Working On the Railroad – The Virtual Exhibition

A view of the entrance of the Working on the Railroad exhibition

When the railroad came to New Mexico in 1879, it brought thousands of job opportunities for local people from rural villages, reservations, and larger towns. In addition to the homegrown workforce, the railroad also brought immigrant Chinese, European, and Mexican laborers to our state. The workforce included women and people of color, immigrants and Native Americans, young and old.

Told through historic and contemporary images from the Palace of the Governors Photo Archives and the The Library of Congress, “Working on the Railroad” fosters appreciation for these people—the steel gangs and machinists, car cleaners and conductors—included in the story of how the railroad changed New Mexico. Along with the photographs, artifacts such as oversized machinist’s wrenches, early twentieth-century railroad lanterns, brass locks, and railroad tie dating nails help the visitor imagine what it was like working on the railroad.

While we remain closed, please enjoy this virtual tour of NMHM’s “Working on the Railroad.” You can watch the New Mexico PBS ¡Colores! episode, “Albuquerque’s Historic Railroad Shops” from within the exhibition.

Seeing the Palace Through a Pinhole

PalacePinhole (2)

During the 2012 Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day, Heather Oelklaus, a photographer and print workshop supervisor at Colorado College, was talking with some friends about the wonders of capturing the world the old-fashioned way. One of them asked her about the largest pinhole camera she’d ever used. At that point, it was an aluminum trash can that required two pieces of 16×20” photo paper for film. But the question made her want to go even bigger.

“I proclaimed that by next year’s pinhole day, I would be shooting with a truck,” she said.

LittleMissSunshineIt took some scouting around before she found a 14-foot 1977 Chevy box truck with an uncanny resemblance to a yellow Kodak film box. She tackled drilling, painting, designing and light-tighting it while her imagination reeled out possible photo opps. In 2013, the newly designed pinhole truck, dubbed Little Miss Sunshine, took to the open road, shooting enough images to stage a show this year at the Sangre de Cristo Arts Center in Pueblo, Colo.

By then, Oelklaus (learn more about her by clicking here) had fallen in love with our exhibit, Poetics of Light: Pinhole Photography. “When I saw it the first time, I wept,” she said. “It sounds melodramatic, but to know there were people and a museum that understood what I loved about pinhole photography overwhelmed me.”

Photo Curator Daniel Kosharek and Palace Press Curator Tom Leech found out about her big truck and hatched a plot to shoot our beloved Palace of the Governors.

IMG_4876-300This fall, Oelklaus arrived on a beautiful morning and recruited nine people to place 84 pieces of black-and-white darkroom paper on the truck’s walls, using tiny magnets. The Palace was exposed for 60 minutes, then the sheets were taken into a darkroom to develop.

“As the prints were coming out of the darkroom, many of the participants enjoyed putting the large-scale puzzle together so we could see the fruit of our labor,” she said.

We’re now looking for the perfect place to display the 5×20’ image, a grand celebration of pinhole artistry.

“The outside world squeezing through this tiny aperture and being projected on the inside of my camera truck inspires me,” Oelklaus said. “Recording the world differently and over long periods of time is a main theme for my recent work.”

From a Purr to a Roar: Lowriders Speak


Chris Martinez in his lowrider. Photo by Don Usner.

Chris Martinez in his lowrider. Photo by Don Usner.

When Lowriders, Hoppers and Hot Rods: Car Culture of Northern New Mexico opens in our second-floor Herzstein Gallery on May 1, visitors will get a chance to hear the story of the lowrider lifestyle directly from the practitioners themselves. Photo Curator Daniel Kosharek enlisted the help of 19th– and 20th-Century Southwest Curator Meredith Davidson to interview a host of lowriders from Las Vegas, Chimayó, Española, Santa Fe and Albuquerque.

Davidson, who honed her oral-history chops while working for the 9-11 Memorial Museum in New York City, then edited down the results into a 45-minute video loop that will play on iPads placed throughout the exhibit.

“I think it’s important that the lowriders tell their own stories,” Kosharek said. “If I were to go to an exhibit like this somewhere, I would want to get inside the culture, not have the museum put a level of interpretation onto it.”

