Crazy ’bout a Sharp-Dressed Man

BenConradInSuit-2Pinhole photography, at its heart, combines the most low-tech materials with the highest ideals of art. Nowhere can that be better seen than in Ben Conrad’s pinhole suit.

Lately, the only place to see it has been the Conservation Lab behind the museum’s administrative offices. There, Casey Mallinckrodt, an intern for the Conservation Department of the Museum of New Mexico, has painstakingly repaired cameras that consist of little more than cardboard, duct tape, electrician’s tape and glue. In 1994, Conrad used Velcro to affix 125 of the rickety cameras to a pair of Big Ben coveralls and a motorcycle helmet. Working with assistants in a darkroom, he loaded the cameras with film. His helpers covered him with a tarp and ferried him outside, where they lifted the tarp to expose the film. Quickly covering him again, they returned to the darkroom to develop the multi-eyed vision of his surroundings.

As Conrad explained the purpose in 1995: “The pinhole suit is an experiment to see what it would look like if the pores of the human skin were camera apertures. … (I) want to photograph on locations in public areas that are under surveillance, such as banks, airports, parks and grocery stores. With the pinhole suit I’m exposing myself and exposing the film. Where the 35mm is a spectator, the pinhole suit is both spectator and spectacle.”

Caroline Lajoie, designer of the exhibition, Poetics of Light: Pinhole Photography, opening April 27, has devised a way to display the suit on a mannequin surrounded by the images it took.

As basic as Conrad’s materials may have been, nothing goes on exhibit without conservators taking a serious look at them. Mallinckrodt did just that, even subjecting various parts of the suit to spectral examination, solubility tests, and Fourier-Transform Infrared Spectroscopy. Knowing the suit’s roots, her report almost reads scientifically tongue-in-cheek: “The motorcycle helmet is structurally sound. … There are areas of fine cracking in the outer layer of plastic that may be the result of impact or deterioration of the material, but these cracks do not impair use in this assembly.”

 

Lowriders Hanging High

JackParsons-installation

Wander into the Palace of the Governors’ entrance and you’ll get a taste of the renovations being planned for our favorite National Historic Landmark. The front desk has been converted into a smaller, more appropriate size, clad in copper and topped with granite. On the walls, you’ll see a contemporary take on New Mexico’s Hispanic culture.

A few of Jack Parsons’ images of Northern New Mexico lowriders make up a temporary exhibition that also celebrates the Photo Legacy Project. As dreamed up by the Palace of the Governors Photo Archives, the project collects the works of contemporary photographers. Parsons was an early and eager contributor.

The photos on display first appeared in the 2005 Museum of New Mexico Press book, Low ’n Slow: Lowriding in New Mexico, by Parsons, Carmella Padilla and Juan Estevan Arellano. Through Parsons’ images, Padilla’s essays and Arellano’s slang-style dialogues, the book explored the lowrider lifestyle in ways that honored its dignity.

“The lobby area is the first step of a larger effort to freshen up the Palace’s rooms,” museum Director Frances Levine said. “Jack’s photos give it color and liveliness while underscoring the Palace’s 400-year-old tie to Spanish culture in the United States.”

Parsons, who lives in Santa Fe, won a 2006 Governor’s Award for Excellence and Achievement in the Arts. His work can be seen in numerous books, including Dark Beauty and Santa Fe Style.

USS New Mexico’s Bell Finds a Permanent Home

By the time the USS New Mexico battleship was decommissioned in 1946, her bells had rung out alarms of attacks and tolled the grief felt by those who survived as they buried at sea the shipmates who had given their lives. The “Queen of the Fleet,” commissioned in 1918 and christened with both champagne and the waters of the Rio Grande, had served as the finest battleship of the Pacific fleet and endured attacks by kamikazes and bombers. For her World War II service, the ship received six battle stars and is still recalled with awe — even though she was sold for scrap in 1947.

The story might have ended there but for those bells — one of which arrived on Friday, Nov. 16, at the New Mexico History Museum after a circuitous post-war life. That part of the story goes back to New Mexico Gov. Thomas Mabry, who began working in 1947 on obtaining one of the ship’s two bells.

His correspondence with Secretary of the Navy John L. Sullivan reflects the state’s desire to spare the bell from the scrapyard. Sullivan shared the goal, but it was a weighty one — 1,100 pounds, according to a Dec. 22, 1947, letter from the Navy chief.

“It was the practice of the Navy to outfit some of the older battleships with two bells, and the U.S.S. NEW MEXICO was so equipped,” he wrote. “It would give me much pleasure to donate the bell of the U.S.S. NEW MEXICO to you on behalf of the State of New Mexico, but before doing so, there are two conditions which must be fulfilled. The first is that Congress must approve all donations. … The second condition is that the State of New Mexico must agree to defray all expenses incidental to packing and shipping.”

