Part One--Not Just a “Walk in the Park”: How Christy Hengst’s Porcelain Birds Do and Do Not “Blend In”
Today's blog post was written by Edward M. Richstone. Richstone is a retired school psychologist. He has written articles on a variety of topics for civic organizations and city newspapers.
Photo courtesy Christy Hengst
Viewed at a distance, the birds blend into their surroundings. In public places like parks, the whitish forms are faintly recognizable from afar as commonly occurring pigeons or doves. On a beach, it is likely they are seagulls.
Passersby who are in a rush or in no mood to commune with nature will not think twice about this group of birds. Never mind that these particular creatures are not flitting around, not scrambling for food, and, stranger still, not taking off, startled, on whistling wings.
More attentive observers, however, might approach the birds and discover the reason for their odd stillness. They are not real birds at all, but rather porcelain figures! Each is decorated with a variety of words and pictures. Grounded birds carry custom-built designs on their backs; perched birds, on their bellies.
Like a messenger, each bird tells a story in its own way. We are drawn to a curious display of jumbled images, all in a Delft-like cobalt blue. Fragments of photos enliven content from snippets of handwritten and printed text. Images pertain either to military conflict or to civilian life during war or peacetime. War-related newspaper articles, photos of battles, and memoirs of veterans compete for space on each bird alongside love letters, recipes, and images of children. One of the sharpest of contrasts to be found is a likeness of the artist herself, holding her own toddler, juxtaposed with an image of an Iraqi mother and child caught in a bombing raid.
Photo courtesy Christy Hengst
These lovely, yet unsettling creations of Christy Hengst were exhibited in her hometown of Santa Fe in the courtyard garden of the New Mexico Museum of Art (NMMA), as one of many “bird landings” in 2009. They were recently brought to my attention by NMMA’s Librarian/Archivist/Webmaster, Rebecca Potance, when we were exploring subjects for my upcoming blog. Like some currently showcased artists at the museum, Ms. Hengst is well known for her ability to integrate art and viewing space, casting both in a fresh new light. The term, “installation art,” is often applied to such projects in formal venues like museums and galleries. In more casual settings like parks and libraries, the label, “site-specific,” is often used.
O'Keeffe in Process - 10/15/2015
In case you missed it, the interview with Curator of Art, Carmen Vendelin, that aired on Saturday, September 19, at 8:35am, during KUNM's broadcast of NPR's Weekend Edition is available at http://kunm.org/post/whats-behind-distinctive-art-georgia-okeeffe. Vendelin curated the exhibition Okeeffe in Process, part of Santa Fe's Fall of Modernism. In the exhibition, visitors get to see works owned by both the New Mexico Museum of Art and the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum alongside each other and archival materials from the O'Keeffe Research Center that further demonstrate the artist's creative process.
Georgia O'Keeffe, Dark and Lavender Leaves, 1931, oil on canvas, 20 3/8 x 17 1/8 x 7/8 in. Collection of the New Mexico Museum of Art. Gift of the Georgia O'Keeffe Estate, 1993 (1993.51.3) Photograph by Blair Clark © New Mexico Museum of Art
On the Road Again - 9/15/2015
When old friends meet, especially after a long absence, they look forward to a reunion filled with sunshine and warmth, laughter and love, and the gentle tug of someone pulling their strings.
“Pull my strings, pleeeese,” said Paco, a marionette that travelled all the way from Taos to greet the Baumann puppets at the New Mexico Museum of Art before the original Baumann marionettes left for Indiana.
“Pull my strings, too,” said Lola, Paco’s partner.
Taos based puppeteer Cristina Masoliver did just that: manipulated her marionettes strings artfully so Lola and Paco could perform their comic puppet show, called Flamenco, before an enthusiastic audience, of both young and old gathered in the museum. After the performance, Paco and Lola met some of the Baumann puppets, old friends of Cristina’s.
The performance also celebrated Gustave Baumann and New Mexico, an exhibit of one of New Mexico’s favorite artists on display at the New Mexico Museum of Art in Santa Fe now through December 27th.
Even though the original Little People, which is what Papa Gus called his marionettes, will be in the Midwest, there will be a performance of Teatro Duende. The Museum of Art’s Annual Holiday Open House will be held on Sunday, December 20, at 1:00 p.m. WITH THE BAUMANN PUPPETS.
Can the Little People be in two places at once? The answer is yes. Here’s how they do it.
