Santa Fe museums: art, history, culture and more…

It’s no surprise that Santa Fe, a city known for art, history, has a number of museums. Each is small and a gem in its own right. Four Santa Fe museums are located on Camino Lejo, known as “Museum Hill,” southeast of downtown. The others are around the Plaza and in the Railyard District. Here’s a short tour of Santa Fe Museums.

American Indian Museums

The indigenous peoples are an important part of New Mexico’s cultural heritage. Three museums deal with different aspects of American Indian culture, history and art.

Museum of Indian Arts & Culture (MIAC)

Museum of Indian Arts and Culture one of the Santa Fe museums photo Steve Collins

Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, photo/Steve Collins

Museum of Indian Arts & Culture (MIAC), one of the Museum of New Mexico’s four museums, sits at the north end of Museum Hill’s Milner Plaza. MIAC’s mission is “to inspire appreciation for and knowledge of the diverse native arts, histories, languages, and cultures of the Greater Southwest.” They host both permanent and changing exhibitions encompassing historic art and artifacts as well as contemporary pieces from Southwest indigenous peoples as well as from first peoples throughout North America.

There are two long-term exhibitions. The first, Here, Now, and Always, is a timeline of Native American history from pre-Columbian times to the present. It’s the result of an eight-year collaboration of Native American elders, artists, scholars, teachers, writers and museum professionals. As you go through the gallery, take the time to listen to the fifty Native Americans who offer their recorded perspectives. More than 1,300 artifacts from the museum’s collections are included in this exhibit.

The second, the Buchsbaum Gallery of Southwestern Pottery, is dedicated to the pottery traditions of the Pueblo People of New Mexico and Arizona. The comprehensive collection ranges from some of the earliest pueblo pottery discovered to contemporary works.

The museum also mounts short-term shows focusing on specific artists or aspects of Native American art and culture. The Colleen Cloney Duncan Museum Shop, a curated collection of handcrafted merchandise including jewelry, pottery, kachinas and rugs is worth a visit. They also have a selection of books on Native Americans and their culture as well as inexpensive yet tasteful souvenirs. The museum has is an admission charge.*

Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian

Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, photo/ourtesy Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian onr of the Santa Fe museums photo coursesy Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian

Case Trading post, photo/courtesy Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian

The Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, the first museum on Santa Fe’s Museum Hill, was founded in 1937 by Boston heiress Mary Cabot Wheelwright and Navajo singer (“medicine man”) Hosteen Klah. Originally named the Museum of Navajo Ceremonial Art, it was meant to preserve the traditional rituals that Klah and other medicine men practiced. At the time, it was feared that they’d be lost through cultural assimilation. However, in the 1970s with the revival of the Navajo culture, the tribe asked for and was given back their artifacts and the museum shifted its focus. Today, it is dedicated to Navajo art and culture. In 1977 its name was changed to Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian.

The Wheelwright recently completed a 7,000 square foot expansion. The Center for the Study of Southwestern Jewelry, their first permanent exhibition, opened in June 2015. It showcases the museum’s collection jewelry and archival materials related to Navajo and Pueblo silver work. While there, visit Case Trading Post, part museum shop and part “living exhibition.” It offers quality antique and contemporary Native American art for sale. Their mission is also to teach about the importance and practices of the trading posts traditionally found on the Navajo reservation. Saturday evenings in July and August, they host nationally-known storyteller Joe Hayes who shares stories of both the Hispanic and Native American cultures of the Southwest. There is an admission charge. Native Americans are always admitted free.

The Museum of Contemporary Native Arts (MoCNA)

Detail of Totem at Santa Fe's Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, photo Steve Collins

Detail of Totem at Santa Fe’s Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, photo/Steve Collins

The Museum of Contemporary Native Arts (MoCNA) sit on Cathedral Place opposite St. Francis Cathedral. Operated by the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA), it’s dedicated to contemporary art of the Americas and indigenous people from around the world. It call itself the “leading museum for exhibiting, collecting and interpreting the most progressive work of contemporary Native artists,” and works to position itself at the forefront of contemporary Native art. They mount new exhibitions are mounted throughout the year. The Kieve Family Gallery is home to exhibitions drawing from the museum’s permanent collection. There is an admission charge. Seniors over age 62 and students with a valid student ID who reside in NM are half-price. Children 16 and under, veterans and Native peoples are always admitted free and New Mexico residents are admitted free on Sundays.

