A Whirlwind View of a Curator’s World

I arranged a visit with Carmela Quinto, Curator of Collections at the Millicent Rogers Museum (MRM) in Taos, NM, and met with her on Thursday September 27, 2018.
After brief introductions, we started right in on the many topics on which I had requested information, because there was so much to see and learn. As Carmela showed, demonstrated, and explained, I scribbled notes and took some pictures. We began with the storage area which is quite large relative to the storage we have at the Luther Bean Museum, but already filled with the collections of the MRM.

Textile storage at the Millicent Rogers Museum

Weavings and textiles are arranged in groupings of: Navajo, Pueblo, Hispanic, and Mexican. They are stored on very large custom-built racks, each approximately a seven to eight-foot cube in area, with rows of horizontal wood poles instead of shelves. Storing the weavings on these wood poles involves layers of materials to protect the textiles. The wood poles are wrapped in a tube of cardboard or PVC, then in acid-free tissue. The textile is wrapped around the tissue and then encased in cotton muslin which is longer than the textile. Finally, the muslin is tied at its ends with cotton ties, tightly, to keep out moths and insects.

Small textile storage

Small textiles are stored on much smaller versions of the horizontal wood poles, in drawers within cabinets. These are stored just as carefully with the layers of acid-free materials, and even though they are inside of a cabinet, are wrapped in the muslin with the cotton ties.

Because the MRM building was originally a courtyard home, it is not as tightly constructed as a modern museum structure might be. Moths are the biggest pest the museum faces in terms of its textiles, and the museum has developed storage and fumigation strategies to safeguard its collections.

Airspace between the wall and textile

An additional strategy has been to hang the display textiles away from the walls so that moths do not have a dark, seemingly enclosed place in which to hide. This airspace of about two inches also allows the staff to mildly shake each textile periodically to disturb any moth that may have temporarily stopped there. The textiles are hung by sliding a flat metal bar through a muslin sleeve that has been sewn to the back of the textile.

The MRM used grant funding to bring in experts to identify and classify many of their collections. Suzanne Baizerman, PhD, was brought in to identify, classify and assess the condition of weavings and textiles. Carmela has done much of the identification and assessment of the Hispanic sacred Retablos (3-dimensional carvings or sculptures of saints, usually painted) and Bultos (2-dimensional, often wood or metal, painted with images of saints), and this is her area of specialization.

All of the objects in the MRM collections have been photographed for documentation. This is different than photographing for publication. The documentation photography is for identification of the objects and the photographs are included in their database.

 

Visiting the Millicent Rogers Museum in Taos, NM

 

Millicent Rogers Museum exhibition, “A Feast for the Eyes, Rio Grande Blankets from the Collection”

In mid-September, I found several museums with collections similar to those held by the Luther Bean Museum and arranged to meet with Carmela Quinto, Curator at the Millicent Rogers Museum in Taos, NM. On Thursday, September 27, 2018, I set out for Taos. It was a fine day for traveling, sunny and not too hot. I arrived at the Millicent Rogers Museum (MRM) at noon, to give myself time to look at the newest exhibition, “A Feast for the Eyes, Rio Grande Blankets from the Collection.”

The MRM, originally a private home, is a Santa Fe hacienda-style adobe structure, approximately square in plan, with many rooms varying in size, arranged around a central open courtyard. To reach the weavings exhibit, one progresses through a series of interconnected exhibition spaces with the assistance of a map, and passes through a two-foot thick archway into the exhibition space. You are greeted by a roomful of colorful Rio Grande weavings.

Three exceptional Rio Grande textiles at the center of the exhibition

Most are hanging vertically against the light blue painted walls, four are draped as they would have been worn over mannequin forms standing in each of the four corners, and three very large weavings hang vertically from the approximately twelve-foot ceiling in the center of the space. I spent a solid hour looking at each weaving and examining many closely, to note the differences in fiber textures, weaving styles, and patterning. Having done some preparatory reading and attempted to understand weaving methods from photographs in books, it was very helpful to view actual textiles up close.

