Five works of art to enjoy outside the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science

“Arc of