“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.”