I was very pleased, at the end of my internship, to bring some recognition via the Student Scholar Days 2020 presentation to the Luther Bean Museum, where I have learned so much and thoroughly enjoyed my internship over the last two years. I want to thank Tawney Becker for her excellent training and mentorship and the Luther Bean Museum Advisory Committee members for their enthusiasm and support. Thank you to Committee Members: Dr. Richard Goddard, Amy Kucera, Leslie Macklin, Linda Relyea, Dr. C. Nicholas Saenz, Eric Stewart, and Delfin Weis. I wish to thank the Salazar Family for their generous support of the Luther Beam Museum that enabled the sponsoring of the Salazar Rio Grande del Norte Center Internship program, in which I have had the good fortune to take part.
From time to time, questions and requests from scholars and the public come into the Luther Bean Museum (LBM) regarding the collections. During my internship I was able to field two such requests for information regarding our photographic collections. To fill these requests I made digital scans of the photographs, adding the scans to the digital files for the museum archives.
The first request came from the authors of a biography on Lafayette Head, requesting photographs from our collection for the book. We were able to provide photographs, a number of which appear in the book, and the authors donated a copy of the published book to the museum: The Life & Times of Lafayette Head: Early Pioneer of Southwest Colorado.”
The second request was for historic photographs of settlement in the San Luis Valley, Colorado for the television program called “Discovery Road.” I enjoyed looking through our collections of photographs, searching for those that would show a wide view of that early life via people engaged in activities. Among many others, I located photographs depicting ranching, a chuck wagon, and cattle branding c. 1900; the third annual Ski-Hi Stampede rodeo of 1921, horse and buggy racing c. 1900, and a 1921 stock show; potato farming, hay stacking, a 20 mule team c. 1900, and the c. 1926 San Luis Valley Pure Seed Show; artesian wells of 1889 and c. 1920 complete with people in the dress of those times; logging c. 1900, and spinach washing and harvesting ice in the Rio Grande from 1928. It was wonderful and edifying to see such a variety of photographs of early life in the San Luis Valley, Colorado.
In order to bring some attention to the Luther Bean Museum and to the Rio Grande blankets exhibit, I hoped to participate in the Student Scholar Days 2020 event. Student Scholar Days showcases the research and studies of Adams State students across the spectrum of academic disciplines. Students submit an application complete with an abstract describing their project, and if selected, make an oral presentation, usually with PowerPoint slides, to an audience. (This year, due to COVID-19, presentations were recorded using video conferencing). Prizes are awarded for abstracts and for the presentations. My project was selected and my presentation was titled “Rio Grande Blankets: An Exhibition Process”.
My abstract won first prize! The recorded presentation can be viewed at: https://youtu.be/cg4XbMMYK8M
Hispanic weaving in the American southwest was prevalent for three centuries, from the opening of the 17th century through the close of the 19th century, and sheep, wool, and weaving were essential to the expansion of Spanish culture in the area. The Luther Bean Museum at Adams State University is home to a small but handsome collection of Rio Grande blankets, as these Hispanic-woven textiles are known, but the blankets have not been recently exhibited. The major project that I undertook during the course of my internship at the museum was to curate and mount an exhibition of these Rio Grande blankets. Knowing virtually nothing about this topic at the outset, I set out on a quest for the visual and technical understanding that would allow me to fulfill the project, and in this presentation, I describe the process in its entirety. Through the kind assistance and education by various curators, a conservator, and a consultant, by my own research and study, through the efforts of facilities staff, and mentoring by my museum committee, the exhibition “Rio Grande Blankets: Hispanic History and Tradition”, has come to fruition and is currently on display at the Luther Bean Museum at Adams State University.
How wonderful it was to realize the accomplishment of this large project of my internship. After much time and effort, research and study, and the kind assistance and education by so many involved in this project, the exhibit “Rio Grande Blankets: Hispanic History and Tradition” is on display at the Luther Bean Museum. The following photographs are of the five Rio Grande blankets from the Luther Bean collection displayed in the exhibit. Because they are mounted on stairwell walls, it is only possible to photograph at an angle and from the side.
