Honoring Those Who Served – and Still Serve – on the USS “New Mexico”

Gunnery personnel aboard the USS New Mexico, 1942-45? US Navy photograph, courtesy of the Palace of the Governors Photo Archives.

Gunnery personnel aboard the USS New Mexico (1942-45?). US Navy photograph, courtesy of the Palace of the Governors Photo Archives.

They were young then, boys, really. Serving aboard what was then the most technologically advanced battleship in the US fleet, they saw some of the worst of World War II – and were there for the final surrender of Japan.

On Sunday, Jan. 23, the New Mexico History Museum paid tribute to “the Queen of the Fleet,” and to the men (and, soon, women) who serve on the new USS New Mexico, now fittingly the Navy’s most technologically advanced nuclear submarine.

With the opening of A Noble Legacy: The USS New Mexico, 270-some people came to the museum to view the lobby-area installation and hear from dignitaries – among them, George Perez, commander of the submarine USS New Mexico (SSN 779).

It was a day when the most honored people in the house were men in blue caps. Some of them were balding, some were gray and some were young(ish). Military bearing was the order of the day, and the phrase, “Thank you for your service,” was heard again and again.

Ret. Chief Warrant Officer George Smith, who served on the USS New Mexico (BB 40) battleship in World War II, traveled from his home near Philadelphia to speak during the opening ceremony. He recounted with humor his efforts to become a submarine man and choked up not only himself but everyone in the auditorium with how closely he came to joining the many men who lost their lives in World War II.

“My tenure on the New Mexico was one of the finest tours I had in the Navy,” he said. “That was the white-hat Navy. When they went ashore they were neat and clean, and they weren’t in the Zumwalt uniform.”

(In the 1970s, then-Chief of Naval Operations Elmo Zumwalt attempted to encourage more enlistments by ditching the WW2-era Navy blues for a more casual look. Met with derision, it lasted only five years. Author Paul Fussell writes of the switch here.)

“There were no baseball caps worn with the bill in the back,” Smith said. “That didn’t happen. The New Mexico was a clean ship. If you were one minute late coming back from liberty, you stayed aboard for two weeks. They knew what the rules were and they followed it. I’m proud to have served two years on that ship.”

GeorgeSmithSigningPosterThe audience gave Smith a standing ovation and, after the event, clustered around him for autographs on posters of the submarine.

Cmdr. Perez, his bearing both dignified and genial, regaled the audience with details of his new ship, which is running through trials now and will join the Navy fleet in late 2012.

“She is the most powerful warship ever built in the history of the US Navy, probably second only to the BB 40 – which isn’t bad,” he said to laughter.

“We are New Mexico,” he said. “If you descended on that warship today, you would know. We are constantly working to continue to build that relationship. We prefer to have the Land of Enchantment anywhere we can get the pieces inside.”

That includes Southwestern-themed curtains that close across the crewmates’ bunks, provided to the ship by members of the Navy League Council of New Mexico, the group that lobbied for five years to have the sub named for the state.

Clearly proud of his ship, Cmdr. Perez delivered a tantalizing offer to those at the event: “Everyone here has an opportunity to get on board. Just show up and show me a New Mexico driver’s license, and you’ll get on board.”

But then, he noted, it is currently at home port in Groton, Ct., where “there’s about three or four feet of snow on the ground, so this isn’t the time to do it.”

PerezMurphyPointingToFigureAs for bringing it to our high-desert state, Perez noted, “There’s no port to pull into here. I did get offered a Lexus if I could navigate up the Rio Grande.”

(As a consolation prize to the Lexus, museum Director Dr. Frances Levine presented Cmdr. Perez and Chief of Board Eric Murphy with copies of the book Telling New Mexico: A New History and jars of History Museum red-chile sauce, prepared by the legendary Shed restaurant in Santa Fe.)

Perez and Murphy stayed after the event to speak with visitors, and Perez was clearly charmed by one particular aspect of the installation. Facing walls of a hallway are bedecked with silhouettes of the two ships at 1/20th scale. The exhibition’s graphics designer, Natalie Baca, added a last-minute detail to the SSN 779 silhouette: An image of Perez himself taken from a photograph she found on the internet and placed on the submarine to show its scale relative to people. Perez and Murphy proudly posed next to it for family photographs snapped by their wives.

