A Texas politician once told me that the legislative process is like making sausage, in other words, not always a pretty sight. I’m not going to weigh in on that comment: I’ve yet to make a law or a link, but I must say that in New Mexico a trip to the state capitol is a visual delight.
There are two art galleries in the Roundhouse. The Governor’s Gallery, an outreach facility of the New Mexico Museum of Art, is located on the fourth floor in the governor’s suite. The second gallery, the Capitol Art Collection, exhibits art on the grounds and in the public venues throughout the building. That collection is supported by the Capitol Art Foundation, a non-profit, and the legislature.
Given the significance of the Museum of Art’s coming 100th anniversary, the exhibit in the Governor’s Gallery is especially timely and informative. Christine Mather, author of Santa Fe Style and a curatorial consultant, organized the exhibit, entitled: “That Multitudes May Share: The building of the New Mexico Museum of Art.”
Kenneth Chapman, New Art Museum, Santa Fe - South Front, 1916.
10 1/4 x 27 in. Watercolor on paper.
Museum acquisition, before 1918. 1833A.23D
The New Old Santa Fe architectural style, which sets us apart from the rest of the nation, is directly tied to the museum’s construction. The arrival of more artists, who put the Southwest on the map, is also related to building the museum, which opened its doors in 1917.
All of it came about because of economic development. Santa Fe had been left behind when the railroad bypassed the capital prior to statehood in 1912. As a result, the city had been in an economic slump for three decades: population was stagnant.
Once New Mexico joined the union, the new state legislature allowed local communities to create plans for economic development. In Santa Fe, those efforts were spearheaded by Edgar Hewett, an archaeologist and educator, who would become the museum’s first director, Mayor Arthur Seligman, Frank Springer, a wealthy lawyer, landowner and politician, and archaeologist Sylvanus Morley, among others. “They wanted to attract people to Santa Fe. They did it in part by attracting artists to Santa Fe to show the world what New Mexico was really like in its most romantic version,” Mather said. The artists would need a venue to display their works.
Mayor Seligman formed a board that devised the “Santa Fe Plan” to promote development and tourism. “They hit upon the idea that what was unique about Santa Fe was the blend of Anglo, Hispanic and Indian cultures,” Mather said. The city would be defined in terms of its ancient adobe buildings with flat roofs.
By the way, roofers were not among the skilled craftsmen the founders deliberately sought. Unfortunately, when one gazes into the future, one rarely foresees all eventualities, and, of course, there are always plusses and minuses.
The Governor’s Palace, where artists had studios, was renovated. A new art museum, designed to become the centerpiece of the New-Old Santa Fe style on the Plaza, would be built nearby. At the time it was built, the construction was up-to-date, using modern methods, high-fired brick and cement mortar. The vigas, latillas, and murals in the St. Francis Chapel, along with the building’s façade - a blend of styles from Mission Churches on varies Pueblos - added the romance.
Another positive result came from the construction of the Museum. “Santa Fe has the second oldest historic ordinance in the country,” Mather said. “The concept of historic preservation is deep.” That ideal has led to a unique ambiance that continues to attract visitors and newcomers.
Over time, the “Santa Fe Plan” was wildly successful. “People came and lived here and thrived. Santa Fe became a tourist destination,” Mather said.
What Mather has done to illustrate the rich history of the Museum and the city is gather photographs, paintings, old postcards, architectural plans and even furniture crafted at the time the museum was built. The artisans created the chests and chairs in a Spanish Colonial style. The exhibit’s accompanying text clearly explains how a unique moment in history brought about a design solution that would influence the future of art and New Mexico for generations.
The Department of Cultural Affairs has placed cards throughout the capitol reminding legislators and New Mexicans that art and cultural industries pump five-point-six-billion dollars into our economy annually. That’s jobs and salaries. The beauty provided by our art and culture is priceless.
“That Multitudes May Share: The Building of the New Mexico Museum of Art” will be exhibited through March 27th. The Governor’s Gallery is on the 4th floor of the Roundhouse, which is located at the corner of Old Santa Fe Trail and Paseo de Peralta.
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