Come for the Exhibits … and a Piece of Pie

Across the country, museums are looking for ways to expand visitors’ social experiences as well as become community gathering spots. (Consultant Nina Simon documents the cutting edge in her blog, Museum 2.0.) The History Museum does its part with hands-on exhibits, lectures and performances, and a shady Palace courtyard in the heart of downtown Santa Fe, perfect for a moment of serenity.

On May 20, we’re taking that one step further by offering a place to grab a snack or a light meal, hang out on a second-story terrace with a great view, get a little work done courtesy of our free wi-fi, and re-charge before charging back into the exhibits.

Plaza Cafe archiveThe Plaza Cafe, a Santa Fe Plaza mainstay since 1905, has agreed to run the long-awaited Cowden Café, on the museum’s second floor. The café will serve daily from 10 am until 4:30 pm, and on Friday from 11 am until 7 pm. Service will be “upscale self-service without the attitude,” said Daniel Razatos, whose family has operated the Plaza Café for more than six decades. All menu items will be made from scratch and designed to be quick, healthy and fresh – perfect for people on a one-hour lunch break. Beverages will include premium coffees, teas, beer and wine, creating an opportunity to enjoy not only the exhibits but sunset hors d’oeuvres and, sometimes, live music on the café’s Phyllis and Eddie Gladden Terrace.

“Museums are changing,” said Dr. Frances Levine, director of the museum. “It’s not just about visiting the exhibits, it’s about being comfortable in public spaces and providing amenities to help people feel comfortable. We want our museum to be a place for the community.”

Brothers Andy and Daniel Razatos operate the Plaza Café, founded in 1905 and taken over by Dionysi Razatos in 1947. A longtime favorite among locals, tourists and the occasional celebrity, the restaurant whips up a mix of Greek, New Mexican and down-home American cuisines – everything from moussaka to enchiladas to chicken-fried steak.

CherryPie“The Cowden Café will be like a little café bistro,” said Daniel Razatos. “You come in for a little snack, nothing’s very huge or expensive, and it’s a nice, comfortable atmosphere to hang out and read your newspaper – very European.”

Visitors who only want to go to the café can do so for free; access to the exhibits will remain limited to paid attendees. Up to 20 people can sit inside the café; the outdoor terrace has room for 50 people. The museum is working out the final tweaks to a wi-fi system that will enable members of the public to log on to their computers while visiting the café.

The Cowden Café is named for a historic ranching family, whose holdings at one time straddled the New Mexico-Texas border from Jal to Santa Rosa. Their legacy was detailed in the book Riding for the Brand: 150 Years of Cowden Ranching (University of Oklahoma Press, 2006), by Michael Pettit.

Part of the 1-year-old History Museum’s original design, the café and terrace have been closed to the public while details on the café’s operation were worked out. The state Board of Finance agreed to the contract’s terms on April 20, clearing the way for a final construction push.

Get Into This: Another Award for the Museum

NMHM_Cowboys 4x3

In the months before and after the History Museum opened (May 23, 2009), newspaper readers, radio listeners, TV watchers, Web surfers and billboard hounds were greeted with this message: “History — Get Into It!”

That ad campaign helped produce block-long lines of people patiently waiting to physically get into it on opening weekend and has kept ’em coming back ever since. (Don’t worry: You no longer have to stand in a block-long line … in the rain … to get in.)

media kit 4x3That campaign just won honors from the American Association of Museums, which gave it two first-place awards in its 2009 Museum Publications Design Competition. The first award was for the media kit (at left), basically a folder stuffed with enough information about all the construction that was going on behind the Palace of the Governors to keep reporters and others intrigued. (Many of those materials are still available here, on the Museum of New Mexico Media Center.)

The second first-placer was for the grand-opening’s marketing and public-relations materials. Gathered around the “History – Get Into It” theme, those materials mixed archival photography with modern-day people. (Go here to see the full campaign and, hey, vote for your favorite. Cowboys? Railroads? Hippies?)

