ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Aaron Gardner’s love of museums and history started at an early age thanks to his maternal grandparents, who were both professors.
Gardner has spent the last two years as the temporary site manager for Casa San Ysidro: The Gutiérrez-Minge House, an annex of the Albuquerque Museum in Corrales. Earlier this month the city appointed him to the position permanently.
“Casa is a unique and memorable experience for visitors,” Gardner said. “My main priority is to assist people in living vicariously through traditional knowledge.”
Gardner’s grandfather studied the biology of birds in Mexico, Hawaii and New Zealand, and his grandmother was a professor of psychology. Both had a love for learning and were responsible for Gardner’s first exposure to museums.
Gardner has been working part time as the temporary site manager since 2018.
“It (my interest in history and museums) probably started with an interest in dinosaurs,” he said. “They (grandparents) took me to museums a lot and as I got older in high school and college, I knew I wanted to do something in human science.”
The Casa San Ysidro annex museum was once a private residence. The 19th-century, plazuela-style structure sits along a narrow, winding, residential road in Corrales. Shirley and Ward Alan Minge bought the home in 1952 and began restoring it and filling it with artifacts representing both Spanish and Native American history in New Mexico. The inside of the home, as well as the grounds, depict early homesteading life in New Mexico. There is a chapel, working orno, a corral, brick barn, old farming tools, and a 1.6-acre field with vegetables and other local crops.
The Minges donated the property to the City of Albuquerque in the late 1990s and museum purchased all of the artifacts. As the site manager, Gardner said he would like to expand the educational programming, including providing lesson plans for teachers, and using the open field as an exhibit space.
“I want to show people the crops that are grown here,” he said. “I love New Mexico history. It’s one of the oldest inhabited areas in the country.”
Gardner was born in Idaho, but his family moved to San Diego shortly after that, and then to New Mexico when he was about 8 years old. Gardner learned as a child that he was a member of the Shasta Indian Nation, a tribe in Northern California. His paternal grandfather was adopted as a child and only later in his life tried to reconnect with the tribe, as did Gardner as a teen and young adult. This family tie, he said, has made him passionate about preserving the history of indigenous people.
Gardner graduated from the University of New Mexico in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology. Before working for the city, he was the event supervisor at Los Poblanos La Quinta Cultural Center.
In non-pandemic times, the museum is open to the public for daily tours. It’s often used as a learning tool by local school groups who take field trips there. Right now Gardner said he is working on some virtual offerings since it’s unknown when they will reopen to the public.
“Aaron’s knowledge and enthusiasm for Casa San Ysidro make him an invaluable asset to Albuquerque Museum,” says Curator of History Leslie Kim in a news release. “We are thrilled to have Aaron as a permanent part of the history department at Albuquerque Museum.”