Art museums

Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

Black Hollyhock Blue Larkspur, 1930 BlackHollyhock extended loan private collection ©Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

Black Hollyhock Blue Larkspur, 1930 Black Hollyhock extended loan private collection ©Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, opened in 1997, is the only museum in the world dedicated to a single woman artist. Their original mission was to “perpetuate the artistic legacy of Georgia O’Keeffe and to the study and interpretation of American Modernism.” The museum boasts the largest collection of O’Keeffe’s work in the world. (Note: it’s not all on view at any one time). The museum also owns the Georgia O’Keeffe Home and Studio in Abiquiu which offers seasonal tours. They also own Rancho de los Burros Ranch of the Donkeys), the artist’s Ghost Ranch home which is not open to the public.

For the first almost 19 years, the museum mounted new exhibitions several times a year. They included shows that were dedicated to O’Keeffe’s work, shared exhibitions featuring her work alongside that of other artists and shows dedicated to American Modernists that included O’Keeffe’s work. In January 2016 the museum introduced a two-year-long exhibition, A Great American Artist. A Great American Story which runs through December 31, 2019. The show focuses on the artist’s work, her life and her times displayed in a series of themed galleries. There will also be short term installations of work from other artists on view.

Take time to watch the two short videos, one on her life and one on her houses, shown continuously in the small auditorium. The museum also owns the Georgia O’Keeffe Home and Studio in Abiquiu and the artist’s home at Ghost Ranch. The Home and Studio offers tours; reservations are a must. The museum has an admission charge. There are discounts for students, seniors and New Mexico residents. New Mexico residents are admitted free the first Friday of the month.

The New Mexico Museum of Art

New Mexico Museum of Art, photo, a Santa Fe museum photo Steve Collins

Note the pueblo revival style of the New Mexico Museum of Art, photo/Steve Collins

The New Mexico Museum of Art (originally Museum of New Mexico) is another jewel in the Museum of New Mexico’s crown. They opened at its present location in 1917. The building, designed by Rapp and Rapp, inspired by Spanish Colonial churches at Acoma and other pueblos, marks the beginning of the Pueblo Revival architecture style in The City Different.

The museum’s permanent collection is a who’s who of artists who lived and worked in New Mexico from the late 19th century to the present including Ernest Blumenschein, Bert Phillips, Gerald Cassidy, Henderson, Georgia O’Keeffe, Dorothy Brett, John Sloan, Gustav Baumann, Will Shuster, and Judy Chicago. Native American artists represented include painters Fritz Scholder, Pablita Velarde and renowned pottery maker Maria Martinez. The museum also hosts short-term exhibitions. Some are mounted in-house and some are touring exhibits from around the USA and even from around the world. The museum’s St. Francis Auditorium is a popular concert venue. There is an admission charge.*

Museum of International Folk Art

Museum of International Folk Art, a Santa Fe museum photo Steve Collins

One of the dioramas in the Girard Wing at the Museum of International Folk Art, photo/Steve Collins

The Museum of International Folk Art, opened in 1953, shares Museum Hill’s Milner Plaza with the MIAC (see above). Its collection, encompassing over 150,000 pieces of folk art, is the largest of its kind in the world. The colorful Girard Wing, named for famed designer Alexander Girard and his wife, has artifacts from over 100 countries on six continents. Only a fraction of the huge collection, which includes toys, dolls, costumes, masks, textiles of all kinds, religious folk art, painting and beadwork, is on display at one time. The bright displays delight children of all ages. I always walk out with a smile on my face. The Hispanic Heritage Wing features changing exhibits related to both Hispanic and Latino cultures. In addition, the museum mounts short-term exhibitions of folk art from the USA and around the world in its other galleries. Their colorful gift shop is packed with handmade items from around the globe. There is an admission charge.*