Clearly, the “Get Into It” concept worked: More than 20,000 people lined Lincoln Avenue and packed into galleries during last year’s Memorial Day weekend to be part of the grand opening. As the museum’s first anniversary approaches, attendance has surpassed 150,000, more than doubling the annual attendance of the museum’s predecessor, the Palace of the Governors.

“From the beginning, our marketing team believed two things: First, that New Mexico’s history is not dead, boring or in the past; it is alive, fascinating and all around us. And second, that no one could tell the story better than the home team,” said Shelley Thompson, marketing and outreach director of the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs’ Museum Resources Division. “Within our department existed the talent, the creative ability, and most important, the passion to do the job better than anyone else. It took a village in every sense, but a special shout-out goes to David Rohr, Natalie Baca, Cheryle Mitchell and Kate Nelson for excellence in publications, design, advertising and public relations.”

In case you’re wondering: AAM is the premier organization for more than 3,000 museums, including art, history, science, military and youth museums, as well as aquariums, zoos, botanical gardens, arboretums, historic sites and science and technology centers. Here’s a full list of winners. Now, get cracking on voting for your favorite “Get Into It” ad by clicking on comments, below.

History Museum Volunteers Bring Home the Gold

An old saying contends that an army runs on its stomach. But for museums, there’s no running without volunteers.

volunteer award_edited-1Last week, the New Mexico History Museum’s many volunteers were honored with a prestigious award by the Governor’s Commission for Community Volunteerism. The Governor’s Nonprofit Program Award recognized the museum’s 112 volunteers who last year donated 9,342 hours of unpaid service.

The award was given during a banquet at the Hilton Hotel in Albuquerque, where an estimated 600 volunteers and program staff represented efforts that ranged from foster grandparents to combating homelessness, addictions and teen pregnancy. Lt. Governor Diane Denish, co-chair of the commission, said that volunteer efforts in New Mexico last year accounted for $1 billion worth of work that might not otherwise have gotten done.

Patricia Hewitt of the museum’s Fray Angélico Chávez History Library nominated the volunteers. From her nomination:

(They) conduct tours of the Palace of the Governors, assist hundreds of school groups from throughout New Mexico, man our Information Desk, lead informative historic walking tours of downtown Santa Fe, act as Gallery Guides for the new 26,000-square-foot exhibits space, and answer “wayfinding” questions throughout the Museum’s campus.  Our volunteers assisted at every major 2009 History Museum event including Opening weekend, Spanish Colonial Days, Gem and Mineral Show, Mountain Man Rendezvous, Native American Artisans Indian Market Celebration, Christmas at the Palace, Las Posadas, and new exhibit openings and lectures.  They provide the personal touch that insures that visitors from youngsters to senior citizens have a welcoming and memorable museum experience.

Our volunteers who work behind the scenes at the Museum assist staff with archival processing and arrangement of photographic and manuscript collections to aid in proper housing and storage of fragile materials, and to assist with access and research.  Volunteers in the Museum’s Collections department helped to successfully move over 12,000 museum objects, including 3,706 costumes, accessories and textiles, into our new environmentally sound 8,381-square-foot storage vault.  As staff perform curatorial, administrative, and archival duties for our collections and exhibits they greatly appreciate the many talented volunteers who assist “backstage” at the Museum.

john and tricia_edited-1John Ramsay accepted a last-minute invitation from Patricia to attend the event and said it was just another never-know-what-to-expect day in the life of a volunteer. For the last 14 years, Ramsay has volunteered at the History Library, most of that time “in the bowels” of archived documents. While helping with cataloguing and such, he’s honed an interest in Southwest history deep enough to lead him to contribute a chapter to a book that will be published by UNM Press this fall.

“I’ve always been interested in history, and I’m a Southwesterner, really,” said Ramsay, who’s a retired chemist from Los Alamos National Laboratory. “I got involved back when Tom Chavez was there and got to see original documents about New Mexico history. It’s just intriguing.”

Ramsay also serves as treasurer of the New Mexico Historical Society and says that tending to such interests is part of keeping active.

