Crazy ’bout a Sharp-Dressed Man

BenConradInSuit-2Pinhole photography, at its heart, combines the most low-tech materials with the highest ideals of art. Nowhere can that be better seen than in Ben Conrad’s pinhole suit.

Lately, the only place to see it has been the Conservation Lab behind the museum’s administrative offices. There, Casey Mallinckrodt, an intern for the Conservation Department of the Museum of New Mexico, has painstakingly repaired cameras that consist of little more than cardboard, duct tape, electrician’s tape and glue. In 1994, Conrad used Velcro to affix 125 of the rickety cameras to a pair of Big Ben coveralls and a motorcycle helmet. Working with assistants in a darkroom, he loaded the cameras with film. His helpers covered him with a tarp and ferried him outside, where they lifted the tarp to expose the film. Quickly covering him again, they returned to the darkroom to develop the multi-eyed vision of his surroundings.

As Conrad explained the purpose in 1995: “The pinhole suit is an experiment to see what it would look like if the pores of the human skin were camera apertures. … (I) want to photograph on locations in public areas that are under surveillance, such as banks, airports, parks and grocery stores. With the pinhole suit I’m exposing myself and exposing the film. Where the 35mm is a spectator, the pinhole suit is both spectator and spectacle.”

Caroline Lajoie, designer of the exhibition, Poetics of Light: Pinhole Photography, opening April 27, has devised a way to display the suit on a mannequin surrounded by the images it took.

As basic as Conrad’s materials may have been, nothing goes on exhibit without conservators taking a serious look at them. Mallinckrodt did just that, even subjecting various parts of the suit to spectral examination, solubility tests, and Fourier-Transform Infrared Spectroscopy. Knowing the suit’s roots, her report almost reads scientifically tongue-in-cheek: “The motorcycle helmet is structurally sound. … There are areas of fine cracking in the outer layer of plastic that may be the result of impact or deterioration of the material, but these cracks do not impair use in this assembly.”


Sewing up History with a Box

Upon learning of that Frances Levine, director of the New Mexico History Museum/Palace of the Governors will soon take over leadership of the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis, many of our supporters asked what she might want for a going-away present. The answer? Nothing.

At least nothing for herself. In a selfless display of generosity, Fran is asking folks who want to honor her years of accomplishment to instead consider donating money to the Museum of New Mexico Foundation’s Acquisitions Fund.

SC_Sewing_Box-72The item we’re dying to buy is this sewing box, a rare example of an 18th-century delicacy from Michoacán, Mexico, still bearing its original, hand-lacquered finish in the Chinoiserie style. As for what else makes it so special, read Fran’s description of it, along with details about how you can help her leave an even longer-lasting legacy.

Continue reading

New Mexico Legislators Honor Frances Levine

Fran-1Wednesday, February 19, 2014, found New Mexico History Museum Director Frances Levine on the floor of the state Senate, for all the right reasons. Given a seat of honor on the rostrum, she heard the reading of a certificate honoring her service to the state and wishing her well on her next adventure as president and chief executive officer of the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis.

Fran was thrilled to tears. (Literally, tears, but then our staff is fond of saying she cries at puppies.) After the certificate was read, Sens. Peter Wirth, Bill Payne and John Ryan heaped on the praise. Both Wirth and Payne called the event “bittersweet.” Happy as they are for her new position, they said, New Mexico will sorely miss her. To that end, Ryan, who happens to be married to Levine’s boss, Department of Cultural Affairs Secretary Veronica Gonzales, joked that he had heard Gonzales would not be accepting Levine’s resignation. Continue reading

Wanted: History Buffs with Shoes Made for Walkin’

4-72-PalaceWalkingTour2012The Historical Downtown Walking Tours led by museum-trained guides have grown into a popular pastime among locals and tourists alike. This year’s tours will run from April 14 through Oct. 11. To boost the ranks of volunteer guides, the New Mexico History Museum and Los Compadres del Palacio, a support group of the Museum of New Mexico Foundation, are inaugurating a special recruitment and training opportunity.

You could be just the person we’re looking for. Do you possess a deep love of Santa Fe and knowledge of New Mexico history? Enjoy spending time outdoors and meeting people from all over the world? This could be your perfect niche.

Learn more at a special event on Tuesday March 4. At 9:30 am in the museum’s auditorium, noted Santa Fe archaeologist Cordelia (Dedie) Thomas Snow will use historical photographs to present a history of Santa Fe’s storied downtown core. Afterward, Los Compadres will host a coffee in the Meem Community Room where you can ask all the questions you have about the program. The event is free; no reservations are required. Continue reading