Gustave Baumann was introduced to puppetry as a child in Germany, where he was born. When he first came to the United States, Baumann lived in Chicago, then Indiana, then New Mexico where he lived a long and prosperous life. Over his long career, Baumann established himself as a master in America’s woodcut revival. Baumann’s woodcuts, prints, paintings are considered masterpieces of fine art.
In 1931, Baumann crafted his first puppet right here in Santa Fe. Originally, Baumann and his wife Jane created the marionettes and the shows to amuse their daughter, Ann. Because they were so wildly popular, the performances moved from the Baumann’s living room to larger stages throughout the nation. The marionettes final performance, with the Baumann’s pulling the strings, took place in 1959 here the Museum of International Folk Art. By then, Papa Gus had crafted some sixty five marionettes.
The performances were missed. In 1993, the marionette theater was revived as part of a Gustave Baumann retrospective at the Museum of Art. That how Cristina Masoliver, known in Taos as the “Puppet Lady,” became involved.
Like Papa Gus, Cristina, originally from Spain, came to love puppets as a child growing up in Europe. “It’s my passion. It’s what I do. I’m a puppeteer,” Cristina said.
Once she moved to Taos, Cristina formed Los Titiriteros, a puppet company, which made her the perfect puppeteer to assist with the revival of the Baumann marionettes. “I felt very honored to play with the originals. It was so fun to have all of Baumann’s original backdrops and furniture. We had access to everything. We were making full length shows. It was a lot of work, but it was excellent work.”
Concerns surfaced as well. “It was decided that the original marionettes were too fragile. So we were hired to make replicas.” Cristina said.
Christine and Taos woodcarver, Muria Love, began to replicate some of Papa Gus’s Little People. “It was very hard to make the replicas. Muria would carve them. I did the dressing. Matching the clothes was challenging, and I did the stringing, also challenging,” Cristina recalled.
But their hard work paid off. “After we finished, Gustave Baumann’s daughter, Ann, told us she couldn’t tell which puppets were the originals and which ones were the replicas,” Cristina said.
With the original marionettes stored safely in the museum, the replicas took the stage, creating joy whenever they performed especially during the holidays. Cristina moved on as well, creating Paco and Lola and writing her own shows. Indeed, she is a Taos treasure, one of those selfless individuals who share their artistic gifts to enhance others’ lives. In addition to her work with Los Titiriteros, Cristina worked with the ArcTisTics Theater program in Taos, where she assisted human actors - some disabled, some not – in presenting programs.
Now, she spends half of the year on the road, traveling in Baja California accompanied by Paco and Lola, and her dogs, Basco and Jegeelou. The unique troupe presents puppet shows to Mexican school children, wherever Cristina finds an audience. Because Baja is sparsely populated, many of the students have to stay at school all week. Their delighted by Paco and Lola’s Flamenco antics, which require audience interaction.
Cristina will be back in Taos next spring. She may present a puppet show nearby. Well, worth attending if she does. As for the original Baumann marionettes, they’ll remain at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, where they’ll play a major role in the exhibit: Gustave Baumann, German Craftsman – American Artist. October 25, 2015 – February 14, 2016.
Once again, Gustave Baumann and New Mexico will be on exhibit now through December 27, 2015 at the New Mexico Museum of Art.
Santa Fe: A Closer Look - 8/15/2015
When one thinks of the great walking cities in America, what comes to mind are the big ones: New York, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Seattle and the District of Columbia. Santa Fe should be added to that list. A stroll through the City Different is a delightful experience: Each step a discovery. Any nook or cranny in one of the adobe buildings along the way could contain art, a bit of history or the hint of the compelling narrative that offers a keen insight into our blended past.
It’s impossible to experience the flavor, ambiance, indeed, the romance of the American Southwest in a vehicle, windows shut tight to keep in the air conditioning, while the GPS robot, at best a cyber-nag, continues to screech: “Turn Here.” Why not park the car, dig out some quarters and feed a meter, or choose one of the available parking lots, and see the place on foot. You won’t regret it. This is a friendly city, where horns are rarely, if ever, used. Road rage is something that happens to someone else: somewhere else.
A number of organizations offer walking tours, including the New Mexico Museum of Art. Led by well versed docents, the Museum’s two hour tour features art, architecture and history. It’s casual: Visitors can leave at will. Most don’t because there’s much to see and learn. Here’s a brief sample of what you’ll experience.