“You’ve got to have an interest in what you’re doing,” he said. “Whether it’s volunteering for the handicapped or some of the things these other people you see here do. I like what I’m doing because I just find a satisfaction out of it.”

The History Museum applauds every one of its volunteers for the sacrifices they’ve made to make us a better institution. To us, this award simply confirms what we’ve long known: We can’t do it alone. Whether it’s meeting new people or working with old photographs, sharing your knowledge of the past or getting out the word on new exhibits, the History Museum can help you expand your horizons. For information on our volunteer programs, contact David Rogers at 476-5157.

We’re Number One

True West Magazine has given us the early word that its May edition will name the New Mexico History Museum as the nation’s top Western Museum.

“This is the result of years of hard work by many people,” said Dr. Frances Levine, director of the museum, which opened on May 23, 2009. “From designing a modern building in a historic setting to developing the exhibits to getting out the word, our staff and volunteers have come through time and again. We are honored by this recognition.”

In his write-up about the museum, Johnny D. Boggs, a Santa Fe author and historian, noted the overflow crowds that filled the museum on its opening weekend: “I hadn’t seen likes like this since I tried to get into a bookstore in Dallas, Texas, where actor Jimmy Stewart was authographing copies of his book of poetry. That was like trying to get into a Dallas Cowboys home playoff game.”

4x5 lines outside

The magazine cites the museum’s large campus, which includes the Palace of the Governors, the nation’s oldest continuously occupied public building; Fray Angélico Chávez History Library; Palace of the Governors Photo Archives; Palace Press; and Native American Artisans Portal Program. Its core exhibit, Telling New Mexico: Stories from Then and Now, the magazine says, “is as diverse as the culture, and history, of New Mexico.”

Boggs writes that he admires the 96,000-square-foot building’s architecture, including the 300 handmade arrows that dangle from the ceiling in the core exhibit’s Pueblo Revolt area.

“Special events, kid-friendly activities and changing exhibits kept things hopping throughout 2009,” he writes. “Expect a busy year again at the New Mexico History Museum, and perhaps some more long lines, as 2010 is the year Santa Fe celebrates its 400th anniversary.”

Portal - Parkhurst 4x5Also in the magazine is an article noting 25 kid-friendly museums, and it names the Native American Artisans Portal Program (left) at the Palace of the Governors.

Other museums getting the magazine’s Top-10 Western Museums nod: the Adams Museum & House, Deadwood, S.D.; Buffalo Bill Museum & Grave, Golden, Colo.; Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, Canyon, Texas; High Desert Museum, Bend, Ore.; Plains Indian Museum, Cody, Wyo.; National Oregon/California Trail Center, Montpelier, Idaho; Boot Hill Museum, Dodge City, Kan.; Cripple Creek District Museum, Cripple Creek, Colo.; Rim Country Museum, Payson, Ariz.

“These Western museums are important in preserving and exhibiting history and culture,” says True West Executive Editor Bob Boze Bell. “They keep the Old West alive.”

Boggs, who’s been honored four times with a Spur Award from the Western Writers of America, selected the winners for this annual award based on his extensive travels, research and firsthand experiences in visiting Western museums each year.  He analyzed their grand showcases of the American West in 2009—“and they had to be really cool,” says Boggs.

A Poem for Fray Angelico

In honor of the 100th anniversary of Fray Angélico Chávez’s birth, the History Museum’s Library, which bears his name, will hold a daylong symposium in the auditorium this Saturday. Check out the schedule below. You’re invited. It’s free. And, if you’re among the first 200 to arrive, you’ll receive a commemorative copy of Jimmy Santiago Baca‘s poem written in honor of the friar and hand-printed on the Palace of the Governor’s historic presses.

tom holding jsb poem

Tom Leech (left, in photo below) and James Bourland (at press, in photo below), the skilled hands of the Palace Press, produced a stack of the commemorative poems on Tuesday. The sun image on its cover came off of the 1899 Chandler & Price machine once used to produce the fabled Estancia News Herald. The poem was printed on the Vandercook Press in a Bodoni Condensed font.

james and tom at estancia press

The poem came about when Tomas Jaehn, director of the Fray Angélico Chávez History Library, decided to ask Baca if he would be willing to write something in honor of the late friar — a renowned historian, author and artist. Baca drew on their shared love for Hispanic culture in crafting his poem, which reads, in part:

… you resemble the sun,

you are here in the grass, on the adobe wall,

in the pages of my poetry book

you glow

redemption, open-hearted love for the land,

warming the air with your vehement passion to announce

to all life how beautiful our Hispanic culture is ….

