Santa Fe has ten museums and over two hundred galleries. That’s a lot of art, history and culture for a small city. Four of the museums are state-run under the umbrella of the Museum of New Mexico; the other five are privately run. All are small, each with its own appeal. They are all worth a visit. Two of the four State museums are near the historic Plaza and two are on Museum Hill, a short ride from town.
The long-awaited New Mexico History Museum opened in May, 2009. The core exhibit is Telling New Mexico, Stories from Then and Now. This permanent display is in six sections, each covering an era of New Mexico’s rich history. Starting with the indigenous peoples before the arrival of the Conquistadors, the tale progresses through Spanish and Mexican rule, to life as a US territory and then to statehood. The exhibit culminates with present-day life in the Land of Enchantment. There is a lot to see and do here, here including interactive exhibits.
The three-story building also houses short-term exhibits, an auditorium, a gift shop and the Cowden Cafe. The Palace of the Governors, the oldest continually occupied public building in the United States had been the history museum. Located around the corner facing the Plaza, it is part of the history museum complex and is accessed with the same admission ticket. The museum’s Fray Angelico Chávez History Library, free to the public, is open Tuesday to Friday from 1p.m. to 5p.m. (closed on major holidays).
The New Mexico Museum of Art is housed in a pueblo-style building dating from 1917. It is located in the heart of downtown Santa Fe, on Palace Avenue adjacent to the Plaza. Works by southwest artists are at the core of the permanent collection. The majority are works by New Mexico artists, the oldest dating back to around 1880. Some of the better known artists on view are: Georgia O’Keeffe, Elliot Porter, Gustave Baumann, Fritz Scholder and renowned potter, Maria Martinez. In addition, there are short-term exhibits; many are traveling exhibits mounted by museums across the country and around the world. The museum is home to the Saint Francis Auditorium, an intimate concert and lecture venue. It is one of the concert spaces used by the prestigious New Mexico Chamber Music Festival held each summer.
The two State museums on Milner Plaza on Museum Hill have some of the best views in town. Walk up the stairs to the plaza or take the elevator. The Museum of Indian Arts and Culture to the left and International Folk Art Museum is on your right. You can visit both in one trip; bring a picnic lunch in warm weather or dine at the Museum Hill Cafe.
According to their website, the mission of the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture is “to inspire appreciation for and knowledge of the diverse native arts, histories, languages, and cultures of the Greater Southwest.” The museum tells the stories of the Native American people of the Southwest from pre-historic through contemporary times. Its changing exhibits draw from an unparalleled collection of Native American art and artifacts representing the Pueblo, Navajo, Apache, and other indigenous cultures of the Southwest.
The museum’s two long-term exhibits are Here, Now, and Always and The Buchsbaum Gallery of Southwestern Pottery. The first is the result of the eight-year collaboration among Native American elders, artists, scholars, teachers, writers and museum professionals. It’s a journey through the history of the native peoples of the southwest; their civilization and culture from pre-Columbian to present times. The Buchsbaum collection spans the history of the pottery tradition of the Pueblos of New Mexico and Arizona, from about 600 and 800 A.D. to the present. The oldest pieces, a painted bowl and a seed jar are Lino gray pottery found in the Four Corners region. The oldest piece of pottery the museum owns is from the Alma Plains in southwestern part NM and dates to about 300 A.D.
The museum’s gift shop is a great place to pick up contemporary Native American handcrafted items. They offer pottery, textiles, jewelry, sculptures, kachinas, baskets and more. They also have a collection of books about native culture.
The best part of the Museum of International Folk Art is The Girard Wing where a colorful exhibit, Multiple Visions: A Common Bond, originally mounted in 1982 is still going strong. The collection, donated by renowned architect and interior and textile designer, Alexander Girard has artifacts from over 100 countries on six continents. The collection includes toys and dolls, costumes, masks, textiles of all kinds, religious folk art, paintings, beadwork, and more. Almost everything is miniature and colorful and the gallery has lots of dioramas. Kids love it here and if you have a sense of whimsy, you will too. It is easy to leave with a smile on your face.
Other wings are: the Hispanic Heritage Wing, the Bartlett Wing housing rotating exhibits from the museum’s large collections as well as traveling international shows and the Neutrogena Wing, home to textile exhibits.
All the State museums are open 10a.m. to 5p.m. and are closed Mondays (except between Memorial and Labor Days). There is an admission charge. The downtown museums offer free admission Friday evenings from 5p.m. to 8p.m. Admission is free for New Mexico residents at any State museum on Sundays. In addition, NM seniors are admitted free on Wednesdays. A multi-day, discount pass is available admitting you to all the State Museums in Santa Fe. If you are traveling around the state, there is a Culture Pass offering reduced admissions to 14 museums and monuments throughout the state. Annual memberships are also available.
The gift shops at the museums offer an excellent selection of merchandise related to their themes. They are a great place to treat yourself to a Santa Fe souvenir or for gift-shopping. Whether you live here or are visiting, take advantage of this bounty.
Which Santa Fe Museums have you visited? What was your experience?
Authors note: The Museum of New Mexico Gift Shop can be accessed on line.
Authors’ note: As a former hotel concierges and owners of a travel concierge and trip-planning business in Santa Fe, the writers may have been guests of business or services mentioned in posts on this site. While these experiences have not influenced us in any way, this information is provided in the spirit of full disclosure.