The tour begins at the Gift Shop entrance to the Museum on the corner of Lincoln and Palace Avenues on the Plaza near the gold Spitz Clock. As the tour departs visitors pass bronze plaques in the sidewalk in front of the MFA. The “Hollywood Walk” features individual artists and writers who contributed to New Mexico history, including the individual who wrote “Ben Hur,” the novel not the movie. And, no, it wasn’t Charlton Heston.
SPOILER ALERT: The novel was written by Lew Wallace, a Union general and governor of the New Mexico Territory (1878-81). Published in 1880, Ben Hur remained at the top of the best seller list until 1936, when Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind was published. This particular nugget of information combines literature, in other words, art as well as history. New Mexico remained a territory until 1912. While he was governor, Wallace had to deal with corruption, Apache uprisings and Billy The Kid. Wallace convinced The Kid to snitch. The Wallace anecdote is a prime example of how rich each nugget of data can be in Santa Fe.
On the tour, your guide will explain New Mexico architecture, using the Museum, built in 1917, as an example of the Spanish Pueblo Revival Style. Visitors will learn about vigas, lintels, canales, latillas and parapets, all elements of that style. Along the way, other architectural styles will be pointed out.
Inside the Santa Fe County Administration building, visitors will see frescoes by Federico Vigil, encompassing historical themes, including conflicts among the diverse populations – Native, Spanish, Mexican and finally American. The contributions each group made are presented as well. Visitors also will learn the difference between frescoes and murals. Your guide will discuss what attracted – and still attracts - so many artists to New Mexico.
Federico Vigil fresco in the Santa Fe County Commissioners' meeting room in the Santa Fe County Administrative building.
Other stops along the tour include: the Bergere House/O’Keeffe Research Library, the First Presbyterian Church, the Sweeney Convention Center, the Peralta sculpture, the Federal Building and Federal Courthouse, where there are more murals, the Plaza and the La Fonda Hotel, a treasure trove of art, history and architecture, where the tour ends.
The First Presbyterian Church. 1866, 1867. The oldest Protestant congregation in New Mexico. Architect John Gaw Meem remodeled the building in the Pueblo Revival Style in 1939
The Museum of Art’s Walking Tour - 10:00 a.m. to Noon - is offered on Mondays (April through November) and Fridays (June, July and August). Weather Permitting. The cost is $10 per adult. Children under 16 are free. The proceeds are used to benefit the Museum’s public education programs.
A Day in the Life of an Intern - 8/1/2015
Today's blog post was written by Erin Castleberry, one of two New Mexico Governor's Internship Program participants at the museum this summer. Erin is a student at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces.
I wake up to the alarm blaring. Rush, rush, rush to get prepped and out the door, hot tea in hand, ready to face down the commute from Albuquerque to Santa Fe. After finally getting to town and parking my car (no small feat in this city), I walk to the Plaza, sipping my (now much cooler) tea. The Plaza is quiet and empty of tourists, only the locals that work there moving around.
Head inside the museum and downstairs to see what’s on the agenda for today. A piece that had been on loan to another museum is being shipped back and should arrive today. It comes in and my job is to carefully examine it to see if it has been damaged in any way during its adventure. Slowly, with a flashlight and magnifying glass, I work the piece over. No new damage. What a relief! Return the piece to its home in Collections and move on to the next project.
New sculptures that have been donated to the museum are examined by a volunteer while I build custom boxes to house them. Each piece is different, so each box is different, too. Only made of the highest quality archival cardboard and hot glue, these boxes will protect the sculptures until they are on display.
Finally, it’s lunch. Time to eat in the beautiful museum courtyard before wandering onto the Plaza to people watch. I recognize the buskers that come every day, but the tourists are always new. My hour’s up and I go back down beneath the museum.
One of the curators is working on the next exhibit, so the pieces they’ve selected must be located and brought up so they can be prepared for display. The pieces are all found and examined for damage before being taken to our Preparator. The exhibit will look great.
A call comes in. A piece that has been at the conservation lab is ready to be picked up. We head over and collect the artwork. It looks good as new! We take it back to the museum and return it to its correct location.
What? It’s five already? But the day has barely begun! Oh well. Back to my car, back to Albuquerque, back to where I’m staying this summer. As I prepare for tomorrow I think “Hard to believe this amazing internship is almost over.”
Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival - 7/15/2015
Visitors to the New Mexico Museumof Art during the months of July and August will be delighted by the sounds and sight of the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival. Since its inaugural season in 1973, the Chamber Music Festival has been held in the museum's Saint Francis Auditorium. The Festival invites scores of distinguished musicians, along with emerging young talent, during its 6-week season of the more than 80 concerts, recitals, master classes, youth concerts, and open rehearsals. The New Mexico Museum of Art is proud to be one of two venues for this annual musical celebration. The murals on display in the auditorium compliment the sweet sound of the music for Festival goers and visitors can sometimes hear musicians playing while viewing the artwork in the galleries.
The Festival's popular noon time concerts will be held here on Tuesdays and Thursdays starting next week and continuing until August 20th. Since the noon concerts occur during regular museum hours, concert goers can see more art in the galleries before or after the music stops. The Chamber Music Festival's ticket office is to the left of the museum's main entrance in the lobby. Tickets can also be purchased online.
Busted Myths and Conversations : The Art of Luis Jimenez - 7/1/2015
Border Crossing, 1989
Luis A. Jiménez Jr., American, 1940 - 2006
Overall: 128 x 40 x 55 in.
Other (Pedestal): 22 x 52 x 65 cm (8 11/16 x 20 1/2 x 25 9/16 in.)
Museum purchase with funds from the Los Trigos Fund, Herzstein Family Acquisition Endowment, Friends of Contemporary Art, Margot and Robert Linton and Rosina Yue Smith, 1994
One day last year after I finished a docent tour, a young Hispanic couple, visiting from Los Angeles, came to the museum determined to see Border Crossing, Luis Jimenez’s iconic sculpture. The Californians, both in their late twenties, spent nearly an hour in the West Sculpture Garden seated at the base of the ten- and- a- half foot polychrome fiber glass sculpture, where they experienced the compelling intensity of Jimenez’s art, called an epiphany by some, an outrage by others, and a national treasure by President Bill Clinton.
Border Crossing depicts a single-minded man, head down, wife and child on his back, sloshing his way, one foot at a time, across the Rio Grande. On the other side: a better life for himself and his family.
A few weeks ago, while taking pictures in the sculpture garden for another project, another Hispanic couple, out-of-towners, also, entered the garden, their faces bright. “There’s Luiz Jimenez,” the man called to his wife. Camera in hand, the couple rushed to the brightly colored sculpture. They gazed up at the giant figure that looks as if it stepped out of an outdoor mural, dressed for a low-rider parade through Espanola. Jimenez has never been shy about using bold colors to celebrate his roots or express what he feels or thinks. Early in his career, he decided to address political and social issues in his art.
If Luis Jimenez (1940-2006) were alive, he would be pleased with the reaction of the visitors who experienced his work in the garden of the New Mexico Museum of Art. In an interview with David Turner, a former director of the museum, published in Voices in New Mexico Art, Jimenez said: “Public art is very important to me. I like the notion of art being appreciated by people who don’t necessarily own it.” He added. “I want to create a popular art that ordinary people can relate to, as well as people who have degrees in art.”
Jimenez went on to say that you don’t have to agree with him, but he wants viewers to hear what he has to say. His art, a blend of Chicano themes and Western history, is intended to create what Jimenez describes as a conversation. “The purpose of public art is to create a dialogue,” he said. “I like that word better than controversy.” Throughout his career, that dialogue has often been heated because Jimenez often busted what he considered myths.
In 1981, for example, the dialogue surrounding a commission from the City of Houston became deafening. The piece, called Vaquero, depicted a gun slinging Hispanic broncobuster. Vaquero was rejected for a site near City Hall in downtown Houston and moved to a nearby park in a primarily Hispanic neighborhood. Once there, a Hispanic politician objected, saying the sculpture incited violence. Vaquero was waving a gun.
Jimenez’s explanation: “I wanted to do a cowboy for Texas, and it’s a historical fact that the American cowboy was a Mexican invention.” A cast of Vaquero has been installed on the steps of the Smithsonian American Art Museum in the nation’s capital. Yes, this Vaquero is armed as well.
Texans aren’t the only ones sensitive about points of view and American history. A cow-roping vaquero planned for the gallery district in Scottsdale, Arizona never came to be because of lobbying efforts made by that cities traditional Western art galleries.
Closer to home, a Jimenez piece entitled Southwest Pieta created an outcry in Albuquerque in 1983. Originally planned for Old Town, its detractors claimed it was too Mexican. In the Turner interview, Jimenez said that the original New Mexico settlers, who once called themselves Mexicans, began to refer to themselves as Spanish for a reason. “After the (Mexican) revolution of 1910, mainly in the twenties, you had a huge influx of poor Mexicans that immigrated north from Mexico.” Jimenez explained that in Southwest Pieta he wanted to call attention to that issue: Spanish versus Mexican. He argued that both groups shared a similar culture. The divisive attitude harmed the entire Hispanic community in New Mexico. The original Old Town location was nixed, but Southwest Pieta was eventually installed in another neighborhood in central Albuquerque.