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The Generosity of Friends

Artist Gustave Baumann created this autumn-toned color wheel in 1930.

Artist Gustave Baumann created this autumn-toned color wheel in 1930.

Not all of Santa’s presents end up underneath someone’s Christmas tree. Quite a few of them landed in our collections.

Generous donors surprised and delighted us with some remarkable year-end gifts. We’re still sorting through the record-keeping details, but here’s a peek at a few donations that will help us better tell the story of New Mexico.

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Lowriders, Hoppers, and Hot Rods: Car Culture of Northern New Mexico

1963 Chevrolet Impala, Owner Lee Cordova of Alcalde, NM, 1998. Jack Parsons, photographer. Palace of the Governors Photo Archives HP.2007.11.

1963 Chevrolet Impala, Owner Lee Cordova of Alcalde, NM, 1998. Jack Parsons, photographer. Palace of the Governors Photo Archives HP.2007.11.

¡Orale! Take a ride into the creative reimaginings of American steel as captured in photographs, hubcaps, hood ornaments, car show banners and, yes, actual cars. Lowriders, Hoppers, and Hot Rods: Car Culture of Northern New Mexico, opening May 1 (through March 5, 2017) focuses on mobile works of art and their makers—home-grown Nuevomexicanos who customize, detail, paint and upholster these favorite symbols of Hispanic culture.

Photo Curator Daniel Kosharek has pulled together an extensive collection of images by Don Usner, Annie Sahlin, Jack Parsons, Sam Adams, Norman Mauskopf, Dottie Lopez, Gabriela Campos, Meridel Rubinstein and others. In addition, visitors will see a chromed and touchable engine, miniature-scale model-car collections, trophies, memorabilia and other ephemera. The museum lobby will host a rotating selection of cherry examples.

And the thrill ride doesn’t stop there.

On May 20, the New Mexico Museum of Art will unveil an exhibit curated by Katherine Ware showing photographs and art inspired by car culture. Also in May, the Museum of New Mexico Press will release a companion book featuring essays by Ware and Usner.

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From Child’s Play to Honored Photographer

Rodeo, San Juan Pueblo, by Sam Adams, 1996-2005. Palace of the Governors Photo Archives, Photo Legacy Project.

Rodeo, San Juan Pueblo, by Sam Adams, 1996-2005. Palace of the Governors Photo Archives, Photo Legacy Project.

An ad aimed at kids may well have changed Sam Adams life. “When I was a little boy, we used to read comic books,” he said, “and at the back were a series of advertisements for all sorts of weird things, like whoopee cushions, magic kits, things that kids would enjoy getting their hands on. And one of those was for a Candid camera, which cost three or four dollars at that time.”

Adams bit and began snapping pics at age 9. Today, he’s a retired motion-picture and television literary agent who moved to Santa Fe in 1989 and turned his attention full-time to photography.

“In the beginning it wasn’t really about the photography, it was more about the equipment, and then it became more about the subjects as time went on.”

In 2005, he won the New Mexico Council on Photography’s Eliot Porter Award. His work has been exhibited at regional museums and, most recently, took over the Meem Community Room, where we’ll host a small reception for Photography of Sam Adams, from 5–7 pm on Friday, August 7.

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Photo Archives Obtains Rare Photo of New Mexico Frontiersmen

4-72-PA_CarteDeVisite_Wooten-StVrain-ValdezThe Palace of the Governors Photo Archives has acquired a rare carte de visite depicting Ceran St. Vrain, Dick Wootton and José Maria Valdez. Photo Curator Daniel Kosharek obtained the ca. 1865 image from Cliff Mills, a photographer, collector and dealer who has sold his own and historical images on the Santa Fe Plaza for 20 years.

“I come from an old Taos family,” Mills said. “I’m pretty sure Valdez was a relative. This is a picture that came down to me through the family.”

Carte de visites were an early phenomena of photography. Mounted on cardstock, they could be given to friends or guests. That ease helped create a Victorian craze—“cardomania.” This particular carte de visite represents the first original photograph that the Photo Archives has of St. Vrain, a legendary frontiersman, military leader and wheat magnate. The museum has one small original photograph of “Uncle Dick” Wootton, and none of Valdez.

