of our volunteer guides, became an expert on the project and has thus far conducted more than 60 tours of the exhibit. (He still has two to go.)

“I saw this exhibition in Phoenix several years ago,” he said. “It wasn’t as attractively presented and was kind of crowded. Here, when you’re looking at a page, your eyes go down, but the photographs make your eyes go up. What was interesting was the number of people who were repeat visitors and who would bring friends and then their friends would bring friends. I was so pleased when it was extended because that meant I could still use all the knowledge I’d gained.”

Those repeat customers were apparent to Mary Anne Redding, the museum’s former photo archivist who curated Contemplative Landscape. Now the director of the photography department at the Santa Fe University of Art and Design, she’s overheard students outside of her program talk about visiting the exhibit every week mainly to take advantage of the meditation space. At the space’s core is a slowly burbling fountain rising out of a glorious piece of granite that we weren’t quite sure what to do with after Dec. 31.

“I’m going to buy the fountain,” she said. “I have the place for it in my house, and it will keep the exhibit with me at home.”

Tony attended our gathering and was visibly moved at how visibly moved we were. His photographs, which included this favorite image of a monk at prayer, are included in his book, Light in the Desert: Photographs from the Monastery of Christ in the Desert (Museum of New Mexico Press).

“As one of the artists involved, I want to thank you all,” he said. “I feel honored to be part of this exhibition. You’ve created a space that respected our work beyond words, and you’ve created a safe space. Every time I walk in here, things change. It all calms down. It’s inclusive of our community, our religions.  When you’re in here, you’re allowed to be alone but you’re also part of a larger community. That is exceptional.”

One of the reasons we wanted to bring people together for this little gratitude ceremony was because of the wound we suffered as a nation last week from the shootings in Newtown, Conn. As we prepared to end the gathering and open the exhibition space to our visitors, we mutually and quietly agreed to a moment of silent prayer and reflection. It lasted longer than such moments usually do. We are, after all, so bruised and confused. But we were also, as participants in the exhibit, reluctant to say that this is it, this is the end, now we are leaving.

You have one more week. Please take advantage of these exhibits. Stand in awe, scrutinize the details, listen to the silence. They are our gifts to you.



Picture This: Photo Archives Intern Lauren Gray

Ask most of us why we work here and “I love history” is sure to be one of the top three reasons. That goes double for Lauren Gray, an intern in the Palace of the Governors Photo Archives, former intern in the Fray Angélico Chávez History Library, and recent graduate of the University of New Mexico’s master’s program in U.S. history (with an emphasis in Colonial History and a secondary in Medieval and Early Modern Europe).

Since January, Gray has been working as part of a three-year grant to digitize and preserve the photo collections. She has fastidiously and meticulously scanned and archived thousands of photographs, bringing an acute attention to detail, careful handling of fragile photographs and the ability to organize large amounts of data to the job. Her efforts play a very important role in bringing the Photo Archives into the digital age and allowing the public to view photos wherever they happen to be on planet Earth.

Her biggest challenge? Learning how to use new software and restoring old photographs that have been badly damaged by time.  “It’s extremely frustrating to see history deteriorating right in front of you,” she said while scanning a pinhole photograph. “But it’s also really rewarding to be able to preserve these artifacts and even restore them.”

Gray’s appreciation for the museum extends beyond the northeast corner of our campus. Her favorite exhibit was Fashioning New Mexico, the inaugural changing exhibition in the Herzstein Gallery when the museum opened in 2009. “I love tactile things and anything that brings history alive in an interactive and intriguing way.” (See the interactive web version of the exhibit here.)

Her favorite event is the Santa Fe Mountain Man Trade Fair because “mountain men are unique to American history, and it’s fascinating to see people keeping the tradition alive.”

Just how deep is her love for the History Museum? In September, Gray and her fiancée, Christian, were married in the Palace Courtyard. The couple shares a love of history and wanted to make a lifelong commitment there, Gray said, because of its long and diverse history and its beauty – a perfect fit for a happy marriage.

Theatrical Secrets Spill from a Long-Closed Trunk

Almost everyone’s had a daydream about finding an old trunk in the attic, brushing off decades of dust, and opening it up to unknown treasures within. Minda Stockdale and Pennie McBride have gotten to indulge of bit of that fantasy with their work on an early 20th-century steamer trunk in the collections vault.

Originally acquired by the Museum of International Folk Art in 1964 from the estate of Felipe Perea, it was recently accepted into the History Museum’s collections. “It had been accessioned, but the items weren’t catalogued,” McBride said.

“It was kind of a mystery project,” Stockdale said.

The trunk itself is a beauty, with a roller top and adorned with mother-of-pearl and metal accents. But opening it and dealing with its many contents was a job McBride wasn’t sure she had time for. Then along came Stockdale.

