The Museum of Spanish Colonial Art

Home to a collection of
more than 3000 historic religious and secular artifacts

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Don Diego de Vargas and San Isidro Labrador are legendary figures in the Hispano history and lore of New Mexico. De Vargas is the acclaimed New Mexican governor who led the 1693 reoccupation of Santa Fe after the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. San Isidro Labrador is the beloved patron saint of agriculture who is called upon for assistance in all-important matters of water and land.

Born six centuries apart, it's easy to assume the two have little in common. But what few people know is how their lives not only intersect in the annals of modern-day New Mexico, but in long-ago Spain as well.

The story of San Isidro Labrador, once a poor farmer who performed miracles while working on the wealthy Vargas estate outside of Madrid—the same estate where Diego de Vargas was raised centuries later—is just one of the intriguing connections shared by contemporary New Mexico and colonial Spain.


Image: ©2002
Anon., San Miguel, Archangel
Late 18th century, Mexico
Bequest of Alan and Ann Vedder

The best place to discover this connection and others is in the inaugural exhibition, Conexiones: Connections in Spanish Colonial Art, at the new Museum of Spanish Colonial Art in Santa Fe.

Opened to the public in July 2002, the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art is the latest jewel in the 77-year-old crown of the Spanish Colonial Arts Society. The Society is best known as the sponsor of the semi-annual "Spanish Market" exhibitions of traditional New Mexican Hispano art. But it is at the Society's new museum that the organization's lesser-seen, but no-less-important, achievement will be unveiled: its 3,000-object collections of Spanish colonial art from New Mexico and beyond.


Image: ©2002
School of the Laguna Santero
Our Lady of Guadalupe
late 18th-early 19th century
Formerly in collection of
Mr & Mrs Charles Collier
and Mary Cabot Wheelwright:
Bequest of Alan and Ann Vedder

From the organization's first acquisition in 1928, the Society's collections have grown to include thousands more devotional, decorative and utilitarian artifacts relating to the Spanish colonial history of New Mexico—1598 to 1821—and the world. The collections include santos (painted and sculpted images of saints), textiles, tin work, precious metals, silver work, ironwork, straw appliqué, ceramics, furniture, books and more.

Dating from the Middle Ages to the New Millennium, the objects span centuries in art, place and time. In addition to New Mexican artworks, comparative objects from Spain, Mexico, Latin America and elsewhere are featured. Likewise, multimedia works hailing from Asia to Bulgaria to France and other worldly locales illustrate the faraway influences that came together in New Mexico during the colonial era.

In their ability to create a well-rounded picture of daily life in colonial New Mexico and the rest of the Spanish empire, the collections are considered the most comprehensive of their kind. Together they represent the broad artistic history and ongoing evolution of Hispano culture in New Mexico, while firmly establishing its important place within the global arts landscape. "This collection is the oldest to recognize and focus on this material," says Dr. Donna Pierce, the museum's Chief Curator.

"Although there are many museums in New Mexico, the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art is the first to be dedicated exclusively to the traditional arts and culture of the Hispanic people of the area from the colonial period to the present." Museum Director Stuart Ashman adds: "Our collections, exhibitions and programs demonstrate the unique contributions of the Hispano community to the development of artistic expression and understanding in our nation and beyond."

Indeed, creativity is at the heart of Hispano culture in New Mexico, home to one of the oldest Hispano communities in the United States. But the Conexiones exhibit goes beyond presenting Hispano art and life from a purely local perspective. The exhibit examines the creative and cultural connections that New Mexican Hispanos share with Hispanos everywhere. It also highlights the artistry of non-Hispano cultures that have influenced the practice of Spanish colonial art in New Mexico yesterday and today.

Conexiones begins with an historical introduction that places the arrival of the Hispano peoples in New Mexico—and in America—decades before the more celebrated arrival of the English at places like Jamestown and Plymouth Rock. The 16th-century occupation of the region as the northernmost colony of New Spain resulted in the emergence of a Hispano-American culture like no other.

The visitor's first glimpse of this unique culture is found in two front galleries that display a multimedia panorama of the collections.


Image: ©2002
Jose Benito Ortega
" Virgen" ca 1875-1907
Cape not original
Bequest of Alan and Ann Vedder

To the right, Obras Grandes (Great Works) presents a select blend of predominantly New Mexican artifacts. On the left, Más Allá de Nuevo México (Beyond New Mexico), showcases a broad range of sculpture and other artworks from the Spanish colonial world and elsewhere.

Next, a sunny interior portal is the setting for Hecho con Fuego (Made with Fire), a dramatic display of colonial and contemporary utilitarian works in metal and clay. This leads to Tesoros (Treasures), an exhibition of valuable small artifacts from around the world, many of which were imported to New Mexico during the colonial period.

Beyond Tesoros, La Casa Delgado (The Delgado Home) replicates the living room of a colonial New Mexican home based on the will and estate inventory of Captain Manuel Delgado (1739–1814) of Santa Fe. The room is a comfortable juxtaposition of Latino, Native American and European goods.

Adjacent to La Casa Delgado, the exhibition El Futuro puts the spotlight on the Society's large collection of works by young Hispano artists, ages 5 to 17. This installation emphasizes that Spanish colonial art is not a thing of the past, but a living tradition.

Nearby, the museum's changing gallery, Cambios (Changes), also will emphasize the continuation of Spanish colonial arts traditions through rotating thematic and stylistic exhibitions. In Conexiones, this gallery features the installation "San Isidro Labrador: Santo de la Tierra" with various representations of the saint from around the world. The fascinating legend of San Isidro will be related in detail—including the saint's little-known connection to New Mexico's own Don Diego de Vargas.

Conexiones brings the Spanish colonial arts tradition in New Mexico full circle with Visiones . This space brims with modern 20th-century equivalents of the historic objects in the collections in a variety of media. The work of many Spanish Market artists, past and present are highlighted here. Finally, the small rotating installation Obras Nuevas (New Works) showcases recent additions.

In all, about one-fourth of the Society's collections will be displayed in Conexiones. Frequent rotation of objects throughout all of the galleries will provide visitors with ongoing exposure to all areas of the collections and will give them a reason to keep coming back.

"We are in a unique position to share these cultural treasures for the first time," Museum Director Ashman says. "Through the ongoing examination of traditional art forms, the museum will establish the roots from which living artists draw their information and inspiration." The museum is housed in an historic 1930 residence designed by the eminent late architect John Gaw Meem. As an important example of Meem's acclaimed Pueblo Revival, or Spanish colonial, style, the 5,000-square-foot building provides an historically appropriate setting for the Society's collections.

Museum of Spanish Colonial Art
750 Camino Lejo, Santa Fe, NM 87501
505-982-2226 remote

Thanks to Carmella Padilla
All images courtesy Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, collections of the Spanish Colonial Arts Society, Inc, Santa Fe, New Mexico. Photos by Jack Parsons.

Originally appeared in
The Collector’s Guide to Santa Fe and Taos - Volume 16

Related Pages

Patrociño Barela, Carver article
Collecting Milagros article
Glossary of Hispanic Folk Art Terms article
New Mexican Furniture Through Time article
The Pomegranate in New Spain article
Relicarios: Devotional Miniatures article

Santos of NM: A 400 Year Tradition article
The Southern Way of the Cross article
Straw Art in New Mexico article
A Tradition of Making Straw into Gold article
Traditional New Mexican Hispanic Crafts article
Vallero Star Blankets article

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