Museum Musings

The museum boasts a collection of more than 75,000 pieces and is home to the Laboratory of Anthropology Library, a research library dedicated to the study of Native culture, anthropology, and archaeology throughout the Southwestern United States, Mexico, and Central America. Educational programs and lectures hosted by museum curators provide a great opportunity to learn more as well. Make an appointment to view special collections, otherwise the general public may visit Monday through Friday, from 1 to 5 p.m.
 
Museum of Spanish Colonial Art
Dedicated to the Hispanic cultures that so heavily influenced the area, the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art is the only museum in the country dedicated to exhibiting and interpreting the Spanish Colonial art, including that of Hispanic New Mexico. The museum houses more than 3,700 pieces of artwork that reflect the landscape, culture, faith, and utilitarian values of Spanish Colonial times. Here, you’ll see cattle brands, spurs, and candlesticks, plus pottery, weaving, and tinwork. Although the emphasis is on Spanish Colonial pieces from the Southwest, especially from New Mexico, some come from Mexico, Spain, Argentina, Brazil, and even unlikely locations like Romania and China. Don’t miss La Casa Delgado (The Delgado Room), the quarters of Second in Command officer Manuel Delgado; each item in the room was mentioned in his will. If you have small children, stop by the Costume Corner, where they can dress up in replicas of traditional Spanish Colonial outfits.
 
It’s worth dropping by, even if you don’t have the time to tour the museum. Renowned architect John Gaw Meem designed the Pueblo Revival-style building in 1930, and the Curtain-Paloheimo Museum Shop sells affordable works by artists who participate in the museum’s bi-yearly Spanish Market.

The Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian
As New Mexico’s oldest independent non-profit museum, The Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian dates back to the early 1920s when Mary Cabot Wheelwright met Navajo singer Hastiin Klah. Wheelwright set out to create a permanent record of Klah’s Navajo ritual knowledge, while reservation trader Frances J. “Franc” Newcomb recreated versions of sand paintings made during healing ceremonies. Together, Wheelwright and Klah founded the museum in 1937 to showcase Native American basketry, pottery, weaving, jewelry, beadwork, embroidery, and other arts. 
 
Exhibitions feature contemporary and historic Native American art, with an emphasis on Navajo culture, and the museum itself is housed in an octagonal-shaped building inspired by the hooghan, the traditional Navajo home and setting for ceremonies. Don’t miss the museum shop, Case Trading Post. Designed to look like an actual trading post, it sells arts and crafts created by more than 200 Native American artists, plus jewelry, ceramics, and textiles.
 
Santa Fe Botanical Garden
The Santa Fe Botanical Garden is still budding; quite literally, as it just opened in July 2013 with expansion plans to continue until 2017. The first phase, the Orchard Garden, is a 1.5-acre rectangular plot of fledgling apple, cherry, peach, and other fruit trees surrounded by a perennial border of roses and lavender. Plenty of benches and shaded ramada areas offer relaxing sitting areas. Among the flora and fauna sits historic Kearny’s Gap Bridge, a bright red, 100-year-old structure that once served State Route 283 along the Santa Fe Trail, southwest of Las Vegas, N.M. Eventually, this bridge will connect the various gardens to one another.
 
When complete in 2017, the garden will total nearly 7 acres and feature both native and non-native plants, adapted to Santa Fe and Northern New Mexico. The surrounding acreage, also a part of the garden, will remain natural and contain a myriad of walking trails.
TERESA BITLER is the author of Backroads & Byways of Indian Country.
 
For More Information
To learn more about trips to New Mexico and the Southwest, visit AAA.com, or call your local AAA Travel professional toll-free at 1-888-870-9392.
If You Go
Museum Pass: General admission to attractions on Museum Hill range from $7 for the Santa Fe Botanical Garden to $9 for non-resident visitors of the Museum of International Folk Art. You can, however, purchase (for a discounted price) a pass at participating museums that allows admission to the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture, Museum of International Folk Art, New Mexico Museum of Art, and Palace of the Governor’s/New Mexico History Museum. For $15 you can visit two of the museums or, pay $20 to get a four-day pass to visit all of the aforementioned museums. The $25 Culture Pass grants access to 15 historic sites and museums throughout the state, including the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture and the Museum of International Folk Art.
 
Parking: Free parking is available at Museum Hill on most days, although it can be limited for special events. If you’d rather leave your car wherever you’re staying, the M Line of the Santa Fe Trails bus system picks up passengers a block from the Plaza at the Downtown Transit Center on Sheridan Avenue.  
 
Where to eat: You don’t have visit the museums to justify lunch at Museum Hill Café. Open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day, this little gem of a restaurant serves upscale sandwiches, gourmet salads, and wines by the glass. During the summer, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, the restaurant opens on Fridays at 4 p.m. to kick off happy hour, followed by dinner from 5 to 8 p.m. Head to the patio to dine on such summer fare as strawberry and goat cheese salad or smoked duck flautas, while listening to live entertainment 
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