For Jimenez, Border Crossing is personal. His father entered the U.S. illegally at the age of nine. Luis Senior became a naturalized citizen sixteen years later. “I had wanted to do a piece dealing with the issue of the illegal alien. People talked about the aliens as if they landed from outer space, as if they weren’t really people. I wanted to put a face on them. I wanted to humanize them.”
Jimenez’s family came from Mexico. He was born in El Paso. He worked for his dad, who owned an electric sign shop in El Paso’s tough Segundo Barrio, where Jimenez gained experience in spray painting, welding, bending neon and bright colors. After hours, Jimenez spray painted hot- rods in his dad’s shop. He attended the University of Texas at Austin, where he studied fine arts and architecture. Afterward, he headed to New York.
In an era of whispered minimalist abstraction, Jimenez, the son of an illegal immigrant and proud of his Mexican roots, found representation for his neon-colored figurative sculpture at a New York gallery. After a couple of successful one-man shows, Jimenez quit his day job and even bought a home in Maine. Some critics believe his innovative fiberglass sculpture contributed to the rise of Pop Art.
Jimenez returned to the Southwest. At the time of his death, he was living in Hondo, New Mexico. He died in 2006 when a portion of the 32-foot Blue Mustang, now installed at the Denver International Airport, fell and severed his femoral artery. Crafting the sculpture, which symbolizes the wild spirit of the American West, proved difficult for Jimenez, who reportedly told an associate that the horse would be the death of him. The 9,000 pound sculpture was installed two years after Jimenez’s death.
Again, as Jimenez intended, his art sparked a heated dialogue that often sounded like the screenplay of an old Hollywood “B” western. Petitions were circulated demanding that the demonic blue horse with flashing red eyes and an ugly face, on its hind legs rearing in rage, be removed. It’s possessed some said. Others pointed out that Mustang was murderous. After all, the piece had killed its creator. Some even renamed the sculpture "Blucifer."
Jimenez might consider these remarks and criticisms metaphorical. True or False: The American West was settled without violence.
By the time he died, Jimenez’s art had been featured or installed in countless museums and universities. Some forty cities have commissioned his work. During his career, Jimenez also taught art at the University of Arizona and the University of Houston.
In looking back at everything Jimenez accomplished as an artist and an American, which is how he viewed himself, Border Crossing represents something greater to the nation as a whole. The sculpture symbolizes the American experience, a mosaic of blended cultures, working together, learning from one another, striving to reach a better life.
As Jimenez explained: “I always find it very fascinating to see cultures mix, because I grew up on the border where there was this constant mix all the time.” We are, as President John Kennedy put it, a nation of immigrants, a mix.
New Mexico, home to countless artists, is taking a major step to honor Luis Jimenez. After adding Jimenez’s home and studio to the list of significant cultural properties in New Mexico, the state requested that U.S. officials add the sites to the National Register of Historic Places. A decision is expected sometime this year.
To see Border Crossing and the other sculptures in the West Sculpture Garden, enter the St. Francis Auditorium off the museum lobby. On the other side of the auditorium, visitors will find a door that leads outside to the garden. Stay awhile. There’s a lot to see.
Planes, Trains, & Automobiles - 6/15/2015
Today's blog post comes from Elisa Macomber. Macomber is an artist and owner & home stager of Pink Dwelling (www.pinkdwelling.com) living in Santa Fe, with a degree in Art and Design from Frostburg State University.
At this time of year Santa Fe is a mecca for all modes of transportation for easy access in and out of the area. To accommodate the influx of tourists traveling, Santa Fe provides an ample number of transportation modes, and has several car shows year-round. Since the early days of Henry Ford and the Wright Brothers developing the first prototypes, airplanes, automobiles, and trains have quickly transformed in the last century and have made their way into our hearts, fulfilling our need for speed and sleek designs. Is it any wonder that they would be included in the world of art?
People love to travel! After all, what is the very first and crucial step in making a car or any other transportation mode? We draw and paint it! It is the only and foremost way to get the model visualized and put into a 3-D model for scale before it is manufactured and sold.
The exhibition, Fire Season, that is currently going on at the museum, has a print by Greg Mac Gregor, titled, Tres Lagunas Fire, and it shows a perfect example of Santa Fe's longstanding tradition with the train.