Our correspondence file includes Mabry’s request to obtain the portion of the ship’s bulkhead that held a painted record of how many Japanese planes and shore installations were destroyed by the ship’s guns. If the letters are correct, the bulkhead made it to New Mexico, but we’ve been unable to trace where it went. We do, however, know what happened to the bell.

In 1948, Gov. Mabry and Mayor Frank Ortiz officiated at a dedication ceremony as the bell was placed on the Santa Fe Plaza. (The photo above was taken at the event by Robert H. Martin. Palace of the Governors Photo Archives 41320.) It stood on the Plaza for nearly 30 years. An early 1970s Plaza renovation forced its removal, but the Manuel Lujan Sr. building in the state’s South Capitol Complex gladly took possession of it. It hung below a stairway near the building’s vending-machine area until a recent renovation there forced yet another move.

This time, we were ready. We have the storage space, we have a small exhibition dedicated to the battleship and its nuclear-submarine namesake, and we have staffers who feel an emotional tie to the ship and its mates.

“It represents to much,” said Tom Leech, director of the Palace Press and curator of our lobby-area exhibit, A Noble Legacy: The USS New Mexico. “When I think about what that bell has been through — it’s rung general alarms when the ship was under attack. It rang when those guys were buried at sea.”

(To learn more about the ship’s ordeals and heroism, check out this mini-documentary, USS New Mexico BB40: The Drinan Diary, produced by the museum and Michael Kamins of KNME-TV in Albuquerque.)

Getting the bell delivered to our loading dock was one thing. Figuring out how to get it to our lower-level almost-hermetically-sealed collections vault was another.

First, staff members eyeballed it. Warily.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then, four of our burliest guys tried to move it …

 

 

 

 

 

… but couldn’t even budge it.

 

 

Finally, we resorted to good old hydraulics.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As for what happened to the second bell, we know that the University of New Mexico acquired it, possibly with the help of the Alpha Phi Omega fraternity, but we aren’t certain where it is. Outside the Student Union Building? At the football stadium? Inside the ROTC building? If you know, drop us a line. (And if you know what happened to its clapper, which our records showed “disappeared, mysteriously, during the early 1970s,” we’d be interested in that as well.)

Our hope is to put our bell on display as soon as we polish off some other priorities. One popular suggestion is to place it in the Palace Courtyard. We’ll let you know when that happens. In the meantime, we’re pleased and proud that an important part of New Mexico’s heritage is sharing quarters with so many other artifacts that tell the stories of who we are.

 

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.

100 books, 56 cameras and 6,000 pinhole photographs

Mysterious, artistic, and as low-tech as an oatmeal box, pinhole photography has captivated everyone from schoolchildren to professional photographers for more than a century. The Pinhole Resource Archives, the world’s largest collection of images, books and cameras, just joined New Mexico’s largest archive of photography, the Palace of the Governors Photo Archives at the New Mexico History Museum.

The collection was a donation from Pinhole Resource Inc., which is based in New Mexico and led by Eric Renner and Nancy Spencer. (The image at left is “Brooklyn Bridge, New York City,” by Ilan Wolff, 1987. Palace of the Governors Photo Archives HP.2012.15.369.)

“In looking at other possible repositories for the Pinhole Resource Collection, we felt the Palace of the Governors Photo Archives had a tremendous web presence, which would make the collection accessible to people worldwide,” Renner and Spencer said in a prepared statement. “In addition, with the staff’s enthusiasm and interest in pinhole images we felt the collection would have a good home here in New Mexico.”

The Photo Archives has already digitized hundreds of the images, which can be searched here (click on “Browse Pinhole Resource Collection” or type the word “Pinhole” into the search box).

“The Photo Archives and the state of New Mexico is fortunate to be the repository for this world-class collection of pinhole photography. There is no other collection like it and is a tremendous addition to the resources made available to the public through the Photo Archives,” said archivist Daniel Kosharek.

Even in this digital age, pinhole photography remains an intriguing medium. Its continued popularity has been celebrated every April since 2001 with Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day. The 2010 event drew 3,387 images from 67 countries.

An exhibition of images from this unparalleled collection of pinhole photographs, representing images from New Mexico and around the world, is scheduled for April 2014 Poetics of Light will coincide with Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day.

(The image at left is “Anne S. in front of Jack B.’s Pool,” 1984, by Willie Anne Wright. She was the first pinhole photographer to place Cibachrome positive photographic paper directly into her 11”x14” pinhole camera. Wright’s photograph, a five-minute exposure, graced the cover of the first issue of “Pinhole Journal” in 1985. Palace of the Governors Photo Archives HP.2012.15.763.)