FamilyModelA highlight of the installation is a scale model of BB 40 begun 30 years ago by Navy veteran and Albuquerque resident Cecil Whitson. Fellow Navy veteran Keith Liotta and the Albuquerque Scale Modelers Club added final touches after an illness stopped Whitson’s work, and all day, families with children, Navy veterans and model-building aficionados clustered around it, admiring the intricacy of Whitson’s work. Some of the most enthusiastic applause at the opening ceremony was when Levine asked the audience to extend its “collective gratitude” to Whitson.

The early plan for the installation included one of BB 40’s helms, now ensconced at the University of New Mexico and at the Montoya Building in Santa Fe.  “But they’re built into the fabric of the buildings,” Levine said, “and demolition wasn’t in our budget.”

What is included are archival and contemporary photographs of both ships and a video produced by KNME, USS New Mexico BB40: The Drinan Diary. You can catch it by clicking on the link, but the experience of seeing it on the auditorium’s big screen provided the emotional highlight of the day.

“What museums do matters,” Levine told attendees. “We give voice to people who lived in different centuries in times of peace, in times of war.”

On Sunday, we also put faces to those stories and were honored to be a place where Navy men and women could make new connections with one another. As a gift to those who continue to serve aboard USS New Mexico, we’ll close this post with a collection of photos to let them virtually attend the event. We wish them calm waters and extend an offer of our own: If you’re ever in Santa Fe, we’ll meet you at The Shed.

Collections Manager Wanda Edwards with a pre-WW2, sharkskin-handled sword.

Collections Manager Wanda Edwards with a pre-WW2, sharkskin-handled sword.

Visitors at Cecil Whitson's model of the BB 40.

Visitors at Cecil Whitson's model of the BB 40.

Cmdr. George Perez and Ret. CWO George Smith at the opening ceremony.

Cmdr. George Perez and Ret. CWO George Smith at the opening ceremony.

Former BB 40 crewmate LaVell Richins shared a scrapbook of his service, brought from his home in Utah.

Former BB 40 crewmate LaVell Richins shared a scrapbook of his service, brought from his home in Utah.

Two Navy veterans make a connection at the event.

Two Navy veterans make a connection.

Young visitors checking out parts of a 1920s era uniform worn aboard BB 40.

Young visitors check out parts of a 1920s era uniform worn aboard BB 40.

Ret. CWO George Smith pointing to the place on the BB 40 model where he was stationed during WW2.

Ret. CWO George Smith points to the place on the BB 40 model where he was stationed during WW2.

Cmdr. George Perez greeting visitors in the New Mexico History Museum lobby.

Cmdr. George Perez greets visitors in the New Mexico History Museum lobby.

Cmdr. Perez with BB 40 veterans James Kennedy (from left), George Smith and LaVell Richins.

Cmdr. Perez with BB 40 veterans James Kennedy (from left), George Smith and LaVell Richins

The Palace Elves

WandaPatrickPennieHistory Museum staffers morphed into Santa’s elves this week to doll up the 400-year-old Palace of the Governors for this Friday’s Christmas at the Palace event. (That’s Collection Manager and Registrar Wanda Edwards and NEH Project Manager Patrick Cruz workin’ the lights on a tree, at left; and their coworker, Assistant Collection Manager Pennie McBride, at right.)

Over its 26 years as an annual event, Christmas at the Palace has become a community favorite in Santa Fe and, for many families, the true kick-off to the holiday season. The event begins with Native drummers beneath the Palace Portal, offering a welcome-to-the-Palace prayer. People gather to listen (and sometimes shiver as the snow falls) while awaiting the arrival of Mr. and Mrs. Claus and their clutch of real elves. Then everyone enters the Palace (no admission fees tonight!) to wander the exhibits, listen to local performers, sample bizcochitos and hot cider, and take a turn on Santa’s knee.

On Monday, workers pulled hay bales into the Palace Courtyard in preparation for Santa’s arrival. Garlands were hung over Palace doorways, trees were decorated, and more than a few trips up and down rather tall ladders were required.

