story and photos by Kayte Deioma
Along with the hundreds of art galleries which make Santa Fe the country’s second largest art market, Santa Fe is home to a number of world-class museums worth visiting rain or shine. The Museum of New Mexico actually encompasses four of the best, covering enough topics to find something of interest to everyone in the family. The four institutions under the auspices of the Museum of New Mexico are the Palace of the Governors, the Museum of Fine Arts, The Museum of Indian Arts and Culture and the Museum of International Folk Arts.
The Museum of New Mexico offers a four-day Museum Pass which allows unlimited access to all four of its museums plus the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art for $15. All four museums are open Tuesday through Sunday, 10 to 5. Both the Palace of the Governors and the Museum of Fine Arts are also open and free to the public from 5 to 8 p.m. on Friday evenings. A whirlwind tour of the four museums gave me just a taste of each and left me wanting to go back for more.
Palace of the Governors
Running along the north side of the Plaza, the Palace of the Governors, built in 1610, is the oldest continually occupied public building in the United States, having served as the political seat of multiple governments for its first three centuries. In 1909 it became the initial site of the Museum of New Mexico. The Palace of the Governors currently houses the Museum’s state history collection from Spanish colonial, Mexican, American Territorial through recent New Mexican history. It is a good place to get an overview of New Mexico’s tri-cultural past.
On permanent exhibit is Art of Ancient America, 1500 BC- AD 1500, a beautiful collection of 300 years of pre-Columbian ceramic and metal figures from tombs in Mexico, Peru and other Mesoamerican countries. The collection includes human effigies, animals, fruits and other objects. A gleeful stone figure caries a pole across his shoulders. A ceramic lobster is painted in the grey and rust shades of Mexican pottery. Hammered gold masks gleam with mysterious expressions.
The Segesser Hides, the earliest known depiction of Spanish and Frenchcolonial occupation in the New World, are also on permanent display. The artist chronicled history on bison hides in the early 18 th century. The first panel depicts an Apache attack. Segasser II tells the story of a 1720 expedition led by the Lt. Governor of New Mexico, Don Pedro de Villasur, which was ambushed in what is now Nebraska. Named after a Swiss priest who sent the hides back to his family in Switzerland in the 1750s, they were purchased by the Museum of New Mexico and brought to the Palace of the Governors in the 1980s.
Other artifacts on permanent display include Spanish armor, a mud wagon, implements of the Anglo Frontier and the Mexican Period, and several room installations including a New Mexico Chapel based around an 1830 altarpiece painted by folk artist Jose Rafael Aragon for the church of Llano Quemado in Taos County.
Through February 4, 2007 you can also see “Lasting Impressions,” an exhibit of New Mexico’s literary history. Original printing presses and first edition woodcut print books from illustrated Shakespeare to Native American folk tales are on display.
Some of the works printed by the independent presses are quite entertaining, showing biting political or social satire. The Museum continues to use historic hand-operated printing and bookbindingequipment to produce limited editions of works related to the Southwest through the Palace Press.
In front of the Palace of the Governors, New Mexico American Indian vendors sell handcrafted objects as part of the Museum’s Native American Artisans Program. The Museum stipulates that vendors can only sell items that are handmade by themselves or immediate family members.
The pilgrimage to the Museum of New Mexico continues: Museum of Fine Arts, The Museum of Indian Arts and Culture and the Museum of International Folk Arts.
For more information, visit www.palaceofthegovernors.org