Stockdale (that’s her at left, holding the costume for the Boy Angel), a 2010 art-history graduate of Colorado College, had worked in a Park City art gallery, but missed the history part of her degree. The museum brought her on as an intern, one who wanted a project she could experience from start to finish.

“The trunk was sort of sitting off to the side under a piece of plastic,” Stockdale said. “Pennie said, `This’d be a perfect project.’”

“It gives her experience cataloguing, inventorying, photographing, and rehousing, and she’s been doing a lot of research,” McBride said.

As for herself, she said, “I was totally excited about seeing the devil’s costume and the horns.”

The devil? Oh, that was just the start.

Since early July, Stockdale (who, yes, is the granddaughter of onetime vice-presidential candidate Admiral James Stockdale) has been coming to the museum three to five days a week to work with the trunk’s contents.

Perea, the former owner, was an actor, and the costumes appear to have been used in a local production of Las Pastorelas (Shepherds’ Tales), a traditional Mexican play typically performed around the Christmas holiday. A 1915 photograph inside the trunk (see it at below) shows the actors dressed up, with Perea as the devil, Felipe Boen as the boy angel, and Frank Montoya as the hermit. A note written on the photo didn’t say who played the reclining shepherd.

This was no ordinary devil’s costume. It’s festooned, folk art-style, with vintage Monopoly game pieces, silver medallions, an 1894 dog-tax tag and, for reasons Stockdale has yet to decipher, President Taft campaign buttons. The accompanying hat has goat horns, and the pants have metal bells sown down the sides of the legs.

Props used by the actors included a comically large rosary and silver sheriff’s star, and a knife that turned out to be a real bayonet made for a 1903 Springfield rifle.

“I’ve been e-mailing with Dr. Enrique Lamadrid at UNM because he’s been researching Las Pastorelas,” Stockdale said. While he’s been able to provide a lot of helpful information, she said, even he’s stumped by the connection to Taft, the president who signed New Mexico’s statehood bill in 1912.

Also in the trunk were items for a ragtag circus, including a hand-painted banner and velvet shorts possibly worn by the strong-man actor. “I don’t know much about those items yet,” Stockdale said, but added that the task of finding out keeps her going.

“I just get excited to come in every day and learn,” she said.


Can’t Beat This: Free Admission and a Free Centennial Symposium

In honor of New Mexico’s 100th birthday, the New Mexico History Museum invites you and your family to enjoy free admission all day Thursday, May 3, when you can also attend all or parts of a daylong Centennial symposium. The symposium, co-hosted by the Historical Society of New Mexico begins at 10:30 am in the auditorium and concludes at 4 pm. The Historical Society picks up the reins Friday and Saturday with its 2012 Centennial Conference at the Santa Fe Convention Center. (Click on the hotlink for information on admission, as well as the conference program.)

The History Museum’s symposium schedule:

10:30 am: Welcome and introductions by Dr. Frances Levine, director of the New Mexico History Museum; and Dr. Richard Melzer, professor of history at the UNM-Valencia campus.

10:45 am: Keynote address, “New Mexico Statehood, an Earlier Pereption,” by Dr. Robert Larson, professor emeritus of history at the University of Northern Colorado and author of the classic book New Mexico’s Quest for Statehood, 1846-1912.

11:30 am:“The Rough Road to Statehood,” by Dr. David Van Holtby, research scholar at the Center for Regional Studies, UNM, and retired associate director and editor-in-chief of UNM Press. He is the author of the forthcoming book, Forth-seventh Star: New MExico’s Struggle for Statehood, 1894-1912.

12:15 pm: Break (lunch on your own).

1:30 pm: “The Quest for Law and Order and New Mexico’s Struggle for Statehood,” by Robert Torrez, independent scholar and former New Mexico state historian. He is the author of more than 100 articles and books on New Mexico history, including the award-winning Rio Arriba, A Nexico County.

2:15 pm: “New Mexico Icons,” by Henrietta Martinez Christmas, noted New Mexico historian and genealogist who has written more than 100 articles and books on New Mexico history, focusing on the history of New Mexico families.

3 pm: Break.

3:30 pm: Open discussion with Dr. Melzer and other presenters.

The event is supported by a grant from the New Mexico Humanities Council. Free admission has been generously donated by the History Museum and the Museum of New Mexico Board of Regents.

Image above: A 1912 parade float in Santa Fe. Palace of the Governors Photo Archives 118354.

The One Thing President Taft Got Right: New Mexico Statehood

Noel Pugach, a professor emeritus of history at the University of New Mexico, delivered this week’s Centennial Brainpower & Brownbags Lecture in which he explored the story of the man who managed to give New Mexico what it had sought for more than 60 years: statehood. But beyond making New Mexico (and Arizona) a state, President William Howard Taft left a legacy that can best be represented by a shrug of the shoulders.