CarlaDavidOne of the favorite parts of the holiday decor is what Palace volunteers and staff think of as “Dee Johnson’s tree.” Before her untimely death, the former first lady of New Mexico gave the museum a collection of tree ornaments hand-crafted by New Mexico artisans.

“It always makes us think of her when we see them,” said Museum Director Frances Levine. “Because she was so kind to the Museum staff — and so kind to donate these ornaments.”

Made of clay, tin, wood and fabric, they include Mimbres designs, Indian pots, bells, Zia symbols, stars and and more. In perhaps a nod to former Gov. Gary Johnson, a flying pig is included. (During particularly testy negotiations with the Democratic Legislature, the Republican governor once opened a news conference by playing with a remote-controlled flying-pig toy, as if to say, “When pigs fly…”)

Dee Johnson’s tree is in what we call “The Green Room” — the room to the east of the Palace’s main entrance where the architectural history of the building is detailed.

VictorianDollOrnamentOther trees in the Palace include lovely Victorian ornaments, parrots and doves, reindeer, and a cathedral or two.

Bundle up the family and head to the Palace after work this Friday. The doors open at 5:30, but you can start gathering and enjoying your neighbors before then. Performers range from talented children to inspiring adults, including:

5:30-6 pm: Epik Artists of the Santa Fe Concert Association; music by Bach and Gounod. (The Epik Trio: Eric Illick and Sarah Rogowski, violins; Shelley Armer, viola. The Epik Chorus: Genevieve Davis, Alex Viszolay, Zoe Unverwerth, Faye Mathey, Sarah Luiz;  Ezra Shcolnick, violin; Shelley Armer, viola; Logan Luiz and Eric Illick, soloists.)

5:30-6:30 pm: Coro de Agua Fria. Traditional Christmas carols in Spanish in the Palace Courtyard.

5:30-6:30 pm: Santa Fe Talent Education Suzuki Music Center. Classical and Christmas music by youth violinists and violists. (Uttam Khalsa, Auleeyah Archuleta, Bacilio Benelalija, Naya Anllo-Valdo, Madelyn Kingston, Sarah Sze, Julia Baca, Lila Baca, Ellie Bobchak. Margaret Carpenter, teacher.)

6:40-7:30 pm: The Eclectics. A cappella carols, medieval to modern. (Meg Acton, Laura Cowan and Scott Geister.)

6:40-7:30 pm: Schola Cantorum. Santa Fe’s sacred music ensemble.

“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.

A Free Evening with Cuban Literary Superstar Pablo Armando Fernandez

Pablo Armando Fernandez

Pablo Armando Fernandez

Thanks to the generosity of the Lannan Foundation, what was to be a $20-a-head fund-raiser for the Palace Press is now a free evening of poetry and conversation with renowned Cuban poet Pablo Armando Fernandez. Come to the museum at 6 pm, Friday, Dec. 3, to enjoy this legendary writer. Attendees will receive a keepsake version of one of Fernandez’s poems, specially printed by the Palace Press.

Other sponsors include the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs, Museum of New Mexico Foundation, and the Information Trust.

Known in his country simply as “El Poeta,” Fernandez has an enormous reputation and a distinguished career as a poet, novelist, essayist, playwright, editor and diplomat. His works have been translated into French, Italian, Polish and English. His 2001 work, Parables: Selected Poems,featured an introduction by Margaret Atwood. He received the Premio Nacional de Literatura in 1996 for lifetime accomplishment, and formerly served as the Cultural Counselor to the Cuban Embassy in London.

Born in a Cuban sugar factory in 1930, he came to New York to study as a teenager, catching the eye of famed author Carson McCullers (The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, among other gems). That encounter didn’t seem fortuious, at least at first, as recounted in an online journal about Fernandez’s 2000 visit with San Francisco Poet Laureate Lawrence Ferlinghetti:

At age fourteen Pablo arrived in New York City from Cuba to attend school, where he studied English literature and by age seventeen wrote his first lines. By chance, he was taken to the home of famous writer Carson McCullers, who recognized at once that these lines were poetry. “You are a poet,” she told him after first serving him a potato salad whose illusive taste he has never forgotten. Pablo fled in tears. He felt misunderstood. His words, he insisted, were prose. How could this important writer with a play on Broadway call his work “poetry”? He felt that calling his work “poetry” was to disrespect it. Pablo went for comfort to his Cuban friend, Manila Hartman, then also living in New York City. “I’ve always told you, you were a poet, Pablo,” she said. Finally, she convinced him and he accepted his literary fate.