A variety of weaving patterns

I was quite impressed with the skills displayed by the carders and spinners and the dyers who made the fibers, and by the beauty of the patterns and the joinings in the weavings made by these often unknown artisans of the past. The exhibited weavings are vibrant and very well preserved. They present a wide variety of weaving styles, dye colors, and patterning, from bands and stripes to Saltillo-inspired diamonds to Vallero stars and much more. I could very easily have spent the better part of a day in just this exhibition.

A Fortuitous Journey

Center of Southwest Studies Museum

Back in June 2018, prior to beginning my Salazar Rio Grande del Norte Center Internship at the Luther Bean Museum, I had the good fortune to accompany Tawney Becker (my mentor for the internship and currently serving as the museum’s collections manager) and Amy Kucera (museum committee member) to visit the Center of Southwest Studies at Fort Lewis College in Durango, CO. We met with then curator and conservator Jeanne Brako, whose area of specialization is weavings and textiles. We briefly toured some of the exhibited weavings and made note of display methods. The bulk of our day we spent reviewing their database structure, as a preliminary to possibly using a similar software. Midday we enjoyed lunch on campus with Jeanne and some of her staff. After finishing with the database review, we returned to weavings. We had brought along the Luther Bean Museum’s most recent acquisition, a Rio Grande weaving, to show Jeanne and garner her insight into the period, fibers, dyes, and region of origin.

Lopez Weaving of the Luther Bean Museum

It was a treat to see the textile removed from its wrapping and set out upon a work table large enough to hold it. Of course we all wore cotton gloves to handle the piece. After this, Jeanne took us down to their museum’s large basement storage area, specifically to view their storage methods for weavings and textiles. (What a pleasure and a luxury to have so much space in which to store a large collection of so many varied objects). The tall, wide, heavy-duty steel storage racks for textiles can each accommodate probably several dozen large weavings, each wrapped around its own horizontal pole. Each is securely covered against dust and insects. We also inspected some of the mounting hardware used to hang the weavings. The Center of Southwest Studies houses a wonderful museum and I hope to return to spend time among the exhibits.

 

Our Latest Acquisition is More Than Just an Object….

 

Museums exist not only to house objects for protection into the future, but also to tell the story of the object. Very often, objects can tell us of a general time period, or a cultural aspect. But, on rare occasions, an object comes along that not only tells a cultural story, but also the story of a place and of individuals. The Luther Bean Museum’s latest acquisition is just that special object. The Lopez weavings were donated by descendants of the weaver this spring. The two beautiful blankets were woven by the donor’s Great, Great Grandfather, Juan Jose Lopez sometime between 1880 and 1900. Juan Jose came to the San Luis Valley in 1857 and raised cattle and sheep near Los Pinos Colorado. According to family history, Juan Jose dyed wool from his own sheep and used it in his weavings. He is listed among those “Hispano Weavers in the San Luis Valley” in Marianne Stoller’s article “Spanish-Americans, Their Servants and Sheep: A Culture History of Weaving in Southern Colorado.” These particular blankets were given as a wedding gift in 1920 to the donor’s Grandparents, Alfonzo and Paublita Lopez. The weavings have remained in the Lopez family, who still dwell in the SLV. These beautiful blankets are not only tell of one families connection to the San Luis Valley, they also are representative of an important art in the Hispanic culture and history of the area.

