It was good timing for a Rosie the Riveter sculpture at the New Mexico History Museum.
The big monument – six feet tall excluding its platform and made from more than 2,600 3-D printed parts – was installed at the start of March, Women’s History Month.
And the iconic World War II-era symbol – who represented women entering the workforce to help with the war effort while men went to battle – will stay up until 2020, the 100-year anniversary of women’s suffrage.
The timing of the installation was no coincidence, said curator Alicia Romero. The museum has been waiting to put up the Rosie sculpture, which was built in Santa Fe last June and later loaned to the museum.
Jen Schacter and Todd Blatt, part of a crowdsource sculpting collective called We the Builders, designed Rosie and organized its construction at the 2018 Nation of Makers’ Conference at the Santa Fe Convention Center.
Printed parts were contributed by more than 700 people from around the world. Participants were given guidelines of parts to make with their 3-D printers. Assembling Rosie was documented in an episode of former “Mythbusters” co-host Adam Savage’s online show, “Tested.”
The sculpture is made up of multi-colored pieces, which according to a quote from Schacter printed on the museum wall, were meant to represent a variety of skin tones. It is intended to “reimagine a new narrative, one where Rosie stands for power and strength of women and non-binary makers of all identities.”
According to Romero, this is the first time the sculpture is being shown since it was built at the conference. And to show Rosie at the History Museum, the museum staff wanted to tie it in with more regional stories. Rosie is accompanied by short biographies of New Mexican women known for their contributions to the workforce in the early to mid-20th century.
“The idea behind this was Rosie the Riveter represents the iconic woman at work,” said Romero. “A common, everyday woman; a specific woman actually for that point in time. But we wanted to highlight other women that had been working for all time here – stories we knew about (and) photos that we had, that showed women while they’re on the job.”
“We the Rosies: Women at Work” has been set up before visitors reach the museum’s admission desk, adjacent to the gift shop and mostly visible through the front windows. This was done intentionally to ensure the exhibit was free and open to the public, according to Romero.
On the wall next to Rosie are write-ups of New Mexico women whose contributions were mostly from the early to mid-20th century. They range from E. Boyd, a curator emeritus for the Museum of New Mexico and Spanish colonial art scholar who helped establish the Spanish Colonial Arts Society; Tsianina, a Native opera singer and board member of Santa Fe’s School of American Research; and a group of women who worked on the Atchinson, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad in Clovis during World War II.
Romero pointed out that the honorees include something of a real “Rosie the Rivter.” Belen Martinez Mason, who was born in Fierro, N.M., moved out to Los Angeles with her family during World War II for job opportunities, like many New Mexicans did at the time. During the war, she worked at the Lockheed Corporation’s aviation plants.
Romero said it was important for the display to showcase women from many demographics, as well as representing a diversity of contributions to the workforce. She emphasized that prominent women like Jesusita Acosta Perrault, who served as New Mexico’s secretary of state from 1929-30, are given no special treatment over others like the Clovis railroad workers, Almeta Williams, Beatrice Davis, Liza Goss and Abbie Caldwell.
“They’re all of equal importance,” she said. “We didn’t want to make this hierarchy of women that are the most educated, the most intellectual labor will go on top and all these women who really support them are on the bottom. This is as much of an equal distribution as we could possibly do.”
It was also important to the museum to showcase women who had not been widely recognized before. Many are subjects whom Romero and her colleagues learned about through personal research or by patrons coming to the museum and asking about them. Others, like Acosta Perrault, had been extensively researched previously.
“We have a lot of women in our state that have contributed wonderful things that have been recognized … state holidays, or buildings, things like that,” said Romero. “But we wanted to highlight women who you would never know who these women were or pay attention to people such as this, people who really contributed to our society and haven’t gotten recognition for it.”
That includes women like Katherine Stinson Otero, who had two major careers in her lifetime. Originally from Arkansas, she was a “daredevil lady flyer” aviatrix who became the fourth woman in the U.S. to be issued a pilot’s license, in 1912. Her passion for flight was spurred by a hot air balloon ride she won in a drawing.
“Clearly, it was a great ride,” Heather McClure, a History Museum librarian who helped with the exhibition, said with a laugh. “She had convinced her family to sell their piano – she had this young music career, that was her plan – she convinced her family to sell the piano and pay for flying lessons. And then the whole family followed along. It was the Stinson Aircraft company. They gave flying lessons and she traveled all around the world doing record flights, night flights, mail drop flights, things like that.”
After serving in World War I – she wanted to fly planes, but was rejected and had to drive ambulances instead – a tuberculosis diagnosis brought her out to Santa Fe. She came to stay at the Sunmount Sanatorium and eventually found a new passion: architecture. She partnered with famed architect John Gaw Meem and was involved with historic home restorations here in Santa Fe.
“I do love a good second act,” said McClure.
Over the next year, more stories are expected to be added to the wall. Romero and McClure mentioned adding biographies of ranch women, restaurateurs and Manhattan Project contributors in the coming months. After the exhibition closes at the History Museum, it could travel to other museums across the state.
Though the exhibit is beneficial for young girls and women to see, Romero said it offers something for everyone in New Mexico.
“It’s important for all people here in our state: kids of every age, people of every age, of every background, to see the value in our women and what we have done, what we can contribute, what we have contributed, what we continue to do,” she said.
Clarification: The story has been updated to clarify that the Rosie the Riveter sculpture is on loan to the New Mexico History Museum. It is not a part of the museum’s permanent collection.