1909-2009: 100 Years at the Museum of New Mexico

“In no other state of this union is the trend of life so clearly shaped by art as in New Mexico. Art has rescued this state from the commonplace and made it conscious of its own fine character.”

Edgar Lee Hewett First director of the Museum of New Mexico

MNM Courtyard

Artists at work, patio,
Palace of the Governors, Santa Fe, ca 1917
Kenneth Chapman, Carlos Vierra, Cameron, Sheldon Parsons. Image courtesy of Photo Archives, Palace of the Governors, Santa Fe

The Museum of New Mexico, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2009, is inarguably one of the largest state-run museum systems in the country, comprised of The New Mexico Museum of Art, The Museum of Indian Arts and Culture/Laboratory of Anthropology, Museum of International Folk Art, The New Mexico History Museum, and six state monuments at Jemez, Lincoln, Fort Selden and Coronado, the Bosque Redondo Memorial at Fort Sumner and the El Camino Real International Heritage Center. These vast holdings capture New Mexico’s art, history, culture and heritage from the sordid to the sublime, the wild to the refined, the primitive to the high-tech.

In 1909, two years before it became a state, the New Mexico Territorial Legislature passed a law establishing the Museum of New Mexico. They appointed the strongly passionate Edgar Lee Hewett as the first director. Hewett’s credentials were impressive: in 1898 he was appointed the first president of the New Mexico Normal School (called New Mexico Highlands University today); in 1906 he played a large role in drafting the Antiquities Act, the national law allowing land to be set aside for the conservation and preservation of cultural resources through a presidential proclamation, rather than an act of Congress; and in 1907, he was appointed Director of the School of American Archeology (SAR) created by the Archeological Institute of America in Santa Fe. The legislation enabling the Museum placed it under the management of SAR, and Hewett was the natural choice for director.

In his 36 years at the helm of the museum, Hewett oversaw much growth. In 1912, the Palace of the Governors underwent a renovation; in 1913, El Palacio, a magazine about art, history and culture in the west, was first published by the museum — it continues to be published today; in 1917, the Museum of Fine Arts was dedicated, re-tooled after its use for New Mexico’s participation in the California Exposition; and in 1931 the New Mexico State Monuments system was established.
Conversations about Hewett often refer to the fact that he was “opinionated.” Also that he was an unfaltering advocate for the preservation of art, culture and heritage. Here’s one story about Hewett that captures the two sides of the man: In 1885, the Historical Society of New Mexico had opened a museum in the east end of the Palace of the Governors. When the Museum of New Mexico was founded it was also housed in the Palace. Hewett had amassed a large collection of artifacts and asked the Historical Society if he might expand his space to accommodate them. The answer was “no” and so one evening, after the administrators had left the building, Hewett knocked out an office wall, pushed the Historical Society possessions back into a corner and moved the museum collection into the space. Expansive? Expansionist? It depends who you ask. Hewett oversaw the creation of 140 branches of the museum in cities and towns around the state. He implemented an open door policy for the Museum of Art that allowed any New Mexico artist to exhibit work at the museum. He used the old soldier’s barracks at the Palace of the Governors and rooms in the basement of the Museum of Art for artist studios. In some ways his open approach set the foundation on which the Museum of New Mexico resides today.

The 2009 anniversary looks to be a glorious celebration of the museum, New Mexico’s art and its history. Each of the individual facilities will host a special exhibition and a bevy of special events, and true to the spirit of Edgar Hewett, two Vans of Enchantment will travel the state making upwards of seventy stops at schools and celebrations in communities around the state.

The highlight of the year will be the unveiling of the beautiful New Mexico Museum of History.

In early 2009, the Museum of Art offers a delightful exhibition entitled Pulling Strings: Marionettes and the Art of Gustave Baumann. Baumann came to Santa Fe in 1918 after, what was for him, a disappointing trip to visit the Taos Art Colony. He was impressed by the open door policy at the Museum of Art, took one of the studios in the basement of the building that Hewett had made available to artists and wound up spending many years as part of the Santa Fe arts community. Pulling Strings highlights the Museum’s collection of Baumann’s marionette related prints (the largest in the world), and is the first time that all his marionettes are on view.

MNM Courtyard

George López Tree of Life
Image from A Century of Masters: The NEA National Heritage Fellows of New Mexico at the Museum of International Folk Art

The Museum of International Folk Art presents A Century of Masters: The NEA National Heritage Fellows of New Mexico. Each year the National Endowment for the Arts honors folk artists, storytellers and performers from across the United States for their contributions to traditional art forms. New Mexico has more fellows per capita than any other state and A Century of Masters represents them with works from George López (woodcarver), Margaret Tafoya (Santa Clara potter), Cleofes Vigil (storyteller, singer), Helen Cordero (Cochiti potter), Emilio & Senaida Romero (tinwork and colcha embroidery), Frances Varos Graves (colcha embroiderer), Ramón José López (santero and silversmith), Roberto & Lorenzo Martinez (musicians), Charles M. Carrillo (santero), Esther Martinez (San Juan storyteller), Eliseo & Paula Rodriguez (straw appliqué), and Irvin Trujillo (Rio Grande weaver).

The culmination of the celebration is the Grand Opening of the New Mexico Museum of History. The building located just off the Plaza behind the Palace of the Governors opens to the public on Memorial Day weekend. Spacious, bright and airy, the space guides visitors on a cutting edge, multi-media, immersive, interactive tour through the history of New Mexico. Based on stories from myriad interviews with people who made history, or lived through it, six permanent exhibitions create a timeline for visitors. Wind through the building to make your way through the early history of indigenous people, 400 years of Spanish colonization, the Mexican Period, travel and commerce on the Santa Fe Trail, the flourishing of New Mexico’s arts communities and the coming of the Atomic Age.

There’s more information about all of the 100th anniversary celebration exhibitions and events at the Museum of New Mexico website (www.museumofnewmexico.org). You can also find a great list of 100 Reasons to Visit the Museum of New Mexico at 100reasonstogo.org, with many anniversary events taking place throughout the Museum.

Author Susan McAllister is a writer and poet in Albuquerque, and is the former director of the Harwood Art Center. Originally appeared in The Collector’s Guide - Volume 23

Related Pages

How it Began: Santa Fe & Taos Art Communities article

1879-1990 - A New Mexico Art Chronology article

How The Santa Fe Art Colony Began article

1998 Centennial of the Taos Art Colony article

The Museum of Spanish Colonial Art article

Albuquerque Museum of Art & History: Permanent Collection article

Artists of the Santa Fe Trail article

The Jonson Gallery at UNM article

Beauty and the Best: Millicent Rogers Museum article

2007: The Year of O’Keeffe The O’Keeffe Museum Celebrates 10 Years article

Collector’s Resources


The Albuquerque Museum | 505-243-7255

Santa Fe

Museum of International Folk Art | 505-476-1145
New Mexico History Museum/Palace of the Governors | 505-476-5200


Harwood Museum of Art | 575-758-9826