“Taft had a distinguished career before and after his presidency, yet most historians rate him as an average president–even mediocre,” Pugach said.

(That’s Taft at left, joined by dignitaries as he signs New Mexico into statehood in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 1912. Photo by Harris and Ewing. Palace of the Governors Photo Archives 89760.)

Theodore Roosevelt preceded Taft and helped him win election in 1908; Woodrow Wilson succeeded him four years later. “He was unfortunately sandwiched between two dynamic men who left their marks on history,” Pugach said. “That’s hard to beat, and here you come in the middle. Taft suffers by comparison.”

He also suffers by having been a poor administrator, owning a political tin ear and displaying a knack for choosing the conservative sides of issues in a country that was then moving left. Not to mention that he ate compulsively to cope with whatever inner demons drove him, ending up at something like 340 pounds while in the White House where, yes, he got stuck in a bath tub. More than once. Laugh if you must, but do take a moment to consider what mental and physical agony he must have suffered. (That said, he was an avid golfer and a darned good dancer.)

When Taft took office, some conservative Republicans remained stuck on the idea that a New Mexico-Arizona combo state was the only way to go, despite Teddy’s best efforts to dampen their zeal. Taft did some of his own cajoling and negotiating to quell that plan, then had to engage in some last-minute horse-trading that weakened his ideas for regulating the railways in return for granting New Mexico statehood.

(At left: Noel Pugach with History Museum Director Frances Levine.)

The Cincinnati native had graduated from Yale where he not only scored good grades but had enough social acumen to win an invitation into the secret Skull & Bones Society. He earned a law degree and embarked on a political career of appointed positions–an important distinction, Pugach said, given Taft’s later inability to succeed at the mano a mano of electoral politics. After he served admirably as chief civil administrator in the Philippines, Roosevelt made him his Secretary of War (despite a lack of military experience) and, though he dreamed of being a Supreme Court justice, Teddy and Taft’s wife, Helen, pressured him to run for the presidency against Democrat William Jennings Bryan. He won handily and eventually amassed a record as a better trust-buster than Roosevelt (though Teddy would get the glory).

He didn’t like Washington and spent so much time traveling that he got a reputation of being out of touch.

“He was a lousy politician,” Pugach said. “He had terrible political instincts. He spoke too candidly. He was inept at horse trading. The press called him `The Blunderer.'”

On the upside: “He was a man who was very bright. He had good intentions. He cared for his country. But by and large, he was unsuccessful in his presidency. This is the man who finally brought us statehood.”

By 1912, when Republicans nominated Taft for a second term, Roosevelt had lost so much faith in him that he formed the “Bull Moose” Progressive Party, thereby splitting the GOP vote and handing victory to Wilson. Taft went happily back to Yale, where he served as a law professor until President Harding gave him his dream job, Chief Justice of the United States.

Of his performance in that job, Pugach said, Taft’s record was … “average.”

Frederick Douglass Learns to Write – A Palace Press Commemoration

Imagine a world where Frederick Douglass had not learned to write.

Would the Emancipation Proclamation have been issued in 1863 or might it have withered and waited without the stirring speeches Douglass wrote, published and delivered, advocating against the slavery into which he was born?

Historians and what-if theorists can argue that for days, but the rest of us can be satisfied in knowing that, thanks to Douglass’ writing skills, we have a stirring, first-person account of what life was like in an America that regarded black people as property.  

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass was first published in 1845, seven years after its author escaped from slavery. It remains a classic autobiography, unflinchingly recounting the terrors that Douglass experienced as a slave, the brutalities of his owners, and his narrow escape to the North. (An escape that was endangered by the book’s publication; once his former owner knew where to find him, he went to court – unsuccessfully – to get his “property” back.)

Just in time for Black History Month comes a new broadside from the Palace Press at the New Mexico History Museum. And though we’re mentioning its tie to that month, the excerpt featured from Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass serves us in a timeless way, reminding us of how difficult it can be for anyone to learn how to fit words together and how crucial it is to master that learning curve in order to make compelling points. In this case, points that changed the course of history.

The excerpt reads:

… The idea as to how I might learn to write was suggested to me by being in Durgin and Bailey’s ship-yard, and frequently seeing the ship carpenters, after hewing, and getting a piece of timber ready for use, write on the timber the name of that part of the ship for which it was intended. When a piece of timber was intended for the larboard side, it would be marked thus–“L.” When a piece was for the starboard side, it would be marked thus–“S.” A piece for the larboard side forward, would be marked thus–“L. F.” When a piece was for starboard side forward, it would be marked thus–“S. F.” For larboard aft, it would be marked thus–“L. A.” For starboard aft, it would be marked thus–“S. A.” I soon learned the names of these letters, and for what they were intended when placed upon a piece of timber in the ship-yard. I immediately commenced copying them, and in a short time was able to make the four letters named. After that, when I met with any boy who I knew could write, I would tell him I could write as well as he. The next word would be, “I don’t believe you. Let me see you try it.” I would then make the letters which I had been so fortunate as to learn, and ask him to beat that. In this way I got a good many lessons in writing, which it is quite possible I should never have gotten in any other way. During this time, my copy-book was the board fence, brick wall, and pavement; my pen and ink was a lump of chalk. With these, I learned mainly how to write. …

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass is on my list of the most important books,” said Tom Leech, director of the Palace Press. “I just think for us to understand American history and the American psyche, we need to read that book.”