The below two blankets face each other at the lower part of the stairwell walls.
The below two blankets face each other at the upper part of the stairwell walls.
The below blanket is mounted on the mezzanine level.
Having completed and mounted the interpretive labels for the exhibit, I realized that the exhibit needed something to demarcate its entry point. I wanted to include maps of the region and to include historical context for visitors. I located historical maps and developed additional interpretive labels to accompany the maps. With these elements, I designed a large poster for the exhibit entry.
The first map shows the Rio Grande Valley including Colorado, New Mexico, and Mexico, and shows early trade routes. The accompanying text: Hispanic Weaving in the American Southwest describes the rise and trading of Rio Grande blankets. The second map shows the San Luis Valley, Colorado and the two land grants that lead to settlement in this valley, bounded and separated by the Rio Grande: the Conejos Grant on the east and the Sangre de Cristo Grant on the west. The accompanying text: Hispanic Weaving in the San Luis Valley, Colorado discusses settlement of the valley, the rise of sheep ranching among Hispanic settlers, and the arrival of railroads with commercial goods that contributed to the decline in traditional Hispanic weaving. With the installation of this poster at the entry point, the exhibit was complete.
Maps from: Sarah Nestor, editor. Spanish Textile Tradition of New Mexico and Colorado. Museum of New Mexico Press, 1979.
Interpretive labels provide visitors with information and the context: political, economic, societal, historical, and/or cultural, from which to view and better understand an exhibit. Accordingly, I developed a number of interpretive labels regarding key areas of interest, identified during my research into Rio Grande textiles. Blanket Weaving Techniques describes the two methods used to weave these textiles: double width and two widths seamed, both of which are represented in the displayed blankets.
Dyes: Natural and Synthetic discusses the dyestuffs used to create the wide palette of dyed wool colors used to weave the blankets and the historical discovery and introduction of synthetic dyes.
Blanket Design: Bands and Stripes describes the patterns used in the vast majority of Rio Grande textiles and in each of the blankets on display.
WPA Weaving Revival discusses the 1930s Works Progress Administration project in San Luis, Colorado at which the weaver of one of the displayed blankets learned his craft.
All four of these interpretive labels accompany the exhibited Rio Grande blankets, affixed to the walls in near proximity. Many visitors pause to read these labels and then return to the blankets for a closer look.
In addition to these, I developed several additional interpretive labels that are included in the visitor take-away sheet. Looms: Warps, Wefts, and Patterns describes the patterns common to looms that orient warps and wefts perpendicular to each other. Sheep and Wool discusses the original churro sheep introduced by the first Spanish settlers to the area and the mid-nineteenth century Anglo commercial introduction of Merino sheep whose unsuitable wool characteristics contaminated churro wool, leading to a loss of quality and contributing to the decline in traditional Hispanic weaving.
When I began working on the Rio Grande textiles exhibit, I had no title for the exhibit because as yet I knew virtually nothing about the topic. Although I had begun reading books and journal articles about the textiles, initially I learned the most from my first visit to the Millicent Rogers Museum and their exhibit “A Feast for the Eyes, Rio Grande Blankets from the Collection.” In this exhibit I saw in detail the reality of what was discussed in the books and in another exhibit I saw a European horizontal treadle loom like those used to weave these blankets.
With this visual connection, my understanding quickly expanded as I continued to research. And the more I read, the more the political, economic, social, and cultural context became crucial to appreciating the role of the blankets in the expansion of Spanish culture throughout the American Southwest and the interactions with Mexico and Native Americans of the era.
I identified key areas of interest and focused research on these topics, which were later developed into several of the interpretive labels for the exhibit and also a visitor take-away sheet. As I researched, I was also developing a report on the textiles, which inadvertently turned into a full-blown research paper because there was so much information that helped to explain the significance of these textiles in the Hispanic culture of the time. I was truly fascinated. It was through all of this research that the title for the exhibit emerged: “Rio Grande Blankets: Hispanic History and Tradition.”