Touring Through Spring

The spring semester at ASU is moving right along just as spring moves right along in the SLV! On March 11 a tour group of History Colorado members visited the San Luis Valley and spent a day with members of the Sangre de Cristo National Hertiage Area touring a few of the important cultural sites in the Valley as well as making a stop at the Luther Bean Museum. The Salazar Center director, Rio de la Vista, and myself, got to tag along on the tour! We were able to visit and get some history on the San Jose Church in Capulin and see the historic Garcia Ranch. The last stop at the museum gave visitors a chance to hear a brief history and overview of the Luther Bean and look around at the various objects. Additionally, I gave a brief presentation on the recent projectile point display. All in all it was a great chance for the Salazar Rio Grande del Norte Center to interact with the public and the Luther Bean Museum to showcase its collection to out of town visitors. Below is a photo of the double wall construction of the potato cellar at the Garcia Ranch. 

 

Moving Right Along: Spring 2018

As the Spring 2018 semester moves along, activities at the Luther Bean Museum and Salazar Center are progressing right along as well. We have a new projectile point display installed and are excited to have some objects soon to be displayed as part of the Local Traditions, Contemporary Visions exhibition in the the Hatfield Gallery on ASU campus as part of month long La Monarca symposium. In fact, we packed these objects for transport just this afternoon! I have been working on finishing up loose ends with the extensive Rickel projectile point collection, of which select pieces were used in the recently completed projectile point display. Many of these points have incomplete numbers as well as are stored in locations difficult to find and utilize. I’ve been expanding and completing the numbering of the objects as well as adjusting their housing to a more usable and find-able format. This also involves updates in our database. Lucy has also been working on updating and improving our records, especially location data to ensure we know the precise location for each object. Tawney and I are also hoping to do some work in March on the collection of Rio Grande weavings into display condition so keep an eye out for updates on those!

Finishing On Point (Projectile Points that is)

What a whirlwind the end of 2017 was! In all the craziness of trying to finish a projectile point display and finals, I forgot to update y’all on what was happening here at the Salazar Center and Luther Bean Museum! Here’s a recap of my adventure for the fall of 2017:

I began working with the museum’s extensive collection of projectile points and stone artifacts at the start of September as my first project as the Rio Grande del Norte Center intern. My goal was to sort through the masses to find out what the museum even had! After I got the lay of the land so to speak, I began working on better labeling and documenting the points, with a focus on points I found particularly interesting for a display.

The last few weeks of the fall semester I spent analyzing and arranging the points so that they could make a usable and interesting display! It took time to figure out the right groupings and arrangements and once I had those, I had to type and format labels for the groups. Unfortunately, things didn’t quite come together to get the display installed before Christmas break.

During break, the labels came in and so today, my first day back on the job after the holidays, I was able to arrange the objects and labels in the display case! There are just a few more details to arrange before we are ready to put the glass top on and officially open our new projectile points display!

Taking Shape

After weeks of swimming through the prolific amounts of stone artifacts lurking about the museum’s storage, a shape is beginning to emerge from the general direction I have been heading in. When beginning this internship journey, all I had was a general idea of what I wanted to accomplish at the end. I really had no idea how I would go about getting there or what the end result would actually look like. At week 10 of the semester, and of my internship, things are finally taking shape! The last nine weeks have been spent learning museum handling techniques, documentation standards and finally, wading through the numerous artifacts themselves. I’ve been relocating objects and re-recording their location, numbers, and other relevant information such as the artifact class, material and color. So far I have come across lithic tools ranging from awls and drills to scrapers, flakes and projectile points. These tools have been made from chert, chalcedony, obsidian, basalt, quartzite and other materials and range in color from tan to black to red, green and multi-colored. Now that I am entering the last phases of this process, the time is nearing for more individualized analysis of the points, such as possible typologies and time periods. As I go through the next step, I will begin selecting artifacts which can tell the story of ancient and pre-historic native peoples and their lives in and around the San Luis Valley. My goal is to create a display which takes visitors through the process of lithic tool making, of the many uses of the tools, and of importance of these tools to the subsistence systems of people who were here in the Valley long before the ancestors of many of us here today. This goal is beginning to take shape here in week 10!