In the 5th century BC, a Chinese philosopher noted the inverted image produced through a pinhole—an effect that led to development of the camera obscura and serves as the fundamental quality of pinhole photography. Renaissance artists Leonardo da Vinci, Filippo Brunelleschi, and Leon Battista Alberti advanced the knowledge of pinhole camera obscura imagery, creating a basis and understand of one-point perspective. In 1850, Sir David Brewster, a Scottish scientist, took the first photograph with a pinhole camera.  By the mid-1980s, a variety of pinhole cameras could be purchased by anyone who wanted to create images without creating the camera.

In its most simple description, a pinhole camera is a lens-less camera with a small aperture. The interior of the “camera” (which can be, yes, an oatmeal box…or a traffic cone…or the human mouth…) contains a piece of film that records the projected image over periods of time that can range from a second to a year.

When the atomic bomb test was conducted at the Trinity Site in New Mexico, Julian Mack, working for the Los Alamos National Laboratories, documented the explosion with a pinhole camera (image at left; Palace of the Governors Photo Archives HP.2012.15.775).

Pinhole Resource Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to pinhole photography across the globe, was formed in New Mexico in 1984 by Eric Renner. He began working in pinhole photography in 1968, while teaching three-dimensional design for the State University of New York at Alfred. Images from his 6 pinhole panoramic camera were shown in the first exhibition of the Visual Studies Workshop Gallery in Rochester, New York. Consequently, one of Renner’s images was included in the Time-Life Series The Art of Photography, 1971. Through exhibitions and workshops, he met pinhole artists throughout the world and worried that their work might become as lost as the thousands of images taken during the Pictorial Movement from the late 1880s to early 1900s.

After forming the nonprofit, he created the Pinhole Journal, and in 1989 was joined by Nancy Spencer, co-director of Pinhole Resource and co-editor of the journal, which ceased publication in 2006. Their collections included images from Europe, the Mideast, Asia and the Americas, books about pinhole photography, and dozens of pinhole cameras, one of which dates back to the 1880s.

The Palace of the Governors Photo Archives contains more than 800,000 prints, cased photographs, glass plate negatives, stereographs, photo postcards, lantern slides and more. Almost 20,000 images can be keyword searched on its website. The materials date from approximately 1850 to the present and cover the history and people of New Mexico from some of the most important 19th– and 20th-century photographers of the West—Adolph Bandelier, George C. Bennett, John Candelario, W.H. Cobb, Edward S. Curtis, Charles Lindbergh, Jesse Nusbaum, T. Harmon Parkhurst, Ben Wittick, and many others.

The Archives actively seeks material from contemporary photographers as well in order to document the past 50 years of visual history in New Mexico. Recent acquisitions include works by Jack Parsons, Herbert A. Lotz, Tony O’Brien, Steve Fitch, David Michael Kennedy, John Willis, Ann Bromberg, and Cary Herz.

 

What a Frame-Up: “Native American Portraits”

Native American Portraits: Points of Inquiry, the new exhibition in the New Mexico History Museum’s Mezzanine Gallery, features more than 50 exquisite, original prints taken from the mid-1800s to 1035. What makes them even more arresting are the more than 50 frames surrounding each photo.

How we found them is one of the interesting little back-stories that so many museums have to tell.

The show is hung in what’s known as a “salon style” exhibition, where the groupings look more like what you might see in someone’s living room than the standard march of photos across a wall most common in museums. Given that, curator and archivist Daniel Kosharek, along with exhibition designer Caroline Lajoie, didn’t want a series of identical frames. But they lacked the funds to order up an assortment from your local frame shape.

The hunt was on.

“It started with a few finds at a garage sale,” Daniel said.

Andrew Smith, one of the co-curators of the exhibit and owner of Andrew Smith Gallery, provided three historically accurate frames for the Edward S. Curtis images. The Museum of New Mexico’s Conservation Department helped create several shadowbox-like frames to hold postcard images in a sort of suspended animation, rather than tacking them down.

“It ended with scouring the basement of a local gallery and molding-diving in the storage locker of a framing company,” Daniel said. “The end result? Well, you be the judge.”

 

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.

ManuelitoPrint_72_4x4

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?

“Fashioning New Mexico”

“Fashioning New Mexico”
New museum’s premiere exhibition reveals
the history of the clothes we wore

Welcome to the latest installment of our media-release series, “Telling New Mexico: Stories from Then and Now.” See the links below for previous releases, along with information about obtaining photographs to accompany your coverage.

Flamenco
Flamenco Dress


Estella Bestero (Moore) with her mother,
Florence (Wreford) Bestero, undated

Wedding Dress
Wedding Dress


Unidentified boy in a cowboy
outfit, undated

Flappers
Flapper Dresses

San Juan Pueblo Child
San Juan Pueblo child
in ceremonial dress, undated

Santa Fe – Life’s passages carry layers of meaning and memory – the foods we eat, the songs we sing, the clothes we wear. The ways in which our predecessors chose to clothe themselves – for a baptism, a prom, a war, or an opera opening – have been collected by the New Mexico History Museum for 100 years. As part of the Museum’s grand opening May 24, many of those outfits are, shall we say, coming out of the closet.