Fernandez soon became part of America’s literati, returning to Cuba in 1959 after the revolution.

Among his published works are the poetry books Salterio y lamentaciones (1953), Nuevos poemas (Nueva York, 1955), Toda la poesía (1961), Himnos (1962), El libro de los héroes (1962), Un sitio permanente (Madrid, 1970), Campo de amor y de batalla (1984), El sueño y la razón (1988) and Pequeño cuaderno de Manila Hartman (2000); and the novels Los niños se despiden (1968), El vientre del pez (1989) and Otro golpe de dados (1993).

“What makes me truly Cuban,” he has said, “is its history, the men and women who handed in their fortune in order to make Cuba a sovereign country. You will find this in poetry from Heredia to Guillén. To be part of that generation consolidates my being.”


Photo Archives Discovers a Rare Photo of Navajo Leader Manuelito

Boxes filled with photographs, negatives and more line shelves that reach ceiling-high in the Palace of the Governors Photo Archives. To the three-person staff responsible for archiving the contents, the process must sometimes feel like bailing out the ocean with a bucket. At high tide.

So you can understand how mysteries might lie hidden for years, decades even. But the promise of a new discovery keeps the archivists pulling the boxes down, tugging open their lids and hunting through their contents.

Last May, Daniel Kosharek had one of those dreamed-of a-ha moments.


Navajo war chief Manuelito (seated) with another Navajo war chief, identified in the photograph as Cayetanito, ca. 1870s.

In a box holding part of the Henry T. Hiester/Melander Brothers Collection, Kosharek discovered a previously unknown photo of famed Navajo leader Manuelito, taken around 1870 and given to the archives 50 years ago. The photo graces the cover of the new edition of El Palacio, the scholarly magazine of the Museums of New Mexico, and is catching the attention of journalists across the nation. El Palacio carries a story about the discovery by Mary Anne Redding, director of the Photo Archives, and a sidebar by historian Charles Bennett Jr. on Manuelito’s history and lasting impact. An excerpt from Redding’s piece:

The Photo Archives is full of undiscovered treasures like the Manuelito portrait. With a collection of more than 800,000 images and an antiquated cataloguing system, which the current staff of three is rapidly working to update, there are wonderful gems still hidden away in boxes and cabinets, waiting to be discovered. … Each box is like a gift waiting to be opened on a special day.

Manuelito’s monumental role in Navajo life includes his 1866 surrender to the Bosque Redondo reservation (and his subsequent escape), an 1868 meeting with President Ulysses S. Grant in Washington, D.C., and an 1880 meeting with President Rutherford B. Hayes in Santa Fe. On the Navajo reservation, his name is carried by the Manuelito Navajo Children’s Home, the Manuelito Chapter House, and the Chief Manuelito Scholarship.

The photo Kosharek discovered shows Manuelito sitting beside another Navajo war chief identified as Cayetanito. Historians know of only a handful of Manuelito portraits, taken by photographers Charles M. Bell, George Ben Wittick, and possibly William Henry Jackson and John Gaige.

The History Museum has begun the process to put the “new” photo on display, perhaps in the permanent Telling New Mexico: Stories from Then and Now exhibition. Until then, you can get a gander at some of the archives’ holdings without even leaving your chair. Click onto the archives’ digitized collections, and you can keyword-hunt for the portion of images the staff has been able to upload. (Warning: Highly addictive Web site.)

You can also pick up the latest El Palacio for $8 at any of the Museum of New Mexico shops (Museum of Indian Arts & Culture, New Mexico History Museum, Museum of International Folk Art, and New Mexico Museum of Art), or for $10 (postage added in) by calling 505-476-1126 or e-mailing elpalacio@state.nm.us. Here’s a not-so-subtle hint: You can support scholarly research at our museums and deepen your knowledge of New Mexico’s art, history and culture by springing for a subscription. Do I hear jingle bells?

