Good News: “The Saint John’s Bible” Earns an Extended Engagement

As the monks of Saint John’s Abbey might themselves say: Hallelujah!

The popularity of Illuminating the Word: The Saint John’s Bible, combined with the delighted approval of the exhibition’s design from the monks of Saint John’s University, has led to an extension of the show’s run. Previously set to close on April 7, The Saint John’s Bible will now be on exhibit in the History Museum’s Herzstein Gallery until December 30, 2012.

“The installation of the folios in the New Mexico History Museum presents The Saint John’s Bible in one of the most beautiful and faith-filled exhibitions of this Bible done to date,” said Tim Ternes, director of The Saint John’s Bible. “The contemplative environment artfully shares the story, work and process of this monumental project in a setting that compels the guest to slow down, relax and reflect.

“Saint John’s is very pleased to be able to extend this exhibition in the Santa Fe area, a place where art, faith and culture have been harmoniously blended for centuries.”

Commissioned by the monks of Saint John’s Abbey and University in Collegeville, Minn., The Saint John’s Bible represents a remarkable achievement in the book arts. In 2000, Donald Jackson, senior scribe to Queen Elizabeth, and a crew of artists and calligraphers began the first of the Bible’s 1,150 vellum pages—from Genesis to Revelation. Last May, the project achieved completion when Jackson wrote the word “Amen” on the final page of the Book of Revelation. All of the pages will eventually be bound into seven volumes for use and exhibition at Saint John’s Abbey, but in the meantime, 44 pages from two of its Old Testament volumes–Prophets and Wisdom Books–are on exhibit at the New Mexico History Museum.

More than 26,600 people have come to the museum to see the Bible and take part in the activities and lectures that accompany it.

“Faith is part of the history of New Mexico, one that you can see in ancient petroglyphs, mission churches, Jewish temples, the Sikh community and more,” said Dr. Frances Levine, director of the History Museum. “Besides being part of the state’s history, faith is part of the history of the book, and this exhibit takes the book back to its medieval origins, when the Bible was `the first book.’ In Saint John’s, that first book meets modern technology, contemporary artists, and interpretations that blend modern-day events with centuries-old scripture.”

Tom Leech directs the Palace Press, a working exhibit that celebrates the book arts. He helped bring this contemporary masterpiece to Santa Fe to help visitors experience how profoundly beautiful and moving an illuminated manuscript can be.

The Saint John’s Bible is installed in a way that gives people a quiet, secular space to unplug and de-stress. The work speaks to us in many different ways,” Leech said. “We’ve even included a sort of meditation space in the center of the gallery where visitors can let what they’ve seen sink in.”

Also on exhibit in the gallery is Contemplative Landscape, featuring the work of photographers both past and present who have interpreted the ways that people of many faiths have found a home in New Mexico. (Find out more about Contemplative Landscape by clicking here.)

Accompanying the exhibits are lectures, performances and hands-on calligraphy workshops. We’ll be adding a few events with the extended run of The Saint John’s Bible, including talks by Tim Ternes. As soon as details are firmed up, we’ll let you know. All events are free and in the History Museum Auditorium, unless otherwise noted. The remaining schedule:

Saturday, February 25, 10 am-4 pm, NMHM Classroom: “Oh My Gouache,” calligraphy workshop by Diane von Arx, special treatment artist for The Saint John’s Bible. This event is sold out.

Sunday, February 26, 2 pm: “Special Treatment Illuminations for The Saint John’s Bible,” lecture by Diane von Arx.

Sunday, March 11, 2 pm: Schola Cantorum of Santa Fe and the monks of Christ in the Desert Monastery perform in the History Museum Lobby.

Sunday, March 25, 2 pm: “Endangered Texts: Preserving Ancient Books the Benedictine Way in the 21st Century,” lecture by Father Columba Stewart, executive director of the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library at St. John’s University in Minnesota.

Sunday, April 29, 2 pm: Contemplative Landscape photographers panel discussion; Kirk Gittings, Ed Ranney, Janet Russek, Sharon Stewart and Don Usner.

Friday, June 1, 6 pm: “Fragile Faith,” lecture by Contemplative Landscape photographer David Robin.

Friday, June 8, 6 pm: “Landscape and Memory,” lecture by artist and calligrapher Laurie Doctor.

Saturday and Sunday, June 9 & 10, 10 am-4 pm, NMHM Classroom: “Landscape and Lettering: Before the Separation of Drawing and Writing,” calligraphy workshop with Laurie Doctor. Cost is $200. Limited seating; call (505) 476-5096 to register.

