The Wheelwright Museum of the Almerican Indian, International Museum of Folk Art and Museum of Indian Arts and Culture are all located on Museum Hill, Camino Lejo in Santa Fe, NM
New Mexico Museum of Art, 107 West Palace Avenue, Santa Fe
New Mexico History Museum, 113 Lincoln Avenue, Santa Fe
Palace of the Governors is on the north side of the Santa Fe Plaza
Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, 217 Johnson Street in Santa Fe
BRRRR! That’s all we can say about wandering around outdoors right now. While not as challenged by winter as many destinations, Santa Fe can have frigid weather, much to some travelers’ surprise. On those winter days when the sun is not shining, cold weather does negatively impact the desire to wander in and out of Santa Fe’s many unusual shops and boutiques. So we suggest combining your visit to our wonderful museums with a visit to the equally wonderful museum shops!
Starting on Museum Hill, a favorite has to be the Case Trading Post at the Wheelwright Musemum of the American Indian. The museum itself is unusual in that it operates serarately from the New Mexico Museum group that includes the other major institutions in Santa Fe. Even more unusual is the fact that admission to the Wheelwright is by donation, so while the suggestion is thoughtfully observed, no actual fees are required. Currently on exhibit through April 17, 2011, is a fabulous show of Native American rugs woven by the Toadlena/Two Grey Hills master weavers. The show should not be missed, and a visit with these beautiful works of art can be followed by a walk down the stairs to the intimate Case Trading Post, where a desire to buy a rug can be easily satisfied.
The Case Trading Post has been artistically designed to recreate the flavor of an early 20th century trading post on the Navajo Reservation, right down to the squeakiest floors in Santa Fe. The management of this little gem boasts some sharp eyes, much like the traders of yore, with a beautiful selection of old and new items that reflect the panoply of Native arts, past and present. Particular favorites for me begin at the “pawn” section in the back, where I regularly yearn for beautiful inlays and handsomely worn silver goodies. The pottery and weavings chosen by the Case’s skilled buyer offer a variety of styles and price points. I have bought some lovely little watercolors, very reasonably-priced, by Hopi painter Peter Sumatzkuku that I never get tired of seeing on the wall. There are plenty of books for adult minds and for children, and enough small affordable collectibles that you can bring the kids in without feeling like your wallet will be seriously depleted when you leave. Serious depletion here is for the adults, but when it occurs, you can be sure you’ll go home with something you love and treasure.
The Museum of International Folk Art is much praised and justly so, and its gift shop gets kudos too. After spending a few hours or a full day in MOIFA’s collection, the yen to take home a little piece of folk art can easily be assuaged in the shop located right by the entrance. Visitors have until January 31 of this year to see the exhibit, “A Century of Masters: The NEA National Heritage Fellows of New Mexico,” comprised of examples of the works of all the Fellows from New Mexico in its collections, from weavings, to pottery, tinwork, straw appliqué, retablos, and woodcarving. National Heritage Fellows must demonstrate artistic excellence and commitment to their art forms through process, technique, and subsequent transmission of the knowledge to strengthen and enrich their communities. This notion has been an ongoing tradition in New Mexico throughout the centuries, and this is an excellent opportunity to see the fruits of this heritage.
The plethora of objects in the MOIFA tend to stun the mind, but there is always something memorable that stays with one. Even for those who choose to travel to Santa Fe at times other than the International Folk Art Market, desires inevitably arise: Need a calavera for Day of the Dead? Earrings made of bottle caps? Colcha embroidery? Name your fixation, and the friendly staff at the shop will help you find a souvenir or gift that accurately represents the finest in folk art traditions. And of course, if a visit makes it imperative to return in July for the Market, make your reservations now, because it is always a sell-out!