Greg Mac Gregor, Tres Lagunas Fire, 2013. Pigment print. Courtesy of the artist.
In this explosive black and white pigment print, billowing smoke rises out behind a Santa Fe Rail Runner train, taken in the summer of 2013 in Santa Fe, and it is evocative of many emotions, ranging from shock to awe and one can't help but be transfixed by the juxtaposition of the sleek, shiny metal of the train and the soft, pillowy plumes of smoke reaching into the sky. It is a perfect contradiction of hard and soft elements – the yin and the yang. One side of the print is bathed in sunlight, while the other side of the print has darkness closing in.
It also conveys a sense of calmness and no urgent need for people to be whisked away from the scene unfolding in the background – with the impending smoke creeping closer, the trains remain frozen in time. One wonders, where are the people? Is it simply an empty train station, or are they already all aboard the train, waiting to leave?
It is a dramatic and emotional image, one that is not normally seen in everyday life. Such images like these remind us of our dependence on transportation to get us away from danger or to transport us to someplace more desirable.
Building a Sense of Wonder - 6/2/2015
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands, but in seeing with new eyes.”
As the New Mexico Museum of Art approaches its 100th anniversary, efforts are underway to expand the institution’s historic tradition as a vital community center for the arts in a city and state where art and artists have been an integral component of the culture from the beginning.
To that end, the museum has created a new position: Head of Education and Visitor Experience. Rebecca Aubin, an artist and art educator with an extensive background in museums, will fill that post. Aubin also has a boundless imagination, an indispensable characteristic in the high-tech world in which we now live, where change, more often than not, takes place in milliseconds. Today’s upgrade is tomorrow’s recyclable.
Museum director Mary Kershaw says creating the position is a key element in her long term strategy. “Since coming to the museum five years ago, my goal has been to enhance and to more fully integrate the museum into the fabric of the community. This new position will deepen and cement that relationship.”
The expanded involvement will aid the community by providing students with increased educational opportunities and more chances to shine. “The thing about education in a museum that is different from a classroom is: It’s a very different way of learning. Art addresses different styles of learning. Not every child learns the same way and sometimes you find that children when they’re working with art, either creating it or learning to understand it, will find that art releases their creativity,” Kershaw said. “Sometimes children who really don’t achieve well in the classroom can be inspired and excel in a museum environment.”
Aubin is a prime example of a student whose life was profoundly changed because of artistic opportunities. “Art saved me as a child,” she said.
A native of northern Nevada, Aubin began to draw not long after she learned to walk and talk. “I started drawing when I was three years old.”
A few years later, when Aubin entered the third grade, she stopped going to school completely. “I climbed a tree and watched the other kids,” Aubin recalled. The tree turned out to be a less than perfect hide-out. “Once I was found out, the principal put me into a special program, a pilot program, which was an art class,” she said. “Because I could draw, I found my niche.”
Aubin’s mother encouraged her daughter, sending her to other art classes offered in Carson City, where she grew up. “I loved it,” she recalled.
While in elementary school, Aubin also discovered museums. “In the sixth grade, we went to San Francisco to see the King Tut exhibit at the de Young Memorial Museum in Golden Gate Park. Her class also visited the California Academy of Sciences nearby. “I just fell in love with the science academy,” Aubin said.
Aubin even earned the money necessary to take that trip. In an interview with Rick Romancito, The Taos News arts editor, Aubin described herself as a curious, fiercely independent teenager, maybe a bit wild, but one willing to work hard. “I worked after school from 13 on to help support me and my single mom,” she said.
Like many people who grow up in a small town, Aubin wanted a bite of the Biggest Apple of them all. After high school she headed to New York, where she attended the State University of New York at Stony Brook. “I set out to be an art critic. I studied with Donald Kuspit,” Aubin said. But the distinguished art critic and art historian urged Aubin to return to the studio.
She earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts and a Masters in Education from the University of Nevada at Reno, where her father was a professor. When she graduated, Aubin worked a variety of jobs, including stints as a wait person and a receptionist. She also volunteered as a docent in the Nevada Museum of Art. There she learned she had a gift: “My teaching skills became evident. I guess it was in my blood. My parents were educators,” she said.
Aubin taught in the public school system in Utah, where she learned the value of exposing young minds to the larger world through museum visits. After five years in the public school system, Aubin began her career as a museum art educator.