In 1988, Leech first printed the broadside on his own press in Colorado, where he was then living. He gave his 12-year-old son a linoleum block and asked him to write letters in reverse to be carved for the border. (By the way, that 12-year-old, Benjamin Leech, is now an advocate for historic preservation in Philadelphia.)

Copies of the 12½” x 19” broadside (printed on heavy, recycled, acid-free paper) can be purchased for $25. Come by the Palace Press, open 10 am to 5 pm, Tuesday through Sunday, or call Leech at 505-476-5096.

That’s not the only memory of Frederick Douglass available at the Palace Press.

In 2010, the Palace Press exhibited in the museum’s front window a lithographic press (one with an extraordinarily fabled background story), along with a printing stone that held a portrait of Douglass, loaned to us by Landfall Press, Santa Fe’s fine art lithographers. Their printers pulled 10 copies from the stone, and now just a few of those prints are still available and can be purchased for $100.

The prints provide an image of Douglass that’s fitting to gaze upon while considering these other words, ones that haunt the history of our “land of the free,” created by a writer who began with a piece of pavement and a lump of chalk:

… I often found myself regretting my own existence, and wishing myself dead; and but for the hope of being free, I have no doubt but that I should have killed myself, or done something for which I should have been killed. While in this state of mind, I was eager to hear any one speak of slavery. I was a ready listener. Every little while, I could hear something about the abolitionists. It was some time before I found what the word meant. …


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.

History in the Faking

Here’s a tale of how the development of the upcoming Home Lands: How Women Made the West exhibit is mimicking history–in particular, an archival image taken by Russell Lee that’s become the cornerstone of our advertising for the exhibit.

First up, the historical image:

Spanish American Woman plastering, Chamisal, New Mexico, photograph by Russell Lee, 1940. Courtesy Library of Congress

Next, the modern-day image:

Plasterer Kathy Brennan checks the finish on her mud wall in the exhibit space for “Home Lands”


See the connection?

Exhibition designer Caroline Lajoie wanted visitors to Home Lands (opening June 19, btw) to be greeted by something elemental to the Rio Arriba section of the exhibit. At that heart is the role earth played in how women prevailed over often-daunting conditions. Whether they were using it to form cooking vessels and, eventually, fine-art pottery, or mudding the walls of their homes and churches, or wheeling, dealing and preserving the real estate of northern New Mexico, the dirt beneath of our feet has been a constant thread in the story of New Mexico women.

And now that story is on the wall, too, thanks to plasterer Kathy Brennan.

Brennan used American Clay Earth Plaster to mud the exhibit’s title wall in the style of how women have plastered the walls of adobe buildings for centuries. “It’s a type of veneer plaster,” she said, “that you can transfer to sheetrock.”

Although the precise recipe’s a secret, it includes clay, marble dust and natural pigments “straight out of the earth,” Brennan said.

She also added bits of straw and twigs for that old New Mexico look and used the Russell Lee image as an inspiration, though she didn’t don the overalls and straw hat of the photo’s plasterer.

“When Caroline called me, I thought it was really exciting–how to figure out how to come up with the color she was looking for and so on. I liked it, but it was a bit nerve-wracking at the same time. Still, I was really psyched. I love the photograph.”

This is her first experience mudding in a museum. Mostly, she works on home interiors, where people often ask her to include their handprints, their dogs’ pawprints, or their grandchildren’s footprints.

Home Lands focuses on the lives of women across the centuries in three regions–New Mexico’s Rio Arriba, Colorado’s Front Range, and Washington State’s Pugent Sound. Originally organized by the Autry National Center in Los Angeles, it features additional materials from the History Museum’s collections. It joins three smaller exhibitions–Ranch Women of New Mexico, New Mexico’s African American Legacy: Visible, Vital, Valuable, and Heart of the Home to put a spotlight on the unsung heroes of American history.

You can see Brennan’s mud wall in person June 19-Sept. 11, on the second floor of the History Museum, just north of the Santa Fe Plaza. Our grand opening, with refreshments in the Palace Courtyard, will be from 2-4 pm on Sunday, June 19. Admission is free on Sundays to NM residents.