Friday, July 13, 6 pm: “Poetry & Photographs,” discussion and poetry reading with Contemplative Landscape photographer Teresa Neptune and poet Miriam Sagan.

Sunday, October 14, 2 pm: “Ritualized Naming of the Landscape through Photography,” lecture by John Carter, photography curator at the Nebraska State Historical Society.

Sunday, November 4, 2 pm: Red as a Lotus: Letters to a Dead Trappist, poetry reading by Lisa Gill; and Compassion Rising, a film about Thomas Merton and the Dalai Lama.

Sunday, December 2, 2 pm: Sacred choral music by Schola Cantorum of Santa Fe and the monks of Christ in the Desert Monastery.

The 2012 Statehood History Conference

Outlaws, Rough Riders, classic restaurants and a possible spy will come to life at the 2012 New Mexico Statehood History Conference, May 3-5, in Santa Fe. Presented by the Historical Society of New Mexico and the New Mexico History Museum/Palace of the Governors, this Centennial version of the Society’s annual conference includes a special treat: A daylong free symposium, open to the public, plus free admission to the History Museum on May 3.

The conference, May 4 and 5 at the Santa Fe Convention and Visitors Center, is held in collaboration with the New Mexico Heritage Preservation Alliance, which is having its annual conference at La Posada that weekend. Details, including special hotel rates and how to register for all or part of the Statehood History Conference, are at the Historical Society’s web site.

“Whether you’re interested in the Centennial or New Mexico history in general, we’re gathering writers and historians you’ll enjoy meeting and whose research is sure to enlighten you,” said Mike Stevenson, president of the Historical Society. “Holding this year’s event in the capital city, where lawmakers worked so hard to move the Territory toward statehood, means we’ll be surrounded by history indoors at the sessions and outdoors strolling the streets of Santa Fe.”

The symposium’s keynote address, “New Mexico Statehood, An Earlier Perception,” will be given by Dr. Robert W. Larson, author of the authoritative and classic New Mexico‘s Quest for Statehood, 1846-1912.  Other speakers include Dr. David Van Holtby, “New Mexico’s Rough Road to Statehood,” Robert Torrez, “Law and Order and the Quest for New Mexico Statehood,” and Henrietta Martinez Christmas, “New Mexico’s Icons.”  Dr. Richard Melzer will introduce and moderate the symposium. (Seating in the museum’s auditorium is limited; first-come first-served.)

The statehood theme continues May 4 and 5 at the Society’s conference, with topics ranging from traditional foods in Native American communities, land-grant studies, Western characters like Kit Carson and Wyatt Earp, and controversial New Mexico politicos such as Thomas Benton Catron, Bronson Cutting, and New Mexico’s first Territorial Governor (and possible U.S. spy) James S. Calhoun. The conference’s 24 sessions and nearly 70 presentations include:

  • “Juan Dominguez de Mendoza: Soldier and Frontiersman of 17th-Century New Mexico,” by historians Marc Simmons and José Antonio Esquibel.
  • “The Changing Character of New Mexico Statehood as Reflected by the Santa Fe Fiesta Celebration,” by Andrew Lovato, assistant professor of speech communications at Santa Fe Community College.
  • “Butch Cassidy in New Mexico: His Winning Ways, Dancing Feet, and Postmortem Return,” by free-lance writer Nancy Coggeshall.
  • “U.S. Army Nurses at Fort Bayard,” by Cecilia Jensen Bell, a researcher with the Fort Bayard Historical Preservation Society.
  • “La Matanza: Conserving Identity through Food in Los Lunas,” by Daniel Valverde, an anthropology student at New Mexico State University.

“The research that these scholars have accomplished is truly impressive,” said Dr. Frances Levine, director of the New Mexico History Museum. “Visitors can start their weekend history immersion by seeing the maps, paintings, photographs and artifacts that we use in our main exhibit, Telling New Mexico: Stories from Then and Now. If you’re not already a fan of history, the symposium and conference will make you one.”

Founded in 1859, the Historical Society of New Mexico is the oldest historical society in the West. Its collections were incorporated into the original Museum of New Mexico, created in 1909 in the Palace of the Governors, and today represent an important part of the New Mexico History Museum’s holdings. The society’s photographs, documents and books, collected from 1885 on, became the core of the museum’s Fray Angélico Chávez History Library and the Photo Archives at the Palace of the Governors. The Society began its annual conferences in 1974, and also publishes award-winning papers and news of history around the state in La Crónica de Nuevo México.

