Finding Santa Fe’s Founding

Josef Diaz of the New Mexico History Museum is co-curator of Santa Fe Found: Fragments of Time,  in the museum’s Palace of the Governors. We asked him a few questions about the exhibit.

How did you come to be a Spanish colonial curator at NMHM?

josefI received a masters degree UNM in 16th century Spanish Colonial/Postclassical Mesoamerican Art History. I worked at both the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art in Santa Fe and Casa San Ysidro, a historic house museum in Corrales. From there I was hired as the curator of Spanish Colonial Art and History at the New Mexico History Museum.

As you sifted through the history of the early colonists and the Native peoples, what struck you about their lives?

They had many hardships they had to endure and often their daily interactions with one another were not that different from ours.

The exhibit includes what we’ve been calling Vargas’ cookbook. Tell us a bit about it and how it managed to survive 400 years.

The cookbook in the exhibit is Arte de cozina by Francisco Martínez Montiño, a cook and writer of the Spanish Golden Age. His book was printed in 1611 did not belong to Governor Don Diego de Vargas.  He did, however, have the same title in his personal library that he brought to New Mexico. The cookbook and the food fragments in the exhibit will help tell the story of the types of meals that were undoubtedly created within the walls of the Palace of the Governors during his tenure as governor. Montiño was chef to Philip II, and the book illustrates some of the luxurious dishes that were prepared in the royal kitchens.

Some people take strict black-and-white, good-vs.-bad sides when assessing Spain’s early colonizations. What’s your take?

When assessing Spain’s early colonizations, you must remember that it Spain was one of many European countries that colonized around the globe. Yes, early colonizers are guilty of unspeakable behavior but where they really worst than any other colonizers or conquering people in history?

What do you hope people take away from this exhibit?

Even though Santa Fe exemplified geographical remoteness and was thousands of miles away from any seaport, many people did possess luxury goods. Many of these items were from the Manila trade route, sometimes called “the other Silk Road,” and from other Spanish colonies that spanned the globe. Santa Fe was not as remote as many people think.