What could inspire some 150 people to travel from Arizona, Pennsylvania and other parts to Santa Fe? Well, plenty of things, when you think about. Mountains, art, great food, a unique mix of cultures. But this weekend, for these particular 150-some people, it was the memory of Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter.
An 1893 portrait of Mary Jane Colter by Arthur Mathews, one of her professors. Photo by Tom Alexander, courtesy of the Pioneer Museum, Flagstaff, and the Arizona Historical Society.
Starting Friday evening and continuing through Saturday, experts on the life and times of the Fred Harvey Co.’s “starchitect” are rubbing shoulders and ideas with railroad buffs, fans of history and an admirably large number of Harvey family members.
The event is co-sponsored by the New Mexico History Museum and La Fonda on the Plaza, one of the hotels where Colter left her design mark — along the way developing a version of Southwest style that lives today. The event is a fund-raiser for the History Museum, and we’re gratified to say, we’re sold out.
We began with a reception in the New Mexico room of La Fonda, where margaritas, tortillas and guacamole held court and folks started getting acquainted. A few glimpses:
Beyond food and conversation, we took note of the exquisite architectural details, like this eagle carved into a viga:
And this ceiling lamp:
Our generous sponsors then retired to the Santa Fe Room — the one room in La Fonda that retains about 90 percent of Colter’s original arts-and-crafts-meets-Native-American style — for dinner. Architect Barbara Felix delivered an amuse bouche of what participants will learn when our speakers hold court on Saturday. A Santa Fe architect, Felix oversaw the renovation of La Fonda’s restaurant, La Plazuela, taking care to restore what she could of Colter’s original intent for a room that, in her time, was an open-air plaza.
Among the difficulties that Felix encountered was the discovery that not all of Colter’s efforts were as solid and lasting as the sculpted terra-cotta mantels of German artist Arnold Ronnebeck, from whom she commissioned several pieces still inside the hotel.
Instead, some were piled in a storage room, where more than a few La Fonda honchos think they should stay. Not quite as well-made, they nevertheless held the charm of hand-crafted items, like the hanging lamp with hand-painted glass panels and an iron ashtray shaped like an antelope.
“It’s a little crude,” Felix said of the lamp. “It’s a little whimsical. It’s a little folk-arty.”
And then there was…this metal palm tree to the right of Felix.
Before the event, as a worker wheeled it into the banquet room, one hotel employee sighed in apparent disappointment. But for those of us who troll eBay and Craigslist, it was a find like no other.
Kind of like Mary Colter.
Starting at 10:30 am Saturday, we’ll learn more about her many legacies, which include the magical buildings along the south rim of the Grand Canyon, Phantom Ranch at its bottom, and the onetime grand interior of Los Angeles’ Union Station. Speakers include Colter biographer Arnold Berke; Harvey biographer Stephen Fried; and Felix.
We’ll keep you posted with updates throughout the day. If you can’t attend, don’t despair. In honor of the event, we added items from the Fred Harvey legacy to our display in the museum’s Mezzanine level, including a Collier magazine ad urging readers “Let’s eat with the Harvey boys”; a meal ticket; and a poster of the Harvey Co.’s Indian detours.
We hope you’ll come visit.