A Day at the Museum

Friday, December 21, 2012 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Westward Ho, Day 48:  Santa Fe, NM

With Santa Fe's reputation as a cultural mecca, a visit to a few of the city's many museums topped our agenda for today.  Our first stop was the museum of the artist whose name is synonymous with modern art in New Mexico—Georgia O'Keeffe.  Though neither of us is a particular fan of the artist, since our tastes lean more toward impressionism than her version of precisionism, her work cannot be ignored in Santa Fe.

Black Hollyhock and Blue Larkspur, Georgia O'Keeffe, 1930
A limited number of O'Keeffe's iconic flowers and western scenes were on exhibit today, with a larger part of the museum devoted to a current special exhibit, "Georgia O'Keeffe and the Faraway," which features works that stem from her camping trips to remote areas of the southwest as well as photographs documenting these treks.  

From the "O'K," we moved on to the New Mexico History Museum at the historic Palace of the Governors, a building which dates back to 1610 and for many years served as the seat of government in Santa Fe.  The oldest building in continuous use in the U.S., the palace has housed Spanish, Mexican, and American government offices, and since 1909 has been home to the New Mexico History Museum.

Palace of the Governors
Since the museum took over the Palace, its leadership has upheld a commitment to promote traditional Native American arts and crafts.  The museum's policy reserves the Palace's portal for the use of licensed participants in the Native American Vendors Program.  Items offered for sale include pottery, jewelry, stonework, carvings, and more.  The history museum itself was interesting but seemed to be in need of a little refreshing as the exhibits looked rather time-worn.

The final museum we visited was by far our favorite.  Opened in 1953, the Museum of International Folk Art is home to more than 135,000 artifacts, making it the world's largest repository of folk art.  Three of the museum's four wings house short-term exhibits from the museum's collection and traveling exhibitions.  The Girard wing, the museum's most popular, showcases a permanent exhibit of folk art, toys, miniatures, and textiles from more than 100 nations.

Latin American Toy Shop
Multiple Visions: A Common Bond, the name given to this stellar exhibit, was the brainchild of Alexander Girard, a renown architect and interior designer.  As a child, Girard was fascinated by toys, nativity scenes and miniatures.  And when he married a bride who shared his interest in folk art, an obsession was born.   Girard and his wife Susan began collecting small hand-crafted items on a honeymoon trip to Mexico in the 1930s and continued amassing as they traveled the world over.  By 1978, they had accumulated more than could realistically be displayed at home, even for someone with multiple residences.

Some of the masks from the Girard collection
So the Girards, Santa Fe residents, opened their hearts and their storage facilities and donated more than 100,000 objects to the museum, quintupling the size of the institution's collection overnight and prompting the construction of a new wing to house the fascinating conglomeration of toys and dolls, masks, costumes, textiles, religious figurines, paintings, beadwork, and more.  Girard himself also designed the Multiple Visions exhibit, which displays more than 10,000 objects from the collection in dozens of whimsical and elaborate vignettes.

A tiny corner of the Multiple Visions exhibit
Unlike conventional exhibits, Girard's conception does not place most objects at or near eye level.  To experience this colorful panorama fully, the visitor must look up high, down low, through tunnels, and still you leave feeling you missed things, as indeed you must.  There is so much to see here, one could easily come back many times and see something new upon each return visit.

Other wings of the museum held more customary exhibits, which were also excellent though they lacked the playful appeal of the Girard wing.  All in all, we rated the Museum of International Folk Art one of the best we've visited in recent memory.

Tomorrow we'll leave Santa Fe and continue our trek eastward.  Since we have found a letterbox in New Mexico, part two of our 2012 'Great 48' goal is complete:  we have found a letterbox in each of the 48 contiguous states.  Six more boxes need to be planted by December 31.  We have the boxes ready, but will the weather gods interfere with our plan to get to Alabama and plant our last box on New Year's Eve?  The Weather Channel is rattling snow shovels in Oklahoma City next week when we're there.

More Photos from Today

A few of the Girard amulets
Detail from a Day of the Dead vignette of Mexican folk art objects
Polish Christmas scene
Girard's logo for the Multiple Visions exhibit
19th century village diorama
Tree of Life (Mexico)
Heaven and Hell
A sign we'd like to see at more museums