“This is very early for photography in New Mexico—very early,” Kosharek said. “So very little exists from that time period. It is rare when a photograph of historical significance on New Mexico becomes available.”

Mills considered offering the photo to a wider market, but chose the Photo Archives, he said, in part because “I like Daniel and Tomas” Jaehn, of the museum’s Fray Angélico Chávez History Library.

Brief bios on the men in the picture:

Ceran St. Vrain (1802-1870), standing in the center of the photo, was a frontier entrepreneur and close associate of Territorial Gov. Charles Bent and Kit Carson. In the 1820s, he traveled from St. Louis to Taos, becoming a trapper and trader. In the 1830s, his partnership with Bent blossomed. With Charles’ brother, William, the men built Bent’s Fort in Colorado, headquarters of a mercantile empire and an important stop for travelers on the Santa Fe Trail. In 1855 he was part of the “St Vrain’s battalion” during the Indian Wars and in 1861 was a Captain and later a Lt. Colonel in the New Mexico Volunteers. St. Vrain built the first grist mill in the Taos Valley and others in Mora, Santa Fe and Peralta. He became wealthy selling flour to the troops at Fort Union and Fort Craig. He also invested in sawmills, became involved in banking projects and railroad speculation, dabbled in politics and owned a share of The Santa Fe Gazette. He was buried at the Mora Presbyterian Church. His mill still stands in the town, though in an endangered condition.

Dick Wootton (1816-1893), seated at left in the photo, was also a frontiersman, born in Virginia, who hired out to Bent and St. Vrain at Independence, Mo., in 1836. He later gained infamy for building a toll road over Raton Pass and, for 13 years, charging travelers to use it.

José Maria Valdez, seated at right, was born in La Joya (now Velarde) in 1809. He married Maria Manuela Jaramillo in Taos in 1834 and was a witness at the wedding of his wife’s sister, Maria Josefa Jaramillo, when she married Kit Carson in 1843. (Another sister, Maria Ygnacia Jaramillo, married Charles Bent). He served in the Territorial Legislature and in 1859 was one of the petitioners for the Mora Land Grant.

The Palace of the Governors Photo Archives contains an estimated 1 million items, including historic photographic prints, cased photographs, glass plate negatives, film negatives, stereographs, photo postcards, panoramas, color transparencies, and lantern slides. This collection includes material of regional and national significance, dating from approximately 1850 to the present, covering subject matter that focuses on the history and people of New Mexico and the expansion of the West; anthropology, archaeology, and ethnology of Hispanic and Native American cultures; and smaller collections documenting Europe, Latin America, the Far East, Oceana, and the Middle East.

Orphans in the Archives


With something like 1 million images in its files, boxes, drawers and stacks, the Palace of the Governors Photo Archives has a tough time keeping up with knowing what’s what. Often, we rely on volunteers to help us identify who’s who, which mountain is which or whose hand opened the shutter in photos that arrive with little documentation. Sometimes, our Facebook fans help out.

Lacking such knowledge, the images are known are “orphans.” Tonight, the Matthews Gallery on Canyon Road opens a new exhibit, Familiar Strangers: Vernacular Photography (through May 23), dedicated to celebrating unknown photographers whose works are as haunting as those from “celebrity” shooters.

“Provenance is so important when it comes to our historic work, but brilliant art doesn’t have to have a famous name on it,” says gallery owner Lawrence Matthews. “Familiar Strangers is a tribute to amateur artists who never got—or perhaps even sought—the recognition they deserved.”

In advance of the opening, the gallery interviewed Hannah Abelbeck, the Photo Archives’ digitization specialist. Part of her job involves the hunt and discovery of unknown talents. Here’s a little excerpt:

We have a set of collections that exist in this limbo land between the old cataloguing system and the new cataloguing system. We might know something about them, or they might just be a box of photographs sitting on a shelf. This box says “Forrest Fenn“, so he probably donated them. Some have a photographer’s name on the back and some don’t. The stack of files is catalogued by location or subject— “New Mexico Towns” or “Portraits”.

There’s more; it’s a great interview. Give it a read here.

Learn more about the exhibit here.

Pinhole Photographers, Unite!

