Museums are keepers of history.
Each collection has a focus, yet the public only sees a small percentage of a museum’s permanent collection.
At the Albuquerque Museum, there are nearly 200,000 objects in the history collection.
The art collection is 10,000 items strong, while the photo and digital archives is upwards of 3,000 images.
“Like most of the museums, the Albuquerque Museum has a small percentage on display at any given time,” says Andrew Connors, museum director. “I was reading an article recently about the Louvre in Paris. The (museum) has more than 600,000 objects in its permanent collection. Yet there are only 38,000 on view. It’s pretty typical for a museum. We’re repositories for the future.”
The Albuquerque Museum is currently hosting the blockbuster exhibit, “Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Mexican Modernism” in its main gallery.
Yet Connors has some suggestions for some hidden treasures throughout the museum.
1 “Bruneau Mountain Belt” by Yazzie Johnson (Navajo) and Gail Bird (Laguna/Santo Domingo)
Connors says each belt by Johnson and Bird features the sandhill crane, a river bird unique to the Southwest.
“This is a really brilliant contemporary interpretation of a concha belt,” Connors says. “They usually name their belts after one of the materials and there’s some Bruneau agate stone in it.”
Connors says the pair found the stones and placed them in the landscapes inside the concha belt.
“One of the challenges in getting visitors to see it is where it’s placed,” Connors says. “It’s set down low so that it’s at a child’s eye level. Adults have to crouch a little to see the magnificent interpretation.”
2 “Alvarado Hotel sign, February 1970” by Joe McKinney
Connors says McKinney is a local architect at the University of New Mexico, who documented the demise of the Alvarado Hotel.
The photograph he took shows the rubble where the Alvarado Hotel used to be and the neon sign all broken up, Connors says.
“I find the portrait very powerful as a statement of what we give up,” Connors says. “We’ve lost so much of New Mexican history because we haven’t quite been aware that we need to care. In Albuquerque, we tend to be so focused on looking forward and we forget to celebrate the great achievements of our past.”
3 “Portrait of Juan José Baca” by Mrs. Franc Emma Luce Albright
Connors says the portrait is from the early 1880s, shortly after the railroad arrived in Albuquerque.
“From a distance, it looks like a large format black and white photograph,” Connors says. “It’s not. It’s charcoal, pencil and gouache on paper.”
The piece was created by Albright, who owned Mrs. Albright’s Art Parlor in Albuquerque.
She was also the director of photography at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
Socially, “Portrait of Juan José Baca” confirms that wealthy clients lived in Albuquerque who could support the Mrs. Albright’s Art Parlor.
“My interpretation is that Juan José Baca wanted to be seen as modern,” Connors says. “He envisioned something that wasn’t technologically possible. When the new technology of photography failed, Mrs. Albright resorted to the old technology of charcoal drawing and it’s stunning. Most visitors don’t realize that it’s not a photograph. It’s a very interesting object.”
Connors says the piece will be on display until the end of March.
4 “Picture frame” by José Dolores López
This picture frame is fairly nondescript and painted blue and gray. It is created by López, who lived in Cordova and was a carpenter and sheep herder.
In 1917, López’s son, Nicudemos, was drafted to serve in World War I. Nicudemos sent a photograph of his company from basic training, along with a letter to his parents. López carved and painted the frame in a Victorian style and hung it in the house.
“Both the letter and photograph have been lost,” Connors says. “But the frame is a significant item because López went on to innovate a new style of New Mexico Hispanic woodcarving. It is know as the Cordova style of woodcarving. The frame pre-dates his decision to stop painting the wood. It’s a pretty early object by him.”
5 “Self-Portrait” by Emmy Lou Packard
Connors says the work by Packard is included in the Kahlo exhibit.
Packard was a printmaker and fresco artists who grew up in El Centro, California. She studied with Kahlo and Rivera in Mexico from 1927-28.
“She went back to California after that to study at UC Berkeley,” Connors says. “Diego was commissioned to do a fresco in 1940 and he asked Emmy Lou Packard to be his studio assistant. Diego included a picture of Packard in the piece.”
Connors says the museum is excited to have the piece from the permanent collection as part of the Kahlo exhibit.
“It’s really fun that we have this self-portrait of a very little known artist,” he says. “We were able to finally showcase the brilliance of how her work is influenced by Frida and Diego.”
Editor’s note: The last Sunday of each month, Journal Arts Editor Adrian Gomez tells the stories behind some of the hidden gems you can see across the state in “Gimme Five.”