Fashioning New Mexico, the premiere exhibition in the Museum’s Changing Gallery, explores what our clothes say about us and what they mean to us. Some of the celebratory events depicted in it are singular to New Mexico, such as fiestas and Native American ceremonies. Others are the classic passages that form the basis of our lives and of the tales we have told since the earliest campfire was lit: a child’s birth, coming of age, marriage, anniversaries, ascents to power and going to war.

The Museum’s collection of nearly 4,000 costumes and accessories, with many pieces dating from the 1830s to the 1970s, has long lacked the space it takes for a proper exhibit. The opening of the Museum’s second-floor, 5,700-square-foot Changing Gallery finally makes it possible.

To senior curator Louise Stiver, it’s both a celebration and a swan song, as she unveils her final exhibition.

“This is the first time for the Museum to focus on our collection of costumes and accessories,” she said. “A number of the items in the collection represent celebrations that occurred here in New Mexico – from weddings to going to the opera to entering military service. There’s a little bit of everything for people to see.”

But, she cautions, “this is not a fashion show.”

“Rather, it will focus on how people fashioned their lives. Some clothing might stand alone, while others will be part of a vignette that might include furniture, portraits, weaponry, accessories, historical documents and other props to tell the story.”

Other features include a high-seated “penny farthing” bicycle, and interactive features where a visitor can practice tying a corset, using the secret language of fans or virtually “trying on” some of the outfits in the exhibit. Student-interns from New Mexico Highlands University are preparing a station that uses computerized images on a mirror that let visitors virtually “try on” some of the outfits in the exhibition.

What’s coming out of the closet? Plenty – about 350 items, including a dozen 19th– and 20th-century wedding gowns, flapper dresses, flamenco outfits, WWI uniforms, inaugural ballgowns and an assortment of underwear through the centuries. Thirty of the Museum’s classic fans will reveal a time when delicate painting and embroidery turned a utilitarian item into art.

Donors through the years have included the heirs of the Harroun, Manderfield and Armijo families of Santa Fe, the McMillans of Socorro, the Jaramillos from northern New Mexico, and the McDonalds of Carrizozo, to name a few.

The pieces cover modern history as well, including a turquoise outfit recalling the grandeur of Dangerous Liaisons-era France. The outfit, worn by Santa Fe artist Paul Stephen Valdez to the Equality New Mexico Gala in 2008, was loaned by him for this special exhibition.

Conservator Rebecca Tinkham has worked on every costume in the exhibition, painstakingly repairing the rips and frays of time, a task that prior to now also made displaying the items problematic. With the Museum’s climate-controlled galleries, fragile fabrics can withstand the rigors of exhibition.

Besides mending seams, Tinkham has found herself working on corsets, hoops, bustles, pantaloons and petticoats.

“These days, the clothes fit the body,” she said. “But for a good part of history, the body was made to fit the clothes with bustles, hoops, metal bust improvers.”

One of the things that most impressed her about the collection was how well New Mexicans dressed.

“A lot of the clothes are just so pretty to look at,” Tinkham said. “There were a lot of people in New Mexico who did dress to style. They were definitely stylish for the period.”

Those period-specific styles are also revealed in the Museum’s archival photos accompanying the exhibit, which buttress the notion of these being the clothes New Mexicans lived, worked and played in.

As they have for the last century, the collection of artifacts and photographs detailing our stylish ways would have continued. But without the new exhibition gallery, the wait to see them would have been even longer.

“The New Mexico History Museum opens a new chapter in the life of the Palace of the Governors,” Stiver said. “This new gallery allows us to expand our Museum’s mission and display exceptional examples from the Palace’s collections never before seen by the public.”

The New Mexico History Museum includes interactive multimedia displays, hands-on exhibits, and vivid stories of real New Mexicans. As a 96,000-square-foot extension of the Palace of the Governors – itself a story of New Mexico’s past and present in a 400-year-old building – the New Mexico History Museum anchors itself in the historic Santa Fe Plaza and offers a sampling of the people and the legends to be found throughout the state. Get into it – define your place in history and in fashion.

For more information about the New Mexico History Museum, including a selection of user-ready high-resolution photographs, log onto http://media.museumofnewmexico.org/nmhm. More than 8,000 additional, high-resolution photographs illustrating the history of New Mexico are available by keyword search at www.palaceofthegovernors.org (click on “Photo Archives” then on “Digitized Collections”). Most requests for scans from this site can be delivered the same day, and usage is free for publicity purposes only.