While on Museum Hill, lovers of Native arts will want to stop in at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture. History and art combine to educate and delight in the painstakingly acquired collection of this institution, and their website offers many resources, such as a Pueblo dance calendar to help you decide when to visit if this is part of your desired itinerary. Currently on display, but soon to leave in February, is an exhibition of Huichol art with the fine yarn paintings for which this indigenous culture is known. The concept of balance is central to Huichol art and culture, and who doesn’t need that in their life about now?
Inexpensive souvenirs are sometimes necessary for our wallets, but for those who want the real deal, museum shops are the go-to experience. Making a purchase at the Indian Arts and Culture Museum shop guarantees that you’ll be going home with authenticated goods, a certainty not always ensured by shopping at the many tiendas in Santa Fe. Shining silver bracelets, fine pottery and kachinas, tomes on Native art, you’ll find them there. The staff is knowledgeable about the art and the artists, and they’ll take the time to help you receive a better understanding of designs and the culture.
If your Santa Fe visit is limited to downtown, you can find plenty to admire in our New Mexico Museum of Fine Art located on the northwest corner of the Plaza. A new exhibit entitled “Cloudscapes” just opened on January 14, comprising a selection of pictures from the museum’s permanent collection of works that by necessity spend much of their life in storage due to light sensitivity issues. Many of the pieces are from the mid-twenthieth century, along with more recent acquisitions, and works on display are by masters of the medium, including familiar names like Alfred Stieglitz, Laura Gilpin and Edward Weston, with more recent images by Paul Caponigro and William Clift. Following your trip through photographic history, make a stop at this museum store. Though petite in size, it will yield good postcards, always an inexpensive memento, as well as catalogues of past exhibits and a wide assortment of art books. And the art jewelry is always a delight!
Of course, a walk to the Plaza should include a trip to the New Mexico History Museum, where one can garner a comprehensive understanding of how the Southwest grew and changed through the centuries. Running through early April is an interesting exhibit entitled “Wild at Heart,” curated by New Mexico art historian David L. Witt of the Academy for the Love of Learning, home of the Seton Legacy Project in Santa Fe. The exhibit is a fascinating study of Ernest Thompson Seton, conservationist, author, artist, lecturer and co-founder of the Boy Scouts and includes a series of lecture programs that expand one’s understanding of Seton’s legacy and how it lives on in Santa Fe. And lo and behold, there’s more than one gift shop! Beautiful hand-crafted decor items and artistic creations by New Mexicans from all over the state will be found in the shop on the Lincoln Avenue side near the new museum, and a treasure trove of New Mexico books, archival photos and prints from the Museum of New Mexico Press will be found at the Washington Avenue location around the caorner from the Palace of the Governors.
You truly can’t finish a downtown tour without a visit to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum! Probably the most well-known name associated with the arts in our state, O’Keeffe is well-represented in this small but gorgeous museum, notable not only for the collection but also for the wonderful educational opportunities it offers to the community. The current exhibit, “O’Keefiana; Art and Art Materials” is itself an education experience, with artworks supplemented by the materials the artist used and the objects that inspired her. The exhibit runs through early May, and it is a pleasure to see the detailed notes O’Keefe made for herself regarding colors she used and the art materials she created to use, along with the art works that resulted from both.
The O’Keeffe gift shop is definitely postcard heaven, with the only hard part being to actually let go of the cards and mail them out! Who doesn’t want to keep these on a wall somewhere? And if you want it bigger, get a poster and frame it to have your own O’Keeffe! If you missed the movie version of O’Keeffe’s life, staring Joan Allen and Jeremy Irons, you can get on to enjoy by your own fireplace on a winter evening. The jewelry and clothing items are thoughtful extensions of O’Keeffe’s subject matter, and the books are definitely keepers, destined to be thumbed through repeatedly. The online store is well organized, too, so if you left without it, go online and get it!
Try making your museum hop into the museum shop, and you’ll not only go home with something uniquely Santa Fe, you’ll also know your spent your souvenir dollars to help keep the arts alive in the Land of Enchantment!