Fall Has Arrived! What that meant for those before us:

Fall has certainly made its appearance here in the San Luis Valley this past week. Snow already caps the mountains on all sides of us and the several straight days of chilly rain certainly had me pulling out my heavier coat and building a fire in the stove. It got me thinking, what have people before me done in the fall? Having lived in the world’s largest alpine valley for most of my life, I know that winter is never easy here. How did the early people who we know utilized the valley 100’s and 1000’s of years ago handle the harsh realities of winter near the mountains? Well I did a little digging around and this is what I found out:

The San Luis Valley (SLV) contains several confirmed Clovis and Folsom culture sites. These two cultures represent the oldest known peoples in the America’s; they arrived sometime after 15,000 BC and appear until around 8000 BC. These Paleo-Indian hunter gatherers ventured in to the SLV to hunt bison antiquus and mammoth and likely collect seeds from grasses and shrubs. While we cant be sure of the migration patterns of these hunter gatherers, it was highly likely that they came into the Valley for the milder summer months following the mega-fauna to lush pastures and then moved to lower elevations in the fall to spend the harsh winter somewhere warmer and dryer.

While there is some discussion over the exact dates of the Archaic Period, most will accept a date range between 7000 BC and 2000 BC (some extend this date closer to 1AD). During this time, the climate of Colorado warmed and dried significantly, making it a little easier to potentially stay at higher elevations for more of the year. Archaic hunter/gatherers also frequented the valley following smaller game such as elk and deer. Little evidence can be found at this time for the seasonality of archaic people in the SLV but it is likely they followed common hunter/gatherer patterns of following the warmth southward in winter. Following the Archaic peoples, recognizable tribes and bands began using the valley-and staying.

According to Ute people, they were created by Sinawav and placed into the mountains from the beginning. Ute bands claimed the area surrounding and within Colorado as their homeland since at least 1000 years ago; hunting and gathering in different areas of the state divided by bands. According to oral tribal history, archaeological records, and historical accounts of Hispanic and Euro-American migrants, the Utes spent summers in the SLV hunting game and gathering plants and frequently returning to the lower, milder northern New Mexico for the winter. Later in history, there are also counts of winter Ute camps in the San Luis Valley. These nearly always occurred near the foothills, nestled into narrow valleys with south-facing outlooks. There have also been rock shelter discoveries in the SLV often with very fortified walls and in some cases, ceilings, which also suggest that people were wintering in the SLV despite the cold.

While it is cool to learn about what others have done to utilize the SLV in all its beauty and bounty, I am sure glad I don’t have to leave the valley every October to go somewhere I won’t freeze to death! I’m sure thankful to have my nice insulated house and wood stove as winter draws nearer!

References and Additional Sources:

Clovis Culture

https://www.umanitoba.ca/faculties/arts/anthropology/manarchnet/chronology/paleoindian/folsom.html

https://www.crowcanyon.org/educationproducts/peoples_mesa_verde/archaic_overview.asp

Chronology

Museum Mystery: Part I

One of the challenges of a small museum with limited resources is continuity. Despite changes geared toward greater continuity of collections management, and the success of these changes with collections and objects acquired more recently, there are still some grey areas surrounding older objects and their origins in the museum’s collections. Of course, this is bound to happen when objects have been accumulating at the museum since 1945! My mentors and predecessors have developed improved cataloging and documenting procedures, which I am in the midst of learning, and this is very helpful for ensuring objects are properly recorded. But this is also challenging when faced with decades of changing directors, locations, and methods, which cause some information to be lost. Currently I am working on a very large collection of pre-historic stone artifacts; mostly lithic technologies such as projectile points, scrapers and flakes. The challenge with this collection is, while we have inventory sheets for them from recent years, and temporary numbers, the name the collection has been referred to doesn’t exist! Or rather, we don’t have a donor whose name matches the collections name! Which leaves us….where did all these points come from? When did we even get them? Luckily, an box with old records that appear to relate to this collection has appeared so hopefully it holds some useful information on where this collection came from and when it arrived. The mystery continues!!