The Capitol Art Collection

In the "State of the Arts" you'd expect nothing less
than a first-class collection in the State Capitol building

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Think of a State Capitol with its buildings and grounds, and you might think of manicured lawns, benches, a dome, and predictable statuary, frequently of men on horseback. Visit the New Mexico State Capitol at the corner of Paseo de Peralta and Old Santa Fe Trail in the capital city of Santa Fe, and your ideas will change.

The first thing you will notice is that the main building is round, imitating the shape of the Zia Indian Sun Symbol. The second thing is that the landscaping around the "Roundhouse" is high-desert-lush and lyrical, seeking to welcome rather than to impress. Then there is the sculpture along the street and walkways. Not a conventional monument in sight.

The visitor is greeted instead by an array of bronzes, some on loan and some a permanent part of the Capitol Collection.

Capitol Collection: Johnson

Image: © 1992 Douglas Johnson
A/P, 48" x 101"
Right of two panels

Currently placed on the grounds are Estella Loretto's Earth Mother, Allan Houser's When Friends Meet, Glenna Goodacre's Water Bearers and Michael Naranjo's Eagle Man. Each has a tribal subject, whether the artist is a Native American or not. At other times, sculptures may address different themes, as they are usually loaned for a period of one year. At the door to the building, facing east toward the sunrise, stands Allan Houser's magnificent, larger than life-size bronze, Morning Prayer. This piece is on extended loan from Allan Houser, Inc, the late sculptor's family corporation. It serves to prepare all who enter the building for the splendid collection of paintings, sculpture and furnishings they will find inside.

Newcomers and visitors can find no better survey of contemporary art than the Capitol Collection, which is on view any time the building is open. Having absorbed the beauty of the images and the attached information, they can then look at the museums and galleries and shops with a more educated eye. This is especially helpful to collectors in search of bona fide New Mexican art.

Every segment of the the state's tricultural society—Indian, Hispanic and Anglo—is well represented under the Capitol rotunda and in its several stories of hallways. The exhibits are designed, prepared and installed by Paul Baglione, whose professional touch is evident in the careful placement of each image. The most traditional art is balanced by innovative ideas, and in between the two extremes is the entire gamut of creative endeavor. Even the most long-term resident, thoroughly steeped in local art and custom, will be gratified by the authenticity and balance of the collection.

Capitol Collection: Marsh

Image: © 1994 Diane Marsh
Oil on linen / 78" x 58"

A tour of the collection should include a stop at the Governor's Gallery, which is a branch of the Office of Cultural Affairs. Located on the fourth floor adjacent to the Governor's Office, the gallery hosts rotating exhibits of art from around the state. The Capitol Collection originated during the remodeling of the building in 1989-1991, when 1% of the budget was designated for art. Part of the funds were set aside for furnishings, which were commissioned from local furniture makers. These exquisite handmade pieces, incorporating traditional form and contemporary style, are considered a part of the art collection.

Capitol Collection: Martinez

Image: © 1987 Agueda Martinez
"Rag Rug"
Wool and cotton / 69.5" x 32.25"

The rest of the funds were allocated for two- and three-dimensional works of art. Those purchases formed the core of the collection

Other acquisitions have been made possible by the generosity of patrons and artists. Sculptor Glenna Goodacre donated an edition of 100 small bronzes to underwrite the purchase of other works of art. The Allan Houser family donated an edition of 20 bronzes cast from the maquette for When Friends Meet, a large sculpture currently installed on the grounds, with the funds also to be used for the permanent collection.

At the time of the 1989-91 remodeling, the Capitol Art Foundation was established. In addition to the initial organization of the project, it has overseen development, including grants, purchases, donations and loans, as well as installation and maintenance. The Foundation is an all-volunteer effort, from the Board of Directors to part-time curatorial assistance. Its members come from all over the state. Cynthia Sanchez, the Director and Curator of the Capitol Collection, has recently completed her doctoral thesis at New York University. Her knowledge and vision are evident at every turn as she conducts visitors through the hallways, stopping to check newly installed track lighting or explanatory labels on the walls beside the art.

Capitol Collection: Bell

Image: © 1991 Larry Bell
"La Via Del Hombre Blanco"
Mixed media collage / 70" x 89.5"

Those labels, and especially the art itself, reveal a broad, deep coverage of all the arts in New Mexico. There are traditional Navajo rugs and innovative weavings by contemporary Hispanic artists. There are hand carved New Mexican folk art pieces by noted contemporary santero Charles Carrillo as well as a category-defying acrylic on panel by highly modern painter Douglas Johnson. There is a range of photography from classic to contemporary imagery. There are several large, brilliantly colored canvases by John Nieto, some placed at the end of a hallway for maximum impact.

Particularly interesting are the works by emerging artists, of which there are enough to give an overview of this special segment of the creative population. Sanchez and her committee have done an excellent job of locating, selecting and obtaining work that stands up beautifully beside that of the most established artists in the state. Years hence, when the artists' names are equally well known, the critical eye will find little to distinguish the quality of their work from that of their distinguished predecessors.

Cynthia Sanchez is eager to welcome visitors from around the world to the Capitol Collection, for she is justifiably proud of the immense creativity generated by her native state. The collection is just the tip of the iceberg, but it is a representative example of all that is to be seen elsewhere in New Mexico. "This art is made by New Mexicans, and belongs to us. It is here for the people of our state to enjoy as well as for our guests."

Capitol Collection: Houser

Image: © 1987 Allan Houser
"When Friends Meet"
Bronze / Ed. 6 /
72" x 60" x 42"

The Capitol is open every day during the legislative session. It is open Monday through Friday most of the year, and on Saturdays and holidays in the summer. Tours are at 10am and 2pm Monday through Friday.

Thanks to Suzanne Deats

Originally appeared in
The Collector’s Guide to Santa Fe and Taos - Volume 11

Related Pages

Collecting Indian Pottery article
Collecting Photography of the Southwest article
The Thread of New Mexico article
Traditional New Mexican Hispanic Crafts article

How the Santa Fe Art Colony Began article
Albuquerque International Sunport Art Collection remote site
City of Albuquerque Public Art Program remote
A City Made For Walking article

Collector’s Resources

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