Trails, Rails, and Highways: How Trade Transformed the Art of Spanish New Mexico
This exhibition, curated by the Society’s Curator Emerita Robin Farwell Gavin, will be on display until August 2022.
Since prehistoric times, trails have traversed the broad landscape of New Mexico. Native American trails of the 12th
century and earlier connected Chaco Canyon to Casas Grandes (Mexico) and Cahokia Mounds (Illinois). In 1680 trails connected the Rio Grande pueblos and enabled their runners to carry secret codes coordinating the Pueblo Revolt. From 1598 to 1821, goods from Spain’s vast empire traveled over the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro (Royal Road to the Interior) from central Mexico to the remote northern frontier. Starting in 1821 the Santa Fe Trail brought American and Mexican merchants face to face, while French fur traders and trappers roamed trails from Canada and Louisiana through New Mexico into Mexico. The Spanish Trail was forged in 1829, establishing the road from Santa Fe to the Pacific. In 1880, the railroad opened the door to tourists, health-seekers, anthropologists, artists, and writers. And with the completion of Route 66 in 1926, automobile tourism began to flourish. Today, ‘cyber’ trails bring the world to our fingertips.
Most of the Museum’s display galleries contain the six sections of this exhibit. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a one-directional path leads visitors through the exhibition’s timeline from the prehistoric to the present.
The Native Trails section is displayed in the hallway nicho at the beginning of the tour.
For millennia, Native peoples of the Southwest traveled trails from Mexico, the Pacific coast, and the Plains. As Puebloan cultures became established between 800 and 1100 AD, they traded turquoise, salt and pottery for more exotic items such as conch shells, parrot and macaw feathers, copper bells, chocolate and buffalo hides. After their arrival in the 16th century, Spanish immigrants relied on the Pueblos to supply them with cooking pots, textiles, and produce, while Pueblo peoples sought iron tools, livestock, and clothing. Trade and travel along the Native trails were essential to survival.
The Camino Real section is displayed in the Wells Gallery and adjacent hallway.
The Camino Real de Tierra Adentro from Mexico City to Santa Fe officially opened in 1598 when Don Juan de Oñate and 129 soldiers, their families and native servants, forged their way north, using Native trails, to establish the first Spanish-speaking settlement in New Mexico. From 1598 to 1821, the Camino Real was the main route of communication between the colonial province of New Mexico and the Viceregal government in Mexico City. Over this route came people and goods from all of Spain’s vast empire–from Mexico and South America, Europe and Asia. After Mexico’s independence in 1821, the Camino continued in use but became known as the Chihuahua Trail.
The Santa Fe Trail section is displayed in the Brown Gallery and adjacent hallway.
News of Mexico’s hard-fought independence from Spain in 1821 traveled quickly up the Camino Real. Trade was no longer restricted by Spain, and the first Missouri traders made their way across the Santa Fe Trail. Santa Fe became ‘an inland port’, where traders, trappers and merchants from Mexico, California, Missouri, Louisiana and Canada met and bartered with New Mexican merchants and Plains and Pueblo Indians in a truly international market. No longer under the thumb of Spain, and with the dissolution of the Mexican guilds and new sources for tools, materials, paints and prints, local nuevomexicano artists began to work in a style much more expressive of their unique experience.
The Railroad section is displayed in the Allred Gallery.
The first trains reached Lamy (Santa Fe’s station is twenty miles east of town) in 1880. Replacing the Santa Fe Trail, goods now arrived on a daily basis, including new items that had not been available before, sheet tin for roofs, cast iron lintels and building parts, glass for mirrors and windows, and more. Nuevomexicanos could also now order from Sears, Roebuck & Co. and Montgomery Ward as well as from manufacturers of religious items, effectively putting many traditional artists out of work.
The Route 66 section is displayed in the Besser Gallery.
The completion of Route 66 in 1926 signaled a new era in tourism. Touted as The Mother Road, auto travel brought unprecedented numbers of tourists to New Mexico. Coupled with Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, tourism helped many New Mexicans through the worst times of the Great Depression. New Deal programs provided jobs building public works, recording the country’s artistic heritage, and painting murals in public buildings. Rt. 66 tourism brought new markets for struggling artists, while enterprising individuals established schools to teach the traditional arts and created markets where the work could be sold. One such market, Santa Fe’s Spanish Market, was established in 1926 and still takes place today.
The New Mexican Art Today section is displayed in the Seybold, Healy, and Vedder Galleries.
After centuries of change, nuevomexicanos continue to renew and revitalize their art, while holding fast to core values and beliefs. Trails are now translated into social media, and information, both historic and contemporary, is at our fingertips. While some artists choose to remain more traditional in their imagery, others choose to use their medium as commentary on social and political themes, reflecting both their respect for the past and their concern for the future. Today, new trails are being forged at the speed of light, and new generations of artists continue to redefine ‘traditional’ art.
Spanish Market Youth Artwork
The display of artwork by Youth Artists in Spanish Market continues in the Curtin-Paloheimo Gallery. A variety of art categories are represented, including santos, tinwork, straw appliqué, colcha embroidery, precious metals, and pottery by youth artists, ranging in age from seven to eighteen years old.