A Voice from the Governor’s Office Past Offers Wisdom for Today

On Tuesday, New Mexicans elected the nation’s first Hispanic woman governor. Regardless of your personal political leanings, that’s a historical milepost and, given that we’re in the business of celebrating our history, we’re taking the opportunity to remember another Hispanic who made history as governor of New Mexico.

A photo of Donaciano Vigil, taken by Albright Art Parlors, 188-82?. Palace of the Governors Photo Archives, No. 011405.

A photo of Donaciano Vigil, taken by Albright Art Parlors, 188-82?. Palace of the Governors Photo Archives, No. 011405.

Donaciano Vigil was the first native New Mexican Hispanic to serve as New Mexico governor after Gen. Stephen Watts Kearny raised the American flag over the Palace of the Governors. According to the State Historian’s web site: “(H)e was undoubtedly the most important native Hispanic leader in the transition of the Territory from Mexican to American government. His decision to support the American annexation of the New Mexico territory and join the new American sponsored government in 1847 helped ensure the status of New Mexico in the American nation and to assure the participation of Hispanos in that system. ”

In its July 3, 2010, edition, the Santa Fe New Mexican singled out Vigil as one of eight people critical to the preservation of the city’s heritage:

Born in Santa Fe in 1802, Donaciano Vigil chose when he turned 21 to make the military his career. After U.S. conquest of New Mexico in 1846, Vigil’s acceptance of American rule influenced other Hispanos to recognize the reality of the federal presence and calm largely political unrest in the territorial period. During the earlier Spanish colonial period, government and church officials were careful to preserve historical records. After arrival of the Americans, however, it fell to Vigil to champion the cause of saving historical records. As New Mexico’s first civil governor, Vigil organized archival records and made it his cause to preserve New Mexico’s history.

In its newsletter, distributed today, the Historical Society of New Mexico features a remembrance of Vigil by HSN President Mike Stevenson, who quoted a passage from Vigil’s speech to the first Territorial Legislature on Sept. 24, 1847. Stevenson thought, and we agree, that Vigil’s words have only grown more powerful in the 163 years since, as advice to those who would lead us and to we who are choosing those leaders:

If our government here is to be republican—if it is to be based upon democratic republican principles—and if the will of the majority is one day to be the law of the land and the government of the people, it is evident, for this will to be properly exercised, the people must be enlightened and instructed.  And it is particularly important in a country where the right of suffrage is accorded and secured to all, that all should be instructed, and that every[one] should be able to read to inform himself of the passing events of the day, and of the matters interesting to his country and government. This is the age of improvement, both in government and society, and it more particularly becomes us, when commencing as it were a new order of things, to profit by and promote such improvements, and they can only be encouraged and promoted by diffusing knowledge and instruction among the people…All that the legislature can do in the cause of education for the people is most earnestly pressed upon them and will meet with my hearty approval and cooperation. (Emphasis added.)

Day of the Dead Meets the Palace Press

For a typography class she teaches at the Santa Fe University of Art and Design, Arlyn Nathan came up with a terrific idea: Pull her students away from their computers and into the Palace of the Governors Print Shop and Bindery (a/k/a The Palace Press). Instead of haphazardly choosing between Bodoni and Rod, they could learn their basics the old-fashioned way — by setting metal type, inking a press plate and discovering the scrub-til-it-hurts meaning behind “ink-stained wretch.”

studentsatPressTom Leech and James Bourland, the keepers of the Press, happily agreed and turned their “office” into a working classroom for the students.

Let Nathan explain why that matters:

“What sparked my love of letters was being able to hold one in my hand, metal type. The smell of the ink, the sound of rain when the letterpress is inked to perfection and the labor-intensive hours working with my hands, striving but for the ideal in my mind’s eye.  I wanted to replicate my  experience with my 12 students (all of whom are from Mexico).”

You can understand typography with your head, but it’s another thing to know it in your hands — “the Gutenberg way,” Nathan said.

Leech chose to focus the lessons on Jose Guadalupe Posada, a talented and prolific Mexican  illustrator well-known in part for his political cartoons. After hearing a lecture about Posada and viewing his original work with Bob Bell, a local collector and authority in the field, the students poured into the Press.

As a group, they agreed to create a broadside for the Day of the Dead about President Obama.