Society members who register for the conference by April 23 will get a specially discounted rate of $95, which includes the Thursday evening opening reception at the History Museum, lunch on Friday, and the Statehood Centennial Banquet on Friday evening at the Convention Center (a total value of $125).  The closing Cinco de Mayo reception at the Governor’s Mansion will feature the annual Historical Society of New Mexico Awards presentations.

The conference includes a silent auction as well as a book auction. Items will include artwork, jewelry, historical maps, rare books, and statehood memorabilia. If you’d like to donate an item, e-mail Mike Stevenson at

Gotta Dance

The museum’s Collections Committee had its monthly meeting this morning and, among other businesses, accepted a piece of 1927 ephemera from Gov. Richard C. Dillon’s Inaugural Ball.  It’s a neat little six-page affair, about 3 1/2 x 5 1/2 inches, with an honest-to-goodness sign-yourself-up dance card in the middle.

(Whoever the previous owner was, he wasn’t exactly Fred Astaire. Only four of 24 dances were taken, two One Steps, one Two Step and one Foxtrot. Left undanced were, among others, the Varsoviana, the Valencia, the Spanish Waltz and the Charleston.)

Nancy M. Tucker, an Albuquerque resident, provided the inaugural program to us via her regular wanderings about the offerings on the Internet. We have a number of “angels” like Nancy out there, some of the bona fide pickers, some of them folks who just have an interest in history and particularly New Mexico history.

Dillon’s Inaugural Ball was held at the Palace of the Governors and the National Guard Armory, a building that used to be north of the Palace and is now occupied by the New Mexico History Museum. According to the program, some of the luminaries involved in the organization of the event were Gov. Arthur T. Hannett, Arthur Seligman, Miguel A. Otero Jr., Nathan Jaffa, and Archbishop A. T. Daeger. Decorations festooned the Palace and Armory, along with the Capitol (today’s Bataan Building), and the Museum of Fine Art. Norman L. King served as the parade’s grand marshall.

To anyone familiar with New Mexico history, the plethora of names listed among the other committeepeople who helped with the inaugural reads like a who’s who of 1920s Santa Fe and New Mexico. Among them: John Meem, Oscar Huber, Mrs. Ashley Pond, Mrs. N.B. Laughlin, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Dendahl, and Mr. and Mrs. John N. Zook.

Dillon, a Republican, was the eighth post-statehood governor of New Mexico. According to the National Governors Association, he “was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on June 24, 1877. His early education was attained in the common schools of his native state. He later attended the public schools in Springer, New Mexico, where his family moved in 1889. Before entering politics, Dillon worked as a railroad laborer and a merchant.

“In 1924, he won election to the New Mexico State Senate, a position he held two years. Dillon next secured the Republican gubernatorial nomination, and was elected governor by popular vote on November 2, 1926. He was reelected to a second term in 1928.

“During his tenure, the Carlsbad Caverns were declared a national monument by the federal government; and the state government was managed in an efficient, business-like method. After leaving the governorship, Dillon retired from political life. He stayed active in his business career, and eventually established the R.C. Dillon Company. Governor Richard C. Dillon passed away on January 5, 1966, and was buried in Encino, New Mexico.”

I am an american!

The Golden Rule is my rule!

In humility and with gratitude

I acknowledge my undying debt

To the founding fathers

Who left me a pricess heritage … (it goes on for another 24 lines and four exclamation marks.)

Among the other artifacts the Museum is fortunate to have in its collections from Gov. Dillon’s time are an oil-painted portrait, a suitcase, and a 1929 yellow-and-red NM license plate with a big number 1 on it, below the word “Governor.”

The museum is grateful to the many people who keep us in mind when they come upon items that help us tell the story of who we were and who we are. If you think you might have something of interest, give us a call and let’s have a chat.

Frederick Douglass Learns to Write – A Palace Press Commemoration

Imagine a world where Frederick Douglass had not learned to write.

Would the Emancipation Proclamation have been issued in 1863 or might it have withered and waited without the stirring speeches Douglass wrote, published and delivered, advocating against the slavery into which he was born?

Historians and what-if theorists can argue that for days, but the rest of us can be satisfied in knowing that, thanks to Douglass’ writing skills, we have a stirring, first-person account of what life was like in an America that regarded black people as property.  

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass was first published in 1845, seven years after its author escaped from slavery. It remains a classic autobiography, unflinchingly recounting the terrors that Douglass experienced as a slave, the brutalities of his owners, and his narrow escape to the North. (An escape that was endangered by the book’s publication; once his former owner knew where to find him, he went to court – unsuccessfully – to get his “property” back.)

