Santa Fe's a City of Museums: Discover History, Art, Culture and Fun

Photo courtesy of Santa Fe Children's Museum
Photo courtesy of Steve Collins
Photo courtesy of Pablita Velarde Museum of Indian Women in the Arts
Photo courtesy of Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian
Photo courtesy of Steve Collins
Photo courtesy of Steve Collins
Photo courtesy of Kitty Leaken
Photo courtesy of Georgia O'Keeffe Museum
Photo courtesy of Steve Collins
Photo courtesy of Steve Collins
By Billie Frank, Santa Fe Local Expert

For a small city, Santa Fe has a lot of museums. Each has a specific mission. Camino Lejo (aka Museum Hill) is home to four. Two, the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture and the Museum of International Folk are owned and run by the state. They share the expansive Milner Plaza also home to the Museum Hill Café. The other two, the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art and the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, are run by non-profits. While there visit the Santa Fe Botanical Garden. Downtown you’ll discover the state-run New Mexico History Museum and the New Mexico Museum of Art as well as the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and the Pablita Velarde Museum of Indian Women in the Arts as well as the small Museum of Contemporary Native Arts run by the prestigious Institute of American Indian Art. Traveling with kids? They’ll love the interactive Santa Fe Children’s Museum and parents will, too. World War II buffs will enjoy the New Mexico National Guard Museum (formerly the Bataan Memorial Museum) which commemorates the horrific Bataan Death March where many New Mexican soldiers lost their lives. Check with the museums for their hours and admission fees as all vary. Downtown state museums are free for everyone on Friday evenings year ‘round from 5 to 7pm and free for NM residents on Sundays. The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum is free for New Mexico residents and their guests all day on the first Friday of the month.

10. Santa Fe Children's Museum
Photo courtesy of Santa Fe Children's Museum

The Santa Fe Children's Museum, opened in 1985, offers fun and engaging hands-on experiences to children up to age 8. Although it was targeted to local families, traveling families with young children have embraced it, too. Their mission: to enhance the joy and sense of discovery children have while "cultivating habits of inquiry in the arts, sciences, and humanities." A 2011 expansion included 1,200 feet of additional exhibit space and a design workshop. Most exhibits are interactive, designed to encourage "cooperative play." The bubble table is the most popular with its assortment of bubble wands. One even yields child-sized bubbles. Check out the giant Whisper Dishes in the garden. Speak softly into one and the message comes in loud and clear to the person standing at the second one 60 feet away. Be sure to check out the organic gardens with working examples of solar and water catchment systems.

9. Museum of Spanish Colonial Art
Photo courtesy of Steve Collins

The Museum of Spanish Colonial Arts, opened in 2002, is the only museum in the world dedicated to Spanish Colonial art. What defines Spanish colonial art? It's the art that arose in Spain's New World colonies. Passed down through generations, there are still artists working in these original forms thanks to the support of the Spanish Colonial Arts Society who first conceived the idea for the museum in 1929. It took almost a quarter of a century to bring to fruition. The museum, housed in a former home designed by John Gaw Meem, often called the "father of pueblo revival architecture," has a mission. It "collects, preserves, and exhibits the Spanish colonial art of New Mexico and beyond." They mount about six new exhibitions a year. Ongoing exhibits include the Beltrán-Kropp Art Collection from Peru and A World of Art Filigree and Finery: The Art of Adornment in New Mexico.

8. Pablita Velarde Museum of Indian Women in the Arts
Photo courtesy of Pablita Velarde Museum of Indian Women in the Arts

The Pablita Velarde Museum of Indian Women in the Arts is the only museum in the world dedicated to the art of American Indian women. Located just south of St. Francis Cathedral, its mission is to educate about and promote the art work of Native women artists. Pablita Velarde, its namesake, was from the Santa Clara Pueblo. She was the first female student in the art classes started at the Santa Fe Indian School in 1932. Several Dunn students, including Velarde and Alan Houser, became well-known artists. Velarde, her daughter Helen Hardin (who passed away in 1984) and her granddaughter Margarete Bagshaw comprise the only three-generational full-time "female painting dynasty" on record. Bagshaw spearheaded the efforts to get funding for the museum which opened in September 2012. The only permanent exhibit is a recreation of Velarde's studio. New exhibitions are mounted every three to eight months.

7. Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian
Photo courtesy of Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian

The Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian was the first museum on Santa Fe's Museum Hill, now home to four. Boston heiress Mary Cabot Wheelwright, who'd relocated to Santa Fe, and esteemed Navajo singer ("medicine man") Hosteen Klah founded the museum in 1937. The Wheelwright just completed a 7,000 square foot expansion and is opening new galleries. The Center for the Study of Southwestern Jewelry, their first permanent exhibition, opens in June 2015. It will showcase the museum's collection jewelry and of archival materials related to Navajo and Pueblo silver work. The small Alcove Gallery will host pieces from the museum's permanent collection. While there visit the Case Trading Post, opened in 1975. Conceived as part museum shop and part "living exhibition," it offers high-quality antique and contemporary Native American art to purchase while teaching about the importance and practices of the trading posts traditionally found on the Navajo reservation.

