Filled with more than 400 years of antiquity and culture, the New Mexico History Museum (NMHM) announces the opening of “Palace Seen and Unseen: A Convergence of History and Archaeology.” Set to debut June 26, 2021, this new exhibition explores the Palace of the Governors as a public building and a storied place.
Reflecting current archaeological and historical perspectives, “Palace Seen and Unseen” draws from historic documents, photographs, and archaeological and architectural studies produced by its former residents, visitors, stewards, and scholars. When the dynamic expertise of historians and archaeologists converges, a richer story and better understanding emerges. It is this integrative approach to what is seen and unseen that guides the themes explored by this exhibition. There is no better place for this to happen than at the Palace of the Governors.
Guest curators Cordelia (Dedie) Snow and Stephen (Steve) Post have nearly 50 years of combined experience with Palace architecture, history, and archaeology. Their firsthand experience excavating within the Palace walls and on its grounds provides a unique, expert perspective that visitors will appreciate.
“The Palace’s adobe architecture provides us with a unique backdrop to tell its 400-year story through the words, images, and objects of its many residents and visitors,” explain Snow and Post. “Just when you think you might be getting a handle on the archaeology or history of the Palace, something new crops up. Just as the puzzle always seems to be missing pieces, it grows even larger.”
All the archaeological objects selected were excavated by either Snow or Post and were dug up from Palace floors or the former Armory grounds – where the NMHM Domenici Building now stands.
“Palace Seen and Unseen” was originally scheduled to open in 2020. The exhibition will be on long-term view.
The program has been closed since March 12, 2020 as a result of the Covid pandemic. A reopening plan has been crafted in accordance with state public health orders and Covid-safe practices. Protecting the health of artisans and the public is a primary concern of the museum and the Department of Cultural Affairs.
All vendors will wear masks and will be separated from one another by at least six feet. To adjust for the increased spacing, vendors will be selling along Washington and Lincoln Avenues, as well as under the portal. Pedestrian traffic under the portal will be one-way, from west to east. Customers are encouraged to comply with state law regarding mask wearing. The Portal opens at 10:00 every day and closes at 3:00 although vendors may stay later.
Joining our friends group, the Palace Guard, carries perks. Among them: a series of field trips, including a September visit to an unknown gem of Santa Fe.
Jack Lemon (at left) founded Landfall Press in Chicago in 1970. Eleven years ago, he moved the operation here, carrying a legacy of working with international artists and fine stone lithography.
To better understand the role that lithographic images played in forming people’s opinions of the Civil War, Palace Press Director Tom Leech arranged a special tour and a demonstration on Landfall’s mammoth Marinoni Voirin press. (See a cool video here.)
With Meredith Davidson and Daniel Kosharek, Leech co-curated our exhibit, Fading Memories: Echoes of the Civil War. His portion explores how mass distribution of lithographic images shaped the opinions of a largely illiterate public. Pointing to Landfall’s precious stone bearing an image of Frederick Douglass, Leech noted that it was made by Louis Kurz of the Kurz and Allison publishing team.
“In our exhibit, The Fort Pillow Massacre is one outstanding example of their work,” he said. “These prints were sold to survivors and families as memorial pieces that glorified the war. Somewhere along the line, Kurz’s conscience got to him, and he included black soldiers in a way that was very honorable.”
Do you ever wonder how the History Museum pays for all the wonderful exhibits we have? Or its knowledgeable staff? Or that fabulous lecture? The answer is … well, it’s complicated.
Under this year’s budget, the state of New Mexico provided about $2.8 million for operating costs, including salaries, utilities, and supplies. Last year’s Legislature provided an additional $680,000 for capital improvements, which includes the ongoing Palace renovation. (That’s museum Director Andrew Wulf on the right, talking with Elmo Griego of Longhorn Construction, which is overseeing the Palace stucco project.)
The Museum of New Mexico Foundation will raise another $550,000 or so this year for exhibits and programs—although that sum is a moving target, given two new major exhibits opening in May. The museum also enjoys generous support from Los Compadres, who members have repeatedly stepped up to raise money for all manner of special projects. Foundation and museum staff also collaborates to apply for grants that produce even more money, usually for public programs like lectures and symposia.
In just over two years, the New Mexico History Museum’s pre-K program for local Head Start classrooms provided more than 1,500 free visits and classroom time to children, parents and teachers. Begun with generous funding by the Brindle Foundation, it faced a sad demise at the end of 2015 until two angels arrived. Stephen and Jane Hochberg, longtime supporters of the museum, have provided funds to keep the program alive and begin expanding it.
The newly named Hochberg Early Childhood Education Academy “is a marquee program for the museum because it is a core piece of outreach,” Director Andrew Wulf said. “We’re offering the opportunity for early childhood–age visitors to come to the museum with their families in a structured and educationally fulfilling experience.”
Members of the Palace Guard pose for a picture during their 2015 visit to Jemez Historic Site.
The Palace Guard serves as the “friends” group for the New Mexico History Museum and Palace of the Governors. Participants pay for a higher level of membership within the Museum of New Mexico Foundation, which helps support educational programs and other essentials. In return, members gain access to backstage tours and field trips to broaden their grasp of the art, culture and history of the Southwest.
This year, the Palace Guard’s volunteer steering committee, under the chairmanship of Michael Ettema, took the lead in plotting out a variety of trips and programs.
“We wanted to give more power to them,” said Meredith Davidson, curator of 19th– and 20th-century Southwest collections. “We wanted to pull from their knowledge and specific interests. And they are passionate about several overnight trips we’re offering this year.”
This year’s training for New Mexico History Museum guides attracted more than 40 signups—the largest group in recent memory. Every Tuesday morning, they gather for a talk on some aspect of New Mexico history, combined with a walk-through of the relevant parts of our exhibits. There, Education Programs Manager René Harris and Educator Melanie LaBorwit note ways to engage visitors by combining the earlier lecture’s lessons with artifacts, maps and photographs.
Guest speakers include former Palace Director Tom Chávez and State Historian Rick Hendricks, along with Richard Melzer, Kathy Flynn, Porter Swentzell, and Dedie Snow. Current museum guides and Historical Downtown Walking Tour guides are welcome to attend the lectures for ongoing learning, as are museum staffers (supervisors willing).
“We have a really wide range of folks interested in volunteering this year,” Harris said. “Some are lifelong New Mexicans, and some have very recently relocated. There are retired attorneys, a physician, university faculty members, a public-relations professional, a corporate manager, business and public school administrators, teachers, federal government employees, and a computer programmer. It’s a diverse group of retirees.”
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.”
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.