Sometimes you miss something that is just plain wonderful and right under your nose. For us, the Tinkertown Museum was one of those places. This folk art gem is in Sandia Park, on the Turquoise Trail (NM Route 14), about an hour south of Santa Fe. It’s a route we took often our first year in New Mexico. We passed the sign for the turn-off countless times but never detoured.
Early this spring, while researching an unrelated feature for the blog, I encountered Tinkertown’s owner Carla Ward, founder and co-president of the Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway, via phone. By the end of our conversation, I knew I had to get to this place and check it out. A family visit finally got us there. We needed to kill a bit of time in the area and figured Tinkertown might interest us, our grandsons and their parents.
Tinkertown, the result of over 40 years of work on the part of Carla’s late husband, artist Ross Ward, opened in 1983. He began carving as a teenager, inspired by carvers in the Midwest where he grew up and never lost his passion for it. Ross carved or collected all the miniatures at Tinkertown. Many reside in dioramas that amaze and delight visitors of all ages.
Ross and Carla also built the museum itself out of over 50,000 glass bottles, rocks and other found materials. “Almost everything is recycled,” Carla says. She worked alongside her husband who she calls him “a visionary,” building this quirky home for his collection and work. Modestly, she says, “he deserves all the credit.” Looking at the building and it’s whimsical displays you know creating Tinkertown was a relentless task. Through all this he had a day job. He was a “show painter” for major carnivals throughout the United States, designing and painting the pictures on rides and fun houses. He would travel where needed in season and to their winter quarters from Texas to Florida when they were off the road.
What really brought a smile to my face and even made me laugh out loud were the animations found throughout. Pop a quarter in the slot and see Otto the one-man-band or Esmeralda, the Fortune Teller at work. It’s worth the price! There are also free buttons to push and watch the little folks go about their business in the recreated western town, a circus or other displays.
There is Americana all around the museum from US license plates on the walls and floors to a collection of wedding cake brides and grooms
There is Americana all around the museum from US license plates on the walls and floors to a collection of wedding cake brides and grooms. One room at the museum you’ll discover the1936 British-built cutter, the Theodora R. Carla’s brother, Fritz Damler, spent ten years sailing around the world the 35’ boat. He tells his story in the book, Ten Years Behind the Mast.
Ross Ward was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in February, 1998, at age 57 and passed away November 13, 2002. His family continues his legacy, maintaining and running Tinkertown in his memory, because as this talented man used to say, “The show must go on!”
The Tinkertown Museum is open seasonally from April 1st thru October 31st, from 9am to 6pm daily (last ticket sold at 5:30pm). Admission is $3.50 for adults, $3 for seniors, $1 for kids 4 to 16. Kids under 4 years of age enter for free.
Have you been to the Tinkertown Museum? What was your favorite thing about it? If you have any off the beaten path treasures in New Mexico to share, contact us.