StudentsWithType“Together they composed two poems, one in English, the other in Spanish, an illustration of Obama as a calavera (skeleton), and as a class we designed a broadside,” Nathan said. “At the Palace of the Governors Print Shop, their poem was hand-set in lead type, a linoleum block was carved and several hundred broadsides were printed.”

(More on how you can obtain a copy in a minute…)

What have they learned?

“We have had a hands-on experience designing a project, setting type, and printing a broadside with a Vandercook letterpress,” Nathan said. “They now understand why we call the capital letters `upper case’ and the minuscule characters `lower case.’ They know the origin of the expression, `mind your Ps and Qs,’ and they have held in their hands the intangible space between lines of type called `leading.’ In essence, they have taken a step into the past to help them better understand and appreciate modern technology and the subtle nuances of typography.”

Here’s where you, dear reader, come in:

On Sunday, Oct. 31 (yes, Halloween), Nathan’s students will sell the product of their efforts at the New Mexico Museum of International Folk Art from 1-4 pm — or as long as the broadsides last. In true Posada style, the students, who will don calavera clothing for the museum’s Day of the Dead event, will ask for only a quarter in return. Yup. Twenty-five cents. Two bits. The same pittance that might otherwise buy a mere 15 minutes of downtown Santa Fe parking.

DayofDeadBroadside“It’s a broadside for centavos, Posada’s tradition come to life, not to mention a huge celebration for Dia de los Muertos,” Nathan said.

(And, like a true teacher, she invites you to quiz her students on where they’ll find their uppercase letters. Not to mention their Ps and Qs.)

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.

Take a Stroll Through “Wild at Heart: Ernest Thompson Seton”

America’s forgotten conservationist, Ernest Thompson Seton, is celebrated in the History Museum exhibit Wild at Heart: Ernest Thompson Seton. Today, let’s take a short walk through the exhibit, supplemented by what you’ll read and what you’ll see. (All photos are by Blair Clark, New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs.)

As you head upstairs to the Albert and Ethel Herzstein Changing Exhibitions Gallery, you’ll quickly notice something’s afoot: Hey, there are wolves on the walls!

outside - wolves on wall

Upon entering into the (air-conditioned!) cool, we get our first introduction to Seton.

entrywayIn 1893, on the winter plains of New Mexico, a drama played out between a wolf pack and a wolf hunter named Ernest Thompson Seton. Through his interaction with the wild canines, Seton underwent a personal transformation, changing from their persecutor to their protector, becoming a leading proponent of wildlife conservation. Seton reached an international audience of millions through his drawings, paintings, books and lectures. He wrote the first realistic animal story and established important principles for the sciences of animal behavior and ecology. His passion for self-reliance, ethics, and outdoor youth education led him to become a founder of the worldwide Boy Scout movement. Seton’s insights sparked a revolution in our perceptions of wild nature, provided a model for environmentalism, and inspired generations of youths and adults to take to the outdoors for recreation, adventure, and solace.

Heading counter-clockwise, we learn of Seton’s background and his first foray into New Mexico.

wolf photoOn October 22, 1893, 33-year-old Canadian naturalist and artist Ernest Thompson Seton arrived in Clayton, New Mexico. He had been hired to hunt wolves. As buffalo, antelope and deer had been eliminated through hunting and habitat loss, wolves turned to killing cattle. They threatened the livelihood of ranchers. For the next three months as Seton rode the rangeland of Union County, he thought a great deal about wilderness, wildlife and our relationship to the land. The wolves he hunted were becoming his teachers. Seton hunted a wolf pack along the Corrumpa Creek (“Currumpaw”) which flows east from Capulin Volcano National Monument, an ideal area for wildlife. He wrote: “The place seemed uninviting to a stranger from the lush and fertile prairies of Manitoba, but the more I saw of it the more it was revealed as a paradise.”

The gray wolf (Canis lupus) likely lived in this area for thousands of years. Seton found that wolves in northern New Mexico could weigh up to 100 pounds, although most weighed less, reaching the size of German shepherd dogs. In 1974, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the gray wolf as “Endangered” in the lower 48 states and Mexico. Listing and attempts at de-listing wolf populations have remained contentious issues over the decades.

