What a Frame-Up: “Native American Portraits”

Native American Portraits: Points of Inquiry, the new exhibition in the New Mexico History Museum’s Mezzanine Gallery, features more than 50 exquisite, original prints taken from the mid-1800s to 1035. What makes them even more arresting are the more than 50 frames surrounding each photo.

How we found them is one of the interesting little back-stories that so many museums have to tell.

The show is hung in what’s known as a “salon style” exhibition, where the groupings look more like what you might see in someone’s living room than the standard march of photos across a wall most common in museums. Given that, curator and archivist Daniel Kosharek, along with exhibition designer Caroline Lajoie, didn’t want a series of identical frames. But they lacked the funds to order up an assortment from your local frame shape.

The hunt was on.

“It started with a few finds at a garage sale,” Daniel said.

Andrew Smith, one of the co-curators of the exhibit and owner of Andrew Smith Gallery, provided three historically accurate frames for the Edward S. Curtis images. The Museum of New Mexico’s Conservation Department helped create several shadowbox-like frames to hold postcard images in a sort of suspended animation, rather than tacking them down.

“It ended with scouring the basement of a local gallery and molding-diving in the storage locker of a framing company,” Daniel said. “The end result? Well, you be the judge.”