SANTA FE, N.M. – The first U.S. institution devoted to the first truly global culture, the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art opened to the public on Sunday, July 21, 2002. This new institution inaugurated its 12,000 square foot facility in Santa Fe with an exhibition titled Conexiones: Connections in Spanish Colonial Art, featuring works drawn entirely from its outstanding permanent collections.
The Museum’s holdings come to it from its founding institution, Santa Fe’s Spanish Colonial Arts Society. Objects in these renowned collections document the world-encompassing range and variety of this culture, as it spread from Europe to the Americas and onward to the Philippines. The collections also celebrate this art as a living tradition, with roots in the late Middle Ages and branches in the work of today’s artists.
Located on a hilltop overlooking Santa Fe, the Museum stands adjacent to the popular Museum of New Mexico complex (the Museum of International Folk Art, the Laboratory of Anthropology and the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture) and is within walking distance of the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian.
“Our mission is to bring deserved recognition and greater understanding to Spanish colonial art,” states Stuart Ashman, former Executive Director. “Looking outward from New Mexico-the northernmost reach of Spain’s empire-we view the entire range of this culture, as it has transformed local traditions throughout the world and been transformed in its turn.”
“Between 1519, when its forces entered Mexico, and 1565, when it wrested control of the Philippines, Spain achieved an empire that truly spanned the world,” notes Donna L. Pierce, former Chief Curator of the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art. “Wherever they went, the Spaniards transplanted their religion, language, art and architecture, along with crops, livestock and tools of daily life. The result was the first global culture: unified through trade routes that stretched from Manila to Madrid, enlivened by influences from every country in its domain. Conexiones uses the broad reach of our collections to trace some of the human interactions that have run through this culture: from the late Middle Ages to the present day, from Spain to Asia, from New Mexico to the tip of South America.”
The Museum building is itself an important expression of this living tradition, having been designed as a residence in 1930 by John Gaw Meem, a leading figure in the development of New Mexico’s Spanish Colonial/Pueblo Revival architecture. Built with a multitude of handmade, historically accurate appointments, which range from the ironwork on the doors to the carved decorations on the ceiling beams, the house is the only Meem building in Santa Fe that retains its original integrity.
Donated anonymously in 1998 to the Spanish Colonial Arts Society for use as the Museum’s home, the building has been renovated and expanded through a $7 million capital campaign to create 3,400 square feet of exhibition space, 6,400 square feet of collections space and a range of education facilities and visitor amenities. Architects for the renovation and expansion are the firm of Architectural Alliance, headed by Eric Enfield with project architect Martin Kuziel.
The 3,000 objects in the Museum’s collections include devotional and decorative works and utilitarian artifacts, representing an artistic heritage of five centuries and four continents. Among the countries whose influences are reflected in the collections are Spain, Mexico, Argentina, Guatemala, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Brazil. Also included as expressions in colonial art are works from the Caribbean, the Philippines and Goa. Objects from France, Italy, Greece, Russia, Romania, Bulgaria, Morocco, China and Tibet also play roles in the collections, serving as points of comparison for Spanish colonial art throughout the Americas.
According to Donna Pierce, “The collections are unique in four ways: their global range, their representation of daily life in the colonial world, their historic importance as a repository of key research objects and their incorporation of works by modern-day Hispano artists of New Mexico.” Having been stored since 1953 at the Museum of International Folk Art, under the conscientious stewardship of that institution’s staff, the collections now claim their own home in the new Museum of Spanish Colonial Art.
The collections are rich in retablos (religious paintings on wood) and bultos (free-standing religious sculptures). Important works in this tradition include an image of San Rafael from 1780 that is the only dated retablo by Captain Bernardo Miera y Pacheco, the first known Spanish artist in New Mexico. Another such key work is the only colonial New Mexican retablo that bears an artist’s full signature: a painting of San Cayetano, signed “Aragon Jose Rafel” (sic) in large block letters.
Other important retablos and bultos in the collections are a spectacular gilt sculpture of St. Michael Archangel with billowing robes, made in the late Baroque estofado style by an anonymous artist (Mexico, late 18th century); bultos from the 19th century by artists such as José Benito Ortega (Virgin) and Santo Niño Santero and his followers (St. Raphael), whose work summed up the tradition that New Mexico had inherited from Spain and transformed into its own; and contemporary works such as Cristo Resucitado (Risen Christ) by Luis Tapia (1993).
Major holdings of furniture include an elaborate missal stand of hardwoods, tortoiseshell, bone, ebony and silver wire, made in the late 17th or early 18th century in Puebla, Mexico, a city well known for marquetry furniture and objects. A late 18th-century pine chest is notable not only for representing the six-board dovetail construction that was common in Spain and its colonies, but also for bearing traces of pigment, which prove (contrary to former assumptions) that furniture in colonial New Mexico was painted in bright colors.
Tracing the route of fine metalwork to New Mexico, the collections include objects such as a silver filigree platter (18th-19th century, Colombia or Peru) and a filigree necklace in gold and glass (19th century, New Mexico), both representative of a merging of Spanish and New World jewelry traditions. Showing how colonial artists adapted their traditions to humbler materials, the collections also feature works such as an elaborately worked tinplate frame with a lithograph of the Immaculate Conception, made by the Rio Abajo tinsmith (ca. 1875-1900), and remarkable objects in which straw appliqué imitates the appearance of the woods, ivory and shell used in expensive marquetry.