Seton’s effort to kill a wolf he named “Blanca,” then her mate, the pack-leader “Lobo,” turned into a horrific experience, one that left him asking, in his nature journal, “Why?” He never killed another wolf, returning instead to his home in Toronto, where he wrote a story about the hunt in which he cast himself as the villain. Lobo and Blanca – capable of courage, honor, and love – became the heroes. The story, “The King of Currumpaw,” began to change the way North Americans viewed wildlife, and marked an important turning point for the wildlife conservation movement.

a great grizzly form rose upFrom “The King of Currumpaw”:

As I drew near a great grizzly form arose from the ground, vainly endeavoring to escape, and there revealed before me stood Lobo, King of the Currumpaw, firmly held in the traps. Poor old hero, he had never ceased to search for his darling, and when he found the trail her body had made he followed it recklessly, and so fell into the snare prepared for him…Yet, when I went near him, he rose up with bristling mane and raised his voice, and for the last time made the cañon reverberate with his deep bass roar, a call for help, the muster call of his band. But there was none to answer him…

For the next 10 years, Seton combined intense wildlife study with developing a close relationship with Canada’s First Nations peoples. When not traveling, he lived in Toronto or New York City, developing his career as an illustrator and naturalist. He also began writing short fiction and natural history observations. He would later publish around 40 books that would sell more than 2 million copies.

artist and illustratorSeton published articles and monographs on wildlife from an early age. “Roger Tory Peterson freely acknowledges that the idea for his now familiar technique of identifying birds in the field came from Seton…In this way, Seton provided some of the impetus that has led to the present era of enjoyment and understanding of birds.” Robert W. Nero, American Ornithologists’ Union, 1975.

Seton gained increasing recognition for his illustrations and stories about wildlife throughout the 1890s. He used this celebrity to become a leading advocate for preservation of all wild creatures. Like Henry David Thoreau, he believed that the continued existence of wild nature was vital to our own survival on both a physical and moral level.

“There will always be wild land not required for settlement; and how can we better use it than by making it a sanctuary for living Wild Things that afford pure pleasure to all who see them?” Lives of the Hunted, 1901

By 1905, Seton was one of the most popular lecturers in the United States, Canada, and England. He also turned his attention to creating scientific works. Combining his knowledge of mammalogy, ecology, and ethology (animal behavior) and study with native peoples, his first major nonfiction work, Lives of Northern Animals, won immediate acclaim from biologists.

In 1900, Seton purchased a woodland estate near Greenwich, Connecticut, naming it Wyndygoul, for a Seton family estate in Scotland. It was subject to occasional vandalism by local boys. Instead of calling in law enforcement, Seton invited his young antagonists to join him for a weekend campout on March 28-29, 1902. Seton told compelling stories of the West and taught them the basic skills of “Woodcraft.”

treesHe ran a more formal weekend camp at Summit, New Jersey at the beginning of July. At the same time, he wrote a six-part series for Ladies’ Home Journal, “Ernest Thompson Seton’s Boys.” Thousands of boys joined what became known as the “Woodcraft” movement. The camps and articles established principles of outdoor education influencing the programming of summer youth camps for the next century. His main intent was to help youths connect with nature — an aim the History Museum shares in both the design of the exhibit’s interior space with trunks from real aspen trees (where story-tellers will enthrall children and families in upcoming events) and its supplemental programs that include an urban bird hike and nature-journaling workshops.

Other men took notice of Seton’s success with the “Woodcraft Indians.” Daniel Carter Beard (American boys’ writer and artist) announced the formation of the rival organization, “Sons of Daniel Boone,” in April 1905.  Robert Baden-Powell (British hero of the Second Boer War in South Africa) organized an experimental camp for boys in England in 1908, based in part on the Seton model. He called his organization the Boy Scouts.

Both Beard and Baden-Powell freely adopted many of Seton’s ideas, often without giving Seton credit. Over time, Seton’s Woodcraft movement faded while the Boy Scout movement thrived. Worldwide, more than 350 million boys, girls, and their families have taken part in Scouting over the past century.

furnitureAs part of his own efforts through Woodcraft, Seton made illustrations and items to show Scouts and Woodcrafters how to make their own items. He handcrafted a number of items for his own use.

