Museum Musings

Visit five places on Santa Fe’s Museum Hill to ponder art, culture, and history
Several of Santa Fe’s best museums aren’t on the Santa Fe Plaza. Instead, you’ll find them on the aptly named Museum Hill, roughly 2 miles from downtown. Plan to spend the day exploring the four museums here. When you need a break, head to lunch at the Museum Hill Café, stroll through the new Santa Fe Botanical Garden, or simply admire city views of quaint adobe buildings backed by the surrounding high-desert landscape.
Museum of International Folk Art

Home to the world’s largest collection of folk art, the Museum of International Folk Art displays artifacts ranging from masks and ceremonial dress to furniture and toys from more than 100 countries. The museum’s collection is displayed in four distinct wings: Bartlett, Girard, Hispanic Heritage, and Neutrogena. Exhibits in the past have included textiles, quilts, painters, embroidered dress, and kite making, but the long-term collection donated by architect Alexander Girard is a must-see. Folk miniatures from Girard’s 100,000-piece collection — which represents six continents and more than 100 countries — fill the space, many in diorama-like display. Since you won’t find informational plaques in the Girard Wing, consider a docent-led tour to learn more about the pieces. Or simply take it in, enjoying the artistry and whimsy. Interactive activities, including opportunities to create your own art, make this a great museum for families.
During the second weekend in July, the museum hosts the International Folk Art Market, a three-day event that takes over Museum Hill. More than 150 of the world’s best folk artists from 57 countries sell their wares, including textiles, baskets, jewelry, and ceramics. Purchases can be made for as little as $10 and continue upwards of $1,000. Be sure to read more about this astounding market in the feature, A Change of Art.
Museum of Indian Arts & Culture
One of Santa Fe’s best Native American museums, the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture tells the stories of the indigenous people of the Southwest through art, music, and exhibitions beginning with prehistoric times and continuing to present day New Mexico. Much of the space is dedicated to art and artifacts — such as paintings, statues, pottery, and blankets — but there also are displays related to relocation, housing, and trading posts.
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.