Step into a museum and it’s full of history.
Each piece has been carefully selected as it will be on display to the public.
There are thousands of items in the permanent collection at the New Mexico History Museum in Santa Fe.
Everyone is special.
There is a story behind everyone.
It’s these stories that pique Alicia M. Romero’s curiosity.
When the museum acquires new pieces, part of their job is to conduct the research and weave the history of the object.
“Museums only ever share about 3% of their permanent collection,” says Romero, chief curator of the New Mexico History Museum. “People don’t think about the fact that items can’t always be on display. We need to rotate the items to allow them to recover from the lights and elements.”
The museum’s mission is to be a statewide educational resource, a local landmark, and a destination for all those interested in exploring the diverse experiences of the people of New Mexico, the dynamics that have shaped our state, and the relationships our region has with the community Join rest, want to understand the world.
While Romero deals with thousands of pieces, she has chosen five to show the diversity of the collection.
“There are 16,000 objects,” she says of the museum’s collection. “It’s a good size for the amount of history I cover. I wanted to share with items ranging from everyday things to super expensive ones. The fascinating thing is that each item is fascinating to look at. But the stories behind it; this is important.”
Romero says the five plays have incredible stories:
1. Cigar Box and Stone Collection by Kunitaro Tateuchi
Romero says Tateuchi was born in Japan in 1887 and immigrated to Hawaii when he was 22 or 23 years old. During World War II, he was one of the Japanese-Americans who were forced into concentration camps.
Although he had family in Hawaii, he was sent to the Santa Fe Internment Camp in 1942.
“He was there from about 1942 to 1945,” says Romero. “He would carve stones. He also collected them and walked around the camp and found the local rocks. He gathered them up and put them in a cigar box.”
Romero says the other internees would find stones for him and give him.
“These are normal stones,” says Romero. “These are not valuable stones. It’s a cigar box and it’s falling apart. I find this piece interesting because it’s a part of American and Santa Fe history that people don’t talk about or recognize. All of that happened here.”
2. San Miguel Archangel bulto by Jose Raphael Arag O n.
According to Romero, the Bulto by José Rafael Aragón is an old piece in the museum’s permanent collection.
Aragon’s work dates from 1820-1862.
“What I like about these objects is that they come from a long tradition,” she says. “One of the things people don’t realize about these pieces is that most of them are from the Mexican to American Territorial period. The fact that they reflect Catholicism is amazing.”
Romero says that the Santeros made the pieces at the beginning and end of the Mexican period.
“The Santa Fe Trail opened in 1821, and the Santeros saw the challenges to their own local and political government,” she says. “Nevertheless, they continued to make these objects and pieces about what it means to be Catholic.”
Romero says she chose this piece because Aragón is a local artist.
“We recognize well-known artists like Georgia O’Keeffe, but we don’t pay attention to the Santeros,” she says. “José Rafael was productive. He produced hundreds of bultos and altar screens for churches in northern New Mexico. Many of them still have parts.”
3. Africo-Tubercular Sanatorium Pen
Romero says the pin is a new acquisition from 2021 and museum staff are still doing more research on it.
“It’s a promotional pin for the Africo-Tubercular Sanatorium in Fort Bayard,” says Romero. “The Buffalo Soldiers were at Fort Bayard, and in 1899 the fort became a hospital to treat patients with tuberculosis. The dry air is what people needed.”
There were a number of sanatoriums between Silver City and Fort Bayard.
“On January 14, 1911, this was dedicated exclusively to treating black people, and it was the first type in the country,” says Romero. “If you can see a bright side, there was an entire hospital in southern New Mexico during this period of segregation dedicated to African American access to treatment.”
4. Roller skates by Josefita Manderfield de Otero
Romero says that Manderfield de Otero came from a very powerful family. Her father once owned the Santa Fe New Mexican.
The museum has a large collection of hers.
“There are expensive pieces like gold leaf watches,” she says. “The pieces really reflected their own socio-economic status.”
Romero finds the roller skates fascinating because Manderfield de Otero wore them.
“She was a privileged child,” she says. “She wore these roller skates while walking around Santa Fe Plaza around 1907.”
Romero found an article in the Las Vegas Optic at the time about how dangerous roller skates were and how young people were using them.
“Fast forward to today and the same thing was said about skateboards and rollerblades,” she says. “It was quite funny to see the article saying the same thing about kids having fun. I can imagine Josefita walking through the plaza. The skates don’t look comfortable or secure at all.”
5. Sled from Cimarroncita Ranch Camp
According to Romero, the sleigh was acquired in 2015 when Cimarroncita Ranch Camp closed.
“They came up to us and asked if they wanted their collection,” she says. “We have a bunch of 3D objects and this sled.”
Romero says it is in very poor condition and the culture ministry is working to bring it back to life.
“The sled has an S-curve at the front and a slight curve at the back,” she says. “The body is made of wood and has padded edges and padded seats. One can imagine horses pulling this yellow and green painted buggy. It’s a piece that the kids on the ranch used.”
Romero raises funds to restore the sled because it is a part of New Mexico history.
“We didn’t have a lot of time to work on it and research it,” she says. “This is part of the process of bringing it to a standard where it can be viewed.”