Fray Angélico ChávezThe beauty of that culture was threaded throughout Chávez’s life. Born Manuel Ezequiel Chávez in Wagon Mound, N.M., Fray Angélico was ordained as a Franciscan, served several parishes in New Mexico and was instrumental in renovating the church in Peña Blanca – a true hands-on effort. The murals he painted of the Stations of the Cross used images of himself, his family and parishioners. He also renovated churches in Domingo Station, Golden and Cerrillos.

As an Army chaplain, he was present for the World War II beach landings at Guam and Leyte and, during the Korean War, was stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas, and Kaiserslautern, Germany.

Upon his return, Chávez was appointed archivist of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, where he catalogued and translated the Church’s Spanish archives. As noted in a biography on the Web site of the New Mexico Office of the State Historian:

While digging for the golden nuggets of Franciscan history in the archdiocesan archives, he instead came across baptismal, marriage, and death records that revealed much about the families who had settled the region. He wrote: “It was like the case of a miner who sifted a hill of ore for gold, setting aside any silver he encountered; in the end the silver far outweighed the gold. The only thing to do was to render the silver useful.” He compiled the silver and published the Origins of New Mexico Families: A Genealogy of the Spanish Colonial Period in 1954. Genealogists searching for their familial roots have found the book invaluable.

Chávez is perhaps best known for writing La Conquistadora, the Autobiography of an Ancient Statue about the figure of the Virgin Mary revered by parishioners of St. Francis Cathedral in Santa Fe. He also wrote short stories, novels and poetry. T.S. Eliot called his poem, The Virgin of Port Lligat in 1959 a “very commendable achievement.”

exterior washington entranceAfter his death in 1996, the History Library was named in his honor, and a bronze statue of him graces its entrance. A self-portrait is on display in the Palace of the Governors’ Portrait Gallery, and it carries an interesting tale. Painted in 1939 as an “idle sketch” on a board by Fray Angélico in 1939, it was later trimmed down to repair a drawer in the convent at Peña Blanca. In 1970, someone cleaning out the drawers happened upon it. Fray Angélico donated it to the museum, writing: “I thought you might display it more as a curiosity than a work of art.”

A finely rendered sketch of the young friar, the portrait is, contrary to his recommendation, displayed as a work of art.

Here’s a schedule of Saturday’s symposium. Come for the whole day, or drop in when you can:

10-10:25 am: Frances Levine, director of the New Mexico History Museum; Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan, Archdiocese of Santa Fe

10:30-10:40: Jimmy Santiago Baca, poet

10:40-10:55: Fabian Chávez, former legislative leader, longtime public servant and brother of Fray Angélico

11-11:30: Nasario Garcia, professor emeritus of Hispanic Languages and Literatures

11:35-12:05: Thomas E. Chávez, former director, Palace of the Governors

1:30-2 pm: Melina Vizcaino-Aleman, doctoral candidate, American Studies Department, University of New Mexico

2:05-2:35 pm: Jack Clark Robinson, O.F.M., Ph.D., History, University of California-Santa Barbara

2:40-3:10: Ellen McCracken, professor of Spanish, University of California-Santa Barbara, and author of The Life and Writing of Fray Angelico Chavez: A New Mexico Renaissance Man (UNM Press, 2009)

3:30-4:30 pm: Questions and testimonials

Funding for the event was made possible by the New Mexico Humanities Council. The event is also supported by the Center for Southwest Research, University of New Mexico, and has been designated a We the People project by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the New Mexico Humanities Council.