Since then she has worked at the Seattle Art Museum as Museum Educator for School and Educator Programs, the Utah Museum of Fine Arts and most recently at the University of New Mexico’s Harwood Museum of Art in Taos, where she served as Director of Museum Learning and Public Programs. Aubin is also a board member of the New Mexico Foundation for Human Enrichment. She’s served as a consultant for the Smithsonian, the Utah Humanities Council, National Docent Symposium and the Utah Heritage Foundation.
What does she do in her spare time? “I am an artist,” Aubin said. In her interview with The Taos News, Aubin described her work as mixed media, including assemblage, collage and painting. “I collect and reconstruct discarded things that people throw away and turn the familiar into dolls, shrines, paintings,” she said. “I use humor, color and texture that lead observers to a nostalgia that reminds them that there are characters that epitomize a type. Pop Surrealism is my inspiration.” She also writes, adding text to her art, which provides an outlet for what Aubin describes as her overactive mind. Her work is exhibited at Greg Moon Art in Taos.
“The relevance of art to people’s daily lives becomes more apparent when they have an opportunity to create it, view and talk about it.”
What are Aubin’s plans for the Museum of Art? A number of projects are in the works, including an Art Works partnership. We are looking forward to future collaborations with Director of ArtWorks and Santa Fe Community Orchestra for school programming as well as a new approach to making music blend with art.
Aubin also plans to institute programs that will help educators learn how best to use museums, any museum: art, history, even natural science. “Museums can make connections and bring together facts, ideas, creativity and feelings, while promoting cultural, community and familial identity,” she said.
While in Taos, Aubin implemented programs honoring the people of Taos Pueblo. She raised funds through grants and donors for education programs that targeted the under-served, impoverished population of Taos. She implemented a teen program and organized panel discussions to foster comparative discussions of art. Under Aubin’s leadership, the Harwood also collaborated with several community organizations to present film, music and literary events. According to The Taos News, the Harwood Museum attracted more diversified visitors because of Aubin’s efforts.
Not surprising given Aubin’s philosophy, “Museums foster creativity, build a sense of wonder, inspire self-confidence and motivation to pursue future learning and life choices.”
Deserving of an Encore - 5/15/2015
“There is the satisfaction of providing your public with a vision of true beautology, true stylisity, - how can I put it? - true glamorositude. Well done, Martha.”
-Miss Piggy, Muppet and Martha Landry fan.
Over her long career in the arts, Martha Landry has worked with some show biz greats. Back East - The Muppets, including: Miss Piggy, Kermit the Frog and Fonzie Bear. Here in Santa Fe - Martha has set the stage for Freckles, Warts, Miguelito and the other Gustave Baumann Marionettes, who perform at the New Mexico Museum of Art Annual Holiday Open House.
As manager of the St. Francis Auditorium and organizer of public programs, Martha has assisted scores of musicians who have hit high notes during performances there, plus countless couples who have married or celebrated their anniversaries in the auditorium. After all, the St. Francis Auditorium is the “go-to venue” in Santa Fe.
On May 20th, after more than twenty years with the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs, Martha will retire from her post. In addition to operating the facility, Martha’s duties have included maintaining the integrity of a cherished historical landmark that’s an integral component of the downtown landscape.
As the late professor Carl Sheppard, an art historian, wrote in The Saint Francis Murals of Santa Fe:
“The Saint Francis Auditorium in the Museum of Fine Arts of New Mexico encloses the most imposing and romantic public space in the City of Santa Fe, New Mexico. It is a handsome, ample room with a rear balcony and a choir-like projection so that one is inevitably reminded of Hispanic church architecture of the seventeenth century.
“The quiet obscurity of the interior is evocative of the past: of Pueblo Indians, of dusty trails for conquest and conversion, of flags and kings and empire.”
While seated in the auditorium for a lecture, a concert or the Holiday Open House, the auditorium’s ambiance is so imposing that a visitor can imagine setting out for king and country on the Camino Real headed toward the interior along with the other colonialists who arrived some four-hundred years ago.
A native of Aspen, Colorado, Martha first visited Santa Fe with her mother after she graduated from Aspen High School. Martha then headed east, enrolling in Goddard College in Vermont, where she earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. She earned a Master of Fine Arts degree at New York University. Afterword, she spent several years in the Big Apple, working for the Muppets, where she met Miss Piggy, and she worked for CBS News.