Seton wrote and edited an edition of Boy Scouts of America, Handbook for Boys on display in the exhibit. In it, he combined his Woodcraft writings with the Scout writings of Baden-Powell. The Boy Scout Handbook has been issued in many subsequent editions over the past century with millions of copies printed.

On February 8, 1910, businessman and newspaper owner W. D. Boyce incorporated the Boy Scouts of America. On June 21, Edgar M. Robinson of the YMCA became the temporary head of the organization. He recruited Seton as its most public standard-bearer. Beginning on August 16, Seton led the first official camp of the Boy Scouts of America at Silver Bay, New York. Shortly afterward, Seton was given the honorary title, Chief Scout. He worked tirelessly to establish Scouting as an American institution.

Though Seton eventually parted ways with the Boy Scouts, he remained a tireless champion of outdoors education for youths and for conservation. Some of that work can be seen every summer in Cimarron, N.M., where Boy Scouts gather at the Philmont Scout Ranch.

Beginning in 1930, Seton built a “castle” outside of Santa Fe on what he thought of as “The Last Rampart of the Rockies” and what is still known today as Seton Village. The castle burned down during its renovation by the Academy for the Love of Learning, our partner in this exhibit, but the Academy is offering tours of its ruins, along with Seton-related programming on three dates. The first, Aug. 14, coincides with Seton’s 150th birthday and includes tales around a campfire.

Seton died in Santa Fe on October 23, 1946, almost exactly 53 years after his first trip to Clayton. In all that time, Seton had never forgotten the King of Currumpaw. By forcing Seton to ask WHY, Lobo helped him on his journey from wolf killer to student of the Buffalo Wind. Seton made a transformation within himself, putting the best of what he had learned to work its way in the world – where it is working still. As you leave the exhibit, we ask you to ponder this:

Seton would urge you to experience wild nature: Photograph wildlife. Draw the landscape. Write journal entries about your feelings for glorious outdoors New Mexico. And always, keep the love of learning alive!

NEH Teachers Take Up NM Crafts

NEH teachers - retablos 2The Palace Courtyard was cool, with a reasonable amount of shade this morning — a far cry from the lightning storm predicted for later today. A perfect time, in short, to try out a little plein air painting, New Mexico-style. The teachers participating in this week’s NEH-UNM program, “Contested Homelands: Knowledge, History and Culture of Historic Santa Fe,” ditched the lecture tables in favor of some hands-on activities: creating retablos and punched-tin frames, under the guidance of two notable New Mexico artists.

Santero Gabriel J. Vigil is a Raton native who gave up dreams of professional boxing to build an artist’s career in Santa Fe. Winner of multiple awards for his retablos and bultos at Spanish Market, he hasn’t forgotten his roots and regularly works with children, passing along his art skills to them. Thanks to that experience, he likely had a few tricks up his sleeve when he set out to teach our teachers. He gave them a few hints, provided some drawings for them to work off of, then set them loose.

The results? Soulful and stirring.

A group of teachers in the NEH-UNM workshop enjoy painting retablos on a cool Santa Fe morning.

A group of teachers in the NEH-UNM workshop enjoy painting retablos on a cool Santa Fe morning.

A sacred heart design takes wing.

A sacred heart design takes wing.

Inside the Palace, another group of teachers created a din usually reserved for construction sites. Cleo Romero, a Nambe-based artist, showed them a selection of her punched-tin work — which, in 2006, won top honors in Santa Fe’s Spanish Market. With the assistance of some patterns, nails and hammers, she let the participants work off any potential aggressions by pounding out their own creations.

NEH teachers - tinwork 2

Using a paper pattern, one of the teachers lines up her punched-tin design.

With Romero's works for inspiration (hanging, at right), teachers get to pounding.

With Romero's works for inspiration (hanging, at right), teachers get to pounding.

If any of that got you inspired,take note: Cleo will teach a free tinwork class next Wednesday from 10 am to 2 pm at the Museum of Spanish Colonial Arts. (Call 982-2226 for details.) For further inspiration, check out the online version of Treasures of Devotion; Tesoros de Devocion, the exquisite exhibit in the Palace of the Governors celebrating the work of New Mexico’s legendary santeros.