Capitol Assets

Thursday, December 20, 2012 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Gallup, NM to Santa Fe, NM
With the temperature at 7° this morning when we left Gallup, our car was understandably feeling a little sluggish.  After our tires were pumped up to 35 psi (from their normal 32) at the service in Reno, we didn't have the low tire pressure indicator complaining as it had in Bozeman, but the car seemed to want to warm up a bit before taking on the freeway.  That was just the excuse we needed to go search for a Gallup letterbox.  By then, everyone was ready and we headed east on I-40.

After yesterday's snowfall and dicey road conditions, we were happy to find that, as we anticipated (with a little help from the NM DOT web site), the sunshine and wind yesterday afternoon had left the highway dry and clear.  By the time we reached the Albuquerque area, there was little sign that it had snowed at all, and we headed north on I-25 toward Santa Fe, where our first stop was the New Mexico Capitol building (pictured above), known familiarly as the Roundhouse.
Completed in 1966, New Mexico's Capitol is one of the newest in the nation (older than only Hawaii's and Florida's).  Yet Santa Fe (pop. 75,764) is the nation's longest serving capital city, having been the seat of government for the area now known as the state of New Mexico since 1610—under Spanish, Mexican, and American rule.  At 7,260 ft., Santa Fe also has the highest elevation of any capital city, even including the "mile-high" Colorado capital.

Zia sun symbol from NM flag and aerial view of Capitol  (Aerial image from Google Maps)
Built in New Mexico Territorial style, the shape of the Capitol building was designed to form the Zia sun symbol, prominently featured on the New Mexico state flag and license plates.  When the building was renovated in the early 1990s, the legislature established the Capitol Art Foundation to acquire contemporary works by artists who live and work in New Mexico.
Art by New Mexicans in capitol corridor
Housed throughout the public areas of the building and on the grounds, the Capitol Art Collection evokes the feeling of walking through a modern art museum.  A wide range of styles and media are represented including handcrafted furniture.  One work which caught our eyes was a stunning over-sized buffalo head in the third floor Rotunda balcony.
Buffalo by Holly Hughes (and eye detail)

Known for working with recycled materials, artist Holly Hughes incorporated an amazing array of media into this creation:  paintbrushes, film, plastic spoons, magnetic tape, wire, pottery shards, newspaper, fishing reel, horseshoe, and more, all with symbolic meaning to the theme of the piece.
Rotunda skylight
Though the New Mexico Capitol is not fitted with a traditional dome, the skylight in the central Rotunda admits light with a design that represents an Indian basket weave.  The state's previous capitol building was fitted with a classical dome, but the building was "decapitated" in 1950 to help it blend in better with local architecture.  That structure now serves as a museum and office building. 
County flags on display in the rotunda
The chambers of the New Mexico Senate and House of Representatives are virtually identical in design—no symbolic representations here to suggest that one is superior to the other.  Seventy representatives and 42 senators meet each year, alternating long and short sessions—60 days in odd-numbered years and 30 days in even-numbered.  New Mexico is the only state where legislators serve simply from the desire to make contributions as citizens and receive no salary.  The state constitution prohibits these elected officials from receiving any compensation or perquisite other than a per diem and mileage allowance.
Senate chamber
Long known as a mecca for artists and a center for artistic exploration, Santa Fe was a natural place to find a state capitol building filled with beautiful art.  We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to this unusual contemporary statehouse and admired the passion and pride displayed for New Mexican art and artists.  Security in the building served primarily as a greeter, and parking was very convenient, within a couple hundred feet of the entrance.

Tomorrow we'll explore more of the city and hope to visit the original 1610 building which housed the seat of government and, after repurposing, is still in use today.

  • Architectural style:  New Mexico Territorial
  • Exterior material:  Stucco
  • Building height:  60 ft.
  • Constructed:  1964-66
  • Cost:  $4,676,860
  • Size:  232,346 sq. ft. 
  • Statehood:  1912 (47th state)
House chamber