“I was there in the seventies and early eighties. It was a tough city. Dangerous and dirty and dark. I loved it. I had a great apartment. You’re never supposed to give up an apartment in New York,” she said with a laugh. “But I discovered that I didn’t have the temperament to be a freelancer.”
Having discovered that it was “fun to have money,” Martha, with a Kermit the Frog watch strapped to her wrist, headed west. “I didn’t necessarily want to move back to Colorado, but I wanted to be closer to my family. I worked for the Santa Fe Opera the summer before I started graduate school, so I had a real good feel for the city,” she said.
Like many who come here, she wore several hats at first. “I worked for a law firm and a landscaper. Typical Santa Fe,” she said, laughing. “After rattling around for a while, I decided I should resurrect my MFA.”
Her educational background qualified her to apply for a job listed at the time by the state personnel system as a Museum Specialist I. “It was a career strategy, a horizontal career move, going from one art to another,” she said. “It’s very rare for somebody to start a position and keep in that profession their entire working life. They go back and forth and up and down. Working in America is complicated and eclectic. You have to be flexible.”
Martha was just that: flexible and energetic. “I signed up as a volunteer for everything. I had a resume in my back pocket. I took museum study classes at the University of New Mexico.”
Over the next few years, Martha worked with the curator for contemporary art at the Museum. She worked with the Museum of New Mexico Foundation, the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture. She juried three shows: the old fashioned way, using slides, and she hung shows, three times.
When the job she currently holds opened up, Martha quickly applied. “It was the big one.” She’s has not regretted that decision. “It’s thrilling for me to be in a position where I am taking care of such an important performance space. It’s been an honor,” she said. “When my friends from New York came into the St. Francis Auditorium, their jaws would drop. I managed to come full circle, which is astonishing.”
Because of her duties and commitment to the St. Francis Auditorium, Martha has become deeply involved in the community. “Weddings are held in the auditorium, receptions in the patio. There are anniversary cocktail parties and dinners,” she said. “I also organize and run public education programs and gallery talks.”
The Museum is not the only institution that actively uses the auditorium. “We’re a lecture venue for the O’Keeffe Museum. Because their seating capacity is small, when they need a bigger venue, they come to us,” Martha said. “Las Golondrinas uses us as a downtown lecture space as well as the School of Advanced Research. We often collaborate with other museums, including the Museum of Contemporary Native Art/IAIA.”
Throughout the year, the auditorium is filled with beautiful music. The groups that perform include: The Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, Santa Fe Pro Musica, Performance Santa Fe, Concordia Santa Fe, the Santa Fe Community Orchestra, the Youth Symphony, and the Waldorf School. “The auditorium has amazing acoustics. Musicians are thrilled when they walk in the space. It’s warm and natural because the space is filled with natural elements,” Martha said.
As the year comes to an end, El Teatro Duende begins preparations for the annual Marionette show: Holiday Party for Papa Gus. The actors are not the only ones who enjoy the preparations and rehearsals. “Every year in December I just laugh and laugh and laugh,” Martha said. Once the show opens during the annual Museum Holiday Open House, hundreds of Santa Fe families will laugh and laugh and laugh at the antics of the marionettes.
It would be impossible for a single individual to provide hands on management for every event that take place in the St. Francis Auditorium, so Martha relies on the Museum’s security staff under Security Captain Dominic Martinez. “We offer a seven day availability, twelve hours a day. Our rents are very reasonable,” Martha said. “The security staff is just crucial in representing the interests of the museum during an event like a concert or a dinner party.” The revenues generated from the auditorium’s use are earmarked for the Museum’s operating budget.
Another staffer vital to the well-being of the auditorium is Sam Rykels, the museum's Preparator, who helped Martha install LED lighting. “St. Francis is fragile. The building is one hundred years old. The original architectural intent is really important to me, but it’s a multi-use space you have to make compromises, but none that would violate the structure’s integrity,” she said. A stage has been added, but the auditorium looks much like it did when the Museum opened its doors in 1917.
The murals in the auditorium also have been maintained under the staff’s watchful eye. “The murals are not frescos. They’re canvas applied to the walls. They’ve held up marvelously. Every once in a while some conservation has to be done, but they’re in great shape,” Martha said.
In looking back at the years she’s spent at the Museum, Martha is pleased at what she’s been able to accomplish. “Managing the St. Francis Auditorium really put me in touch with the Santa Fe community. As a public service, this is just crucial to non-profits and schools to have a venue like this that’s so versatile for so many things for professionals and locals alike,” Martha said. “It really gave me an opportunity to serve Santa Fe and New Mexico.”