When we decided to showcase some of the images and cameras in the museum’s Pinhole Resource Collection, we knew that thousands of visitors would become enchanted. Little did we know how the photographers themselves would react.

When Poetics of Light: Pinhole Photography opened April 27, 30 photographers from around the world arrived in Santa Fe, eager to see their work included in the exhibition. And, it turns out, eager to meet one another. They met the evening before at a private reception generously hosted by Verve Gallery. And by the time the opening rolled around, their camaraderie had an old school reunion feeling to it.

Some of them purchased copies of the Museum of New Mexico Press book, Poetics of Light: Contemporary Pinhole Photography, then passed them around for signing almost as though they were yearbooks. Here’s astrophysicist Ed Fenimore signing someone’s copy:


And here’s some of the gang gathered in the museum lobby after shooting a group photograph (yeah, they took lots of photographs) in the Palace Courtyard:


Guest curators Eric Renner and Nancy Spencer founded the Pinhole Resource in San Lorenzo, NM, and donated its 6,000 photos to the Palace of the Governors Photo Archives in 2012. Upstairs, in the exhibit area, Renner (at right) greeted old friends and photographers:


And out in the Palace Courtyard, photographer Donald Lawrence sat on a chair surrounded by photo-developing chemicals, carefully working on a new negative the traditional way:


“I always thought of myself as a loner,” said Lawrence, who lives in Camloops, British Columbia, and whose underwater kayak camera is on display in the exhibit. “Being here shows me that I’m really part of a community.”

We’re especially grateful to all the other folks who showed up on Sunday, yet another part of our community, people who are just learning that they may want to be part of that Pinhole Photography Fraternity, too.

Poetics of Light: Pinhole Photography is on display at the New Mexico History Museum through January 10, 2016, so there’s plenty of time to come and …. check out how a pinhole camera works:


…test a simple camera obscura device:


…and learn how camera obscuras work:


Donald Woodman Photographs Celebrate New Mexico


Beginning with his early years working as a research photographer at the Sacramento Peak Solar Observatory in southern New Mexico, photographer Donald Woodman honed a photographic vision first through stars and clouds and then through sandy soil, majestic peaks and his own interior life. You can experience that journey in Donald Woodman: Transformed by New Mexico, in the Mezzanine gallery through Oct. 12.

Moon from 4x5 B&WThe exhibit represents the first of a yearlong series of events celebrating all the museum has accomplished since opening in 2009. In 2011, Woodman was the first person to donate his photographs and materials to the Photo Legacy Project at the Palace of the Governors Photo Archives. Since then, numerous other contemporary photographers have added their archives, including Jack Parsons, Sam Adams, Herbert A. Lotz, and more.

Curated by Mary Anne Redding,photography chair at the Santa Fe University of Art and Design, Transformed by new Mexico includes more than a dozen examples of the Belen-based photographer’s work from the early 1970s to 1998. Among the images are ones taken at the Sacramento Peak Solar Observatory in Sunspot, NM, and intimate selections from his Therapist Series. Each one invites you to look deeply at the tones, forms and shapes; to begin to understand the relationship Woodman has with his cameras, his world, and himself as he moves quietly from behind the lens to placing himself in its focus.

Kids in doorway“In many ways,” Redding said, “Donald Woodman is one of the stereotypical free spirits who arrived in New Mexico in a VW van in the early 1970s, searching for a new life unfettered by the conservative conventions and stodginess of the East Coast, to experiment with new-found freedoms involving hallucinatory drugs and liberated sexual exploration. And yet, Woodman’s long personal aesthetic trajectory, which continues today, is uniquely his own.”

After his initial New Mexico work at Sunspot, Woodman became a personal assistant to legendary painter Agnes Martin in Galisteo. In 1985 he married artist Judy Chicago, whose paintings will be at the New Mexico Museum of Art in Local Color: Judy Chicago in New Mexico 1984-2014, opening June 6.

Images above, from top: Sand Dune with Bush — White Sands, NM, ca. 1972. Silver gelatin print, 9×12 in. Waning Moon, ca. 1970s. Archival pigment print, 5×5 in. Two Boys in a Doorway, ca. 1970. Archival pigment print, 25×20 in. All photos by Donald Woodman. Palace of the Governors Photo Archives, Photo Legacy Project.