Breakfast ON Tiffany’s?

Military service has its advantages, but alas, dining off of Tiffany silver isn’t one of them. At least, not anymore.

Last Saturday saw the commissioning of the new USS New Mexico, namesake of a fabled World War II battleship reborn as a $2.25 billion nuclear submarine. Besides carrying the Land of Enchantment’s name, the sub carries something precious to New Mexico: two dessert plates from a 56-piece Tiffany silver service created for the original USS New Mexico. And, no, there won’t be any breakfast on Tiffany’s plates served; they’re for display purposes only.

humidorThe New Mexico History Museum holds the set and has several of its pieces on display in its core exhibition, Telling New Mexico: Stories from Then and Now. Each piece was handcrafted to reflect different aspects of the state’s cultural heritage – Coronado’s Expedition 1540-42; San Miguel Chapel – Old­est Church in the US; and the First Locomotive through Raton Pass – 1879. Pretty much everyone’s favorite piece is a humidor in the shape of Taos Pueblo. (That’s it at left and, if you know which viga to press on, you can pop open the various floors of the “pueblo.”)

Dr. Frances Levine, director of the History Museum, hand-carried the plates from New Mexico and attended the commissioning ceremony at the Norfolk Naval Base in Virginia, along with fellow New Mexicans: Ret. Admiral William Payne, a state senator; Senate President Tim Jennings; Tourism Secretary Michael Cerletti; and Veterans Services Secretary John Garcia.

“It was fantastic,” Levine said, “so tradition-conscious.”

Best part? “I got to go on the sub,” she said.

fran and ocean 4x5

(You, dear reader, can’t go on it, but you can take a virtual tour here.)

The plates that will live aboard (and underwater) for the next year depict…

…The Santa Fe Trail…

Tiffany-USS New Mexico

…and Taos Pueblo.

Tiffany-USS New Mexico

Their history goes back to 1918, when the state of New Mexico commissioned Tiffany to create the service for the USS New Mexico. The battleship served as the first flagship of the United States Pacific Fleet, and was a vital part of U.S. operations in the Pacific Theater of WWII.

USS New Mexico - Pearl Harbor 5x6

First sent to Pearl Harbor, the ship was deployed to protect our eastern seaboard in mid-1941, barely missing the attack on the Hawaiian port. Her subsequent history, as told in a recent column by Jay Miller:

The pre-landing bombardment of Luzon began on January 6, 1945, perhaps appropriately, the state of New Mexico’s 33rd birthday. The sky was full of kamikaze planes. A suicide hit on her bridge killed the commanding officer and 29 others, with 87 injured. The remaining crew made emergency repairs and her guns remained in action until our troops got ashore on January 9th.

After repairs at Pearl Harbor, she headed to Okinawa for the invasion there. This time the enemy threat was from suicide boats. On May 11, she destroyed eight of them. The following evening, the New Mexico was attacked by two kamikazes. One plunged into her. The other hit her with its bomb.

In the resulting fires, 54 men were killed and 119 wounded, but she continued to fight. On May 28, she departed for repairs in the Philippines to be readied for the invasion of Japan. On August 15, while sailing toward Okinawa, she learned of the war’s end. On September 2, she entered Tokyo Bay to witness Japan’s surrender.

After the battleship was decommissioned in 1946, the Tiffany service was used on the carrier Midway and the flat-top Bon Homme Richard before it was donated to the Palace of the Governors. When the New Mexico History Museum opened May 23, 2009, the service was on display for the first time in decades.

To see some of the Tiffany the pieces yourself, visit the History Museum and head downstairs to the World War II section of the Telling New Mexico exhibit. It will be a lot easier than trying to see them on this:

the sub w flag

The silver plates aren’t the only mark of New Mexico on a ship named for New Mexico. U.S. Rep. Martin Heinrich said: “A lot of New Mexicans worked really hard to make this happen and to make sure that crew is stocked up with plenty of New Mexico salsa and other things to make sure they know we’re thinking about them out there.” True? Here’s proof:


New Mexico salsa …. Talk about military might!