Object labels are generally mounted adjacent to the objects in an exhibit and identify the object for the viewer. They usually include information such as: Artist or Maker and Year(s) of birth and death, the Title of the object and Date created, the Medium (material) from which the object was made, the Donor of the object (or the person from whom the object was purchased), and the Accession Number that identifies the object.
It is quite common to have no information on the weaver for Rio Grande textiles, so only two of the five object labels include the name of the artisan weaver, and we decided to eliminate “Unknown Artist” from the other object labels. We titled the objects “Rio Grande Blanket” because this provided more information about the objects than merely calling them textiles. We included the weaving technique with the title since the original concept for the exhibit was to showcase the two main weaving techniques of the blankets: double width and two widths seamed. And because it is most often impossible to know with certainty whether a dye is natural or synthetic, we simply used the word “dyes” as part of the medium description.
To get all of these details correct for each blanket, I combed through the donor and object files, as well as my notes from Mark Winter’s consultant visit. The labels went through several rounds of editing as Tawney and I reviewed and made the above-mentioned decisions on presentation. When the final label text was printed, I affixed the object labels adjacent to the blankets.
With fabrication complete for the wood cleat mounting hardware and sewing complete on the textiles, it was time to install the hardware and textiles. Tom Worley from Facilities Services had fabricated the mounting hardware and continued to work with us on this part of the project. We did a test run of the mounting hardware with the textile that would hang on the mezzanine level, where installation was easily within reach. It worked perfectly.
Tom set up the ladder in the stairwell and installed the wood cleats on the facing walls of the upper part of the stairwell, taking care to center and level the cleats.
Next came the textiles. The portion of wood mounting hardware with Velcro hooks attached with stainless steel staples was attached to the Velcro loop/cotton twill sewn onto the textiles.
The textiles were rolled and tied with cotton muslin.
I handed the rolled textile to Tom at the top of the ladder. He inserted the wood strip into the wood cleat and then carefully unrolled the textile.
The textile looked great and we hung the second textile. Tom moved the ladder to the lower part of the stairwell where we repeated the process, installing the cleats on the two facing walls of the stairwell before hanging the two remaining textiles. We are grateful for Tom’s care, assistance, and attention to detail on this project.
The Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Colorado has a large collection of Rio Grande textiles. With hopes of viewing some of these, I contacted Polly Nordstrand, their Curator of Southwest Art. I met with her and Michael Lorusso, Assistant Registrar regarding various aspects of collections management. We began with a review of their accessioning process, the TMS (The Museum System) relational database software, and cataloging procedure. We discussed research methods and interpretive labels for exhibits, for which they tend to use inquiry-based label writing, where a question is posed in the label text that is answered in the exhibit objects.
We viewed several of the large basement storage rooms that house pottery, paintings, sculptures, furniture, and textiles. Pottery sits in pot rings, made of flexible foam cylinders, hot-glued end-to-end. Larger pots with unstable bottoms sit in soft sand bag “snakes” so they will not tip over. Paintings are hung on rolling racks that look somewhat like sections of giant chain-link fence. Some of the sculptures are housed in cabinets, with larger pieces above. For pest management, they use sticky traps and new acquisitions are isolated for a period of time, sealed in plastic.
Textiles are stored in tall racks with pullout “trays” that hold a number of horizontal rods. Each rod holds a tube wrapped in archival paper. The textiles are rolled around the tube with archival tissue paper, to prevent transfer of grime or dye within the textile, and also to provide some padding. The rolled textiles loosely tied with cotton muslin, then wrapped in plastic sleeves, and the ends of the plastic are tied with cotton twill tape. The textile accession number is printed on a small piece of cotton muslin that is sewn onto the textile. A label, including a photograph, accession number, and object information, is affixed to the plastic sleeve. Although we did not pull textiles from storage, I did view a beautiful Rio Grande textile on exhibit, as well as the interpretive labels for the exhibit.