The Museum possesses an important collection of textiles, ranging from tapestries such as a richly decorated Rio Grande saltillo blanket (New Mexico, ca. 1870) to embroidered silk shawls imported to the Spanish colonies from China and the Philippines. Utilitarian objects include hand tools, weapons, spurs, cattle brands, candlesticks, tobacco flasks and strike-a-lights. Among the precious objects in the collections are crucifixes and rosaries, rings, earrings, fans and hair combs-including contemporary works such as a hair comb in silver, mother of pearl and oil paint by Lawrence Baca and Arlene Cisneros Sena (1999).
Among the most recent acquisitions, and no doubt the largest, is an entire wooden colonial house, built in Mexico ca. 1780. Donated by the Denver Art Museum (where Donna Pierce serves as Curator of Spanish Colonial Art), the house stands near the front entrance to the Museum, providing a dramatic contrast with John Gaw Meem’s later interpretation of the architecture of Spain’s northernmost colony.
To bring these objects to life for the visitor, the Museum has organized the exhibition Conexiones: Connections in Spanish Colonial Art, featuring some 500 of the finest works in the collections. The exhibition has been created by curator Donna Pierce, writer Carmella Padilla, installation designer William Field and David Rasch, Conservator and Collections Manager of the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art.
Stepping into the Museum through a foyer, known as the Dr. Harry P. Mera and Frank Mera Entry, the visitor immediately gets a panoramic view of the collections. To the left, in a salon that has been remade into the Alan and Ann Vedder Gallery, is an installation titled Un Mundo del Arte (A World of Art), bringing together works from the greater Spanish colonial world: retablos, bultos, furniture, textiles, metalwork and other objects. In the salon on the right, now the E. Boyd Gallery, is the installation Obras Grandes (Great Works), featuring objects made in New Mexico, as well as a selection of comparative pieces from other areas.
Straight ahead from the Mera Entry are the floor-to-ceiling windows of the Austin-Applegate Gallery, which open onto the Museum’s main courtyard, the Anita Gonzales Thomas Garden. Installed in this patio gallery is Hecho con Fuego (Made with Fire), showcasing utilitarian objects of ironwork, tinwork and micaceous pottery from a variety of locales.
Turning left through Hecho con Fuego, the visitor will find the Museum’s Curtin-Paloheimo Gift Shop, installed in the building’s former kitchen. Turning right through Hecho con Fuego, the visitor may proceed to the former library of the Meem house, now the Cornelia Thompson Gallery. Here the installation Tesoros (Treasures) features precious personal objects from around the world: strike-a-lights, hair combs, jewelry, religious medallions, reliquaries and more.
The next installation, La Casa Delgado (The Delgado Home), is a period room, based on the 1815 will and estate inventory of Captain Manuel Delgado, who lived on San Francisco Street in Santa Fe and whose descendant and gallery namesake, Concha Ortiz y Pino de Kleven, has been a longtime member of the Spanish Colonial Arts Society. Furnished to replicate the sala, or living room, of a colonial New Mexican home, La Casa Delgado includes furniture, textiles, religious images, tools, utensils, clothing, books and personal items similar to those listed in Delgado’s inventory. The comfortable juxtaposition of objects from Hispano and Native American sources, intermixed with imports from Europe and Asia, demonstrates that the so-called Santa Fe Style is not an invention of the 20th century but rather is derived from the material culture of the colonial period.
Located just off La Casa Delgado is the Nina Otero Warren Gallery, featuring El Futuro (The Future), a changing exhibition of objects by today’s youths who are working in the Spanish colonial tradition. This gallery also serves as the Children’s Activity Center and Costume Nicho, under the direction of Curator of Education Patricia Price. Continuing along the path, the visitor next comes to the Norma Fiske Day Gallery, which is installed with a changing exhibition of Obras Nuevas (New Works): recent acquisitions to the Museum’s collections.
Temporary exhibitions organized around themes in Spanish colonial art will be seen in Cambios (Changes), installed in the Lois Field Gallery. The initial exhibition, titled San Isidro Labrador: Santo de la Tierra (St. Isidore the Farmer: Saint of the Land) salutes the beloved patron saint of farmers, who is popular throughout the Spanish colonial world. The exhibition includes images of the saint dating from the 17th century to the present, such as a 19th-century bulto by an anonymous artist from the Mesilla Valley.
The exhibition concludes with an installation in the Ina Sizer Cassidy Gallery titled Visiones (Visions), dedicated to the work of contemporary Hispano artists of New Mexico. The bultos, retablos, furniture, textiles, tinwork, straw appliqué and silverwork seen here connect the art of the colonial past to the art of today, while testifying to the creative inspiration of individual artists and their collective vision for the future.
Stockman Collections Center
To realize its potential as one of the world’s primary resources for research and education in Spanish colonial art, the Museum has created the Stockman Collections Center: a major facility built as a new wing to the Meem house.
Housing 2,500 objects from the collections and a 1,000-volume library, as well as a conservation laboratory, a conference room and collections-management offices, the Stockman Collections Center will serve staff, scholars and museum visitors alike. Docent-led tours will give the public access to the full wealth of the Museum’s study collections. Contemporary artists, who have long sought inspiration in these collections, will now enjoy instant access to images and objects through the Collections Center’s library.
The Museum of Spanish Colonial Art is open from 10 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Tuesday-Sunday (Closed Mondays) from Labor Day to Memorial Day. (Please note from Memorial Day to Labor Day, the Museum is open seven days a week.) For information on visiting the Museum, call 505-982-2226 or visit the Museum’s Web site: www.SpanishColonial.org.