Just in time for Black History Month comes a new broadside from the Palace Press at the New Mexico History Museum. And though we’re mentioning its tie to that month, the excerpt featured from Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass serves us in a timeless way, reminding us of how difficult it can be for anyone to learn how to fit words together and how crucial it is to master that learning curve in order to make compelling points. In this case, points that changed the course of history.

The excerpt reads:

… The idea as to how I might learn to write was suggested to me by being in Durgin and Bailey’s ship-yard, and frequently seeing the ship carpenters, after hewing, and getting a piece of timber ready for use, write on the timber the name of that part of the ship for which it was intended. When a piece of timber was intended for the larboard side, it would be marked thus–“L.” When a piece was for the starboard side, it would be marked thus–“S.” A piece for the larboard side forward, would be marked thus–“L. F.” When a piece was for starboard side forward, it would be marked thus–“S. F.” For larboard aft, it would be marked thus–“L. A.” For starboard aft, it would be marked thus–“S. A.” I soon learned the names of these letters, and for what they were intended when placed upon a piece of timber in the ship-yard. I immediately commenced copying them, and in a short time was able to make the four letters named. After that, when I met with any boy who I knew could write, I would tell him I could write as well as he. The next word would be, “I don’t believe you. Let me see you try it.” I would then make the letters which I had been so fortunate as to learn, and ask him to beat that. In this way I got a good many lessons in writing, which it is quite possible I should never have gotten in any other way. During this time, my copy-book was the board fence, brick wall, and pavement; my pen and ink was a lump of chalk. With these, I learned mainly how to write. …

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass is on my list of the most important books,” said Tom Leech, director of the Palace Press. “I just think for us to understand American history and the American psyche, we need to read that book.”

In 1988, Leech first printed the broadside on his own press in Colorado, where he was then living. He gave his 12-year-old son a linoleum block and asked him to write letters in reverse to be carved for the border. (By the way, that 12-year-old, Benjamin Leech, is now an advocate for historic preservation in Philadelphia.)

Copies of the 12½” x 19” broadside (printed on heavy, recycled, acid-free paper) can be purchased for $25. Come by the Palace Press, open 10 am to 5 pm, Tuesday through Sunday, or call Leech at 505-476-5096.

That’s not the only memory of Frederick Douglass available at the Palace Press.

In 2010, the Palace Press exhibited in the museum’s front window a lithographic press (one with an extraordinarily fabled background story), along with a printing stone that held a portrait of Douglass, loaned to us by Landfall Press, Santa Fe’s fine art lithographers. Their printers pulled 10 copies from the stone, and now just a few of those prints are still available and can be purchased for $100.

The prints provide an image of Douglass that’s fitting to gaze upon while considering these other words, ones that haunt the history of our “land of the free,” created by a writer who began with a piece of pavement and a lump of chalk:

… I often found myself regretting my own existence, and wishing myself dead; and but for the hope of being free, I have no doubt but that I should have killed myself, or done something for which I should have been killed. While in this state of mind, I was eager to hear any one speak of slavery. I was a ready listener. Every little while, I could hear something about the abolitionists. It was some time before I found what the word meant. …


Knitting Club Warms Hands and Hearts at Homeless Shelter

As clubs go, it’s a small one, but its work has made a big difference in the lives of people dealing with Santa Fe’s winter up close.

Formed this fall by Department of Cultural Affairs staffers who simply enjoy knitting for themselves and their families, the members of the DCA Knitting Club had two aims: to share a dose of the social graces with one another while knitting, and to direct their efforts to people in need.

On Feb. 1, as weather reports warned of a coming cold snap, the first result of their bounty was delivered to St. Elizabeth’s Shelter — a pile of beautiful and colorful scarves, caps and mittens.

The knitters were: Susie Hart (pictured at left),  from the Historic Preservation Division; Kimberly Mann, formerly of the Van of Enchantment; Jamie Brytowski, of the Van of Enchantment; Diane Bird, from the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture; and Frances Levine, from the New Mexico History Museum. (Bird and Levine are pictured below.)

Levine and Hart said the original intent was to gather regularly and knit together, but busy schedules made that impossible. Still, they built friendships through e-mails, phone calls and shared knitting patterns. Among those patterns were ones that Mann’s grandmother had used to knit for soldiers during World War II.

“What we took over to the shelter represents the power of our collective energy,” Levine said. “This was something bigger than what any of us could do on our own and it made difference to the residents and clients. It showed us we can still be a force for change, a force for good. It was also good for each of us to see that side of one another, that compassionate side.”

The group hasn’t decided what project to take up next, but does plan to keep knitting for others. If you’re interested in joining, give one of the members a call. Everyone’s welcome, from beginners to experts, men, women and children.