Beyond the Santa Fe Plaza

Santa Fe has no shortage of museums. There are three downtown – the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts mentioned already, the Palace of the Governors that houses New Mexico history displays, and the New Mexico Museum of Art – and four more located on “Museum Hill,” about a mile and a half outside of Santa Fe proper, which is where we were headed on Tuesday.

The four museums were the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture, the Museum of International Folk Art, and the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian. In addition, there is the Santa Fe Botanical Garden and the Regional Office of the National Park Service for the Intermountain Region.

We started in the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art. There was one room open that displayed colonial-era furnishings, that looked like the filming set of Disney’s TV show, “Zorro.” The rest of the rooms were filled with an exhibit of “GenNext” art – contemporary works by Hispanic artists.

This kind of artwork, the boxes with various images and other decorations, can be traced to the portable altars brought by the Spanish in the late 1500s/early 1600s.

The next stop was the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture, which was excellent, the only problem being that their major galleries were closed for repair and remodel, so only three of their smaller galleries were open. No photographs were allowed.

One of their galleries was an exhibit about the pipelines that were planned to cross the reservation in South Dakota, threatening water supplies. It was an interesting exhibit, focusing on the protests, displaying the filing documents involved in the lawsuits that were brought by the nations involved.

Two of the galleries seemed more like one because of the traffic path. It was a wonderful collection of clothing, blankets and rugs, and other items from daily life. My favorite was the large blanket, decorated with symbols of footsteps, fencing, and “pathways to success” with an accompanying explanation, and commentary of the reaction of another tribe when they came to see this. The group grew quiet as they recognized the story the symbols told of confinement and sorrow. It was an emotional moment. I appreciated that the interpretation helped me understand why it was.

The Museum of International Folk Art was very enjoyable. The largest exhibit was a collection of folk art from across the planet, collected, donated, and the exhibit designed by one man. Alexander Girard collected over 100,000 objects, representing 100 countries on six continents, and designed the exhibit himself. There is an incredible array, fascinating in its variety and in the displays themselves. There is no signage on the exhibits, but one can pick up a touch-pad guide or join a docent tour for information. It is an exhibit that demands multiple visits.

From Poland, a tinfoil-faced church with clay figures:

A decoration for a child’s grave – white beads strung on wire:

The boxes below, descended from the Spanish portable altars, are called “Retablos,” which is Spanish for altars. The art form was discovered by folk art enthusiasts in the 1940s. Starting then, retablos were made for and sold by Neiman-Marcus in their Dallas store.

Retablos are brightly painted boxes, topped by triangular pediments, with two hinged doors to close the box. The subjects began as festive scenes of village life, often combining the Catholic and Andean religions. They became part of village celebrations, such as the “herranza festival,” when owners would brand their animals. In herranza, they were known as “Cajon Sanmarcos,” or Saint Mark boxes, who was the patron saint of cattle. Over time, the scenes evolved to include the wider interests and concerns of the community.

Neiman-Marcus, on an annual basis in the 1950s, held an event called “Fortnight,” setting aside two weeks to showcase the products, design, and culture of a particular area of the world. In 1959, it was South America. The store hosted visiting artists, dignitaries, and a llama named Linda Lee.

The museum’s collection of retablos, two of which are pictured here, were made especially for the Fortnight presentation that year, and acquired later by Alexander Girard. “Saint John the Baptist/San Juan Bautista” was done by Joaquin (say “Wa-keen”) Lopez Antay, generally credited with initiating the craft. It is made of wood, potato flour, plaster, and paint.

The second retablo, “Execution of Leoncio Prado Gutierrez 1883,” was made by Jesus Urbano Rojas, ca 1958. I was not able to find much information about this incident. Wikipedia, the only resource that came up from my Google search, says only that Leoncio was the son of a president of Peru, that Leoncio’s brother was president of Peru twice, and that Leoncio died at age 30 during a battle in the War of the Pacific. He apparently was executed as a prisoner of war in 1883, prior to the war’s end in 1884. There is a Peruvian military academy named after him.

Art galleries abound in Santa Fe, and the Canyon Road area boasts an impressive concentration of them. There are about 100 galleries here, more than a person could possibly do justice to in an afternoon!

We went into a gallery, Nathalie + Nathalie Home, a store with handmade home items, clothing and accessories, with some artwork thrown in. I loved the display of cowboy boots:

The Sage Creek Gallery on King’s Road was our favorite, and we spent quite a while looking at the sculptures and paintings of the various artists. They were really excellent and priced accordingly. Understandably, no photos allowed, but you can find them online.

After a hard afternoon of admiring artwork, we relaxed over a cup of coffee at a very friendly, family-run place – sadly, I can’t remember the name and didn’t write it down, but it’s in the 200 block of Canyon Road – and called it a day.

It was our last day in Santa Fe, but I will be returning when I am back in the U.S. because there is much more to enjoy about Santa Fe – fine art, most of all, but also performing arts, a chamber music festival, an independent film festival, food and history. There are markets: International Folk Art Market in mid-July, the Traditional Spanish Market in late July, and the Santa Fe Indian Market (the oldest) in mid-August. I can hardly recommend it enough.

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