6. SITE Santa Fe
Photo courtesy of Steve Collins

Technically, SITE Santa Fe, opened in 1995, is an "art house" (a museum without a permanent collection). They mount both short and long-term exhibitions. Their mission: to nurture "innovation, discovery, and inspiration through the art of today." It's to be innovative discovery, and inspiration through the art of today. In their almost 20 years they have mounted over 80 shows. SITE, which often showcases provocative cutting-edge art, is known for its even year biennial shows. In 2014, they took on SITElines: New Perspectives on Art of the Americas. This is a "six¬-year commitment to a series of linked exhibitions with a focus on contemporary art and cultural production of the Americas." The first show, Unsettled Landscapes, ends in January 2015. The next shows in the series will be mounted in 2016 and 2018. There will be a series of ongoing exhibits until the next installment of SITElines opens in 2016.

5. New Mexico Museum of Art
Photo courtesy of Steve Collins

The New Mexico Museum of Art sits in a 1917 pueblo revival building adjacent to the Santa Fe Plaza. Its permanent collection is a who's who of New Mexican artists including Taos Art Society names such as Burt Philips and Ernst Blumenschein, and later Taos artists such as Agnes Martin. Santa Fe painters include Will Shuster, Gerald Cassidy, Dorothy and Alfred Morang, William Penhallow Henderson, Native American painters Fritz Scholder and Pablita Velarde and renowned printmaker, painter and woodcut maker Gustave Baumann. Other well-known artists in their collection view include Georgia O'Keeffe, photographer Eliot Porter and feminist artist Judy Chicago. Work from famous San Ildefonso potter Maria Martinez is also in the collection. Artists who spent time in New Mexico such as painter John Sloan and photographer Ansel Adams are also represented in the collection. They also host short-term exhibits, including some from around the USA and the world.

4. New Mexico History Museum
Photo courtesy of Kitty Leaken

New Mexico has a rich history. The state-run New Mexico History Museum tells the story of the 47th state from pre-historic times to the present. Their permanent exhibition, Telling New Mexico, Stories from Then and Now, traces the state's history and cultures from the original people who have been here for millennia through all the waves of those who have arrived since. The long-awaited museum, opened in May of 2009, mounts short-term shows as well. It also hosts special events throughout the year. The adjacent Palace of the Governors, built in 1610, is also part of the museum. The Fray Angelico Chavez History Library, with rich archives including historic photos, is part of the history museum complex as well. There is an admission charge except on Friday evenings from 5 to 7pm when it's free.

3. Georgia O'Keeffe Museum
Photo courtesy of Georgia O'Keeffe Museum

The Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, opened in 1997, is the only museum in the world dedicated to a single woman artist. Their mission is to "perpetuate the artistic legacy of Georgia O'Keeffe and to the study and interpretation of American Modernism (late nineteenth century - present)." In 2006 the Georgia O'Keeffe Foundation, custodians of her estate since her 1986 death, disbanded. Many of its assets including art work and her two Abiquiu homes, were transferred to the museum, which now boasts the largest collection of the artist's work in the world. Exhibitions, which change several times a year, include those focusing on O'Keeffe's work, shared exhibitions featuring her work alongside that of other relevant artists and shows dedicated to American Modernists. Take time to watch the two short videos, one on her life and one on her houses, shown continuously. Also take a moment to visit the gift shop.

2. Museum of International Folk Art
Photo courtesy of Steve Collins

The Museum of International Folk Art, opened in 1953, shares Museum Hill's Milner Plaza with the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture. Its collection, encompassing over 150,000 pieces of folk art, is the largest in the world. The colorful Girard Wing has artifacts from over 100 countries on six continents. Only a fraction of the huge collection, which includes toys and dolls, costumes, masks, textiles of all kinds, religious folk art, paintings and beadwork, is on display at one time. The bright displays delight children of all ages. The Hispanic Heritage Wing features changing exhibits related to both Hispanic and Latino cultures. In addition, the museum mounts short-term exhibitions of folk art from the USA and around the world. Visit their gift shop, packed with handmade items from around the globe, as well as their bookstore.

1. Museum of Indian Arts and Culture
Photo courtesy of Steve Collins

The Museum of Indian Arts and Culture (MIAC) shares Museum Hill's Milner Plaza with the Museum of International Folk Art. Their mission is "to inspire appreciation for and knowledge of the diverse native arts, histories, languages, and cultures of the Greater Southwest." They do this through permanent and changing exhibitions. Discover historic art and artifacts from southwest indigenous people as well as contemporary pieces. The exhibitions also incorporate art from the first peoples throughout North America. There are two long-term exhibits. Here, Now, and Always is a timeline of Native American history from pre-Columbian times to the present. The other, the Buchsbaum Gallery of Southwestern Pottery, tells the story of the pottery traditions of the Pueblo People of New Mexico and Arizona from the earliest pieces discovered to contemporary ones. The museum also mounts short-term shows focusing on specific aspects of Native American art and culture.