Museum of Spanish Colonial Art

Museum of Spanish Colonial Art a Santa Fe museum photo Steve Collins

Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, photo/Steve Collins

The Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, opened in 2002, is the only museum in the world dedicated to this genre. It “collects, preserves, and exhibits the Spanish colonial art of New Mexico and beyond.” Spanish Colonial art grew out of creating the necessities of life in Spain’s New World colonies. Because it was hard to get ready-made goods so people created their own. They wove, made furniture, fashioned household goods from tin, created religious paintings (retablos) and carvings (bultos). A lot of care and detail went into these and many were works of art. These skills have been passed down through generations and thanks to the annual Spanish Market and the preservation work of the Spanish Colonial Arts Society, there are still artists working in these original forms. The idea for the museum, first conceived in 1929, took over half a century to bring to fruition. It sits on Museum Hill in a former home designed by John Gaw Meem (often called the “father of pueblo revival architecture”) that was donated to the Spanish Colonial Arts Society. The museum mounts about six new exhibitions a year. Ongoing exhibits include the Beltrán-Kropp Art Collection from Peru and A World of Art Filigree and Finery: The Art of Adornment in New Mexico. There is an admission charge; New Mexico residents are admitted free on Sundays.

SITE Santa Fe

SITE Santa Fe a Santa Fe Museum photo/Steve Collins

SITE Santa Fe, photo/Steve Collins

SITE Santa Fe, opened in 1995, is an “art house” (a museum without a permanent collection). Their mission is to nurture “innovation, discovery, and inspiration through the art of today.” In their first 20 years they have mounted over 80 shows. SITE, which often showcases provocative cutting-edge art, is known for its even year biennial shows. In 2014, they introduced SITElines: New Perspectives on Art of the Americas, a “six­-year commitment to a series of linked exhibitions with a focus on contemporary art and cultural production of the Americas.” If you are a fan of cutting-edge art, SITE is a must see. There is an admission charge, except on Saturdays from 10am to noon, when admission is free.

Other museums

The New Mexico History Museum

New Mexico History Museum, photo Steve Collins

New Mexico History Museum, photo/Steve Collins

The New Mexico History Museum opened in May of 2009. Their 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. The tale progresses through Spanish and Mexican rule, to life as a US territory and then statehood. It culminates in a section on present-day life in the Land of Enchantment. There’s a lot to see and do here, here including interactive exhibits. The three-story building also houses short-term exhibits, an auditorium and a gift shop. The Palace of the Governors, located around the corner on the north side of the Plaza, is the oldest continually used public building in the United States. The city’s original history museum houses Treasures of Devotion/Tesoros de Devoción, as well as other exhibitions. It’s now part of the history museum complex and accessed by the same admission ticket. The Fray Angelico Chávez History Library, free to the public, is open Tuesday to Friday from 1p.m. to 5p.m. (closed on major holidays).

New Mexico National Guard Museum

New Mexican National Guard from the 200th Coast Artillery and the 515th Division fought in the Philippines during World War II. Many were on the arduous Bataan Death March. Only half returned. Within a few years almost half the survivors died. It was a sad time to New Mexico. The New Mexico National Guard Museum, formerly called the Bataan Memorial Museum, honors these men. The museum is headquartered in the actual armory where these guardsmen were processed in 1941.

Santa Fe Children’s Museum is currently closed to the public while “we improve our facilities, assess our exhibits and internal structures, and institute a deep cleaning.” We’ll update this as soon as they reopen.

With so many Santa Fe museums to choose from, you’re sure to find at least one that will interest you. And, if art has lured you to Santa Fe, the city has over 200 galleries for you to explore. Enjoy all the art, history and culture The City Different has to offer.

*The four state-run Santa Fe museums all have the same admission policies and pricing which you’ll find on the museums’ websites. New Mexico residents are free on Sundays and NM seniors are admitted free on Wednesdays as well. Children 16 and under are always free. If you want a great deal, buy a New Mexico Culture Pass which allows holders to visit each of the state museums and historic sites once during a 12-month period. It’s a great deal!

What Santa Fe museums have you visited?




2 Responses to “Santa Fe museums: art, history, culture and more…”

  1. Donna Janke
    January 22, 2019 at 5:59 am #

    I love visiting museums when I travel. The couple of times I’ve been to Santa Fe have both been short overnight visits and I want to go back when I can spend more time there. I’m saving this post for then.
    Donna Janke recently posted..Walking Through Welsh History in St FagansMy Profile

    • Billie Frank
      January 22, 2019 at 11:35 am #

      You need to spend at least three days here- and that’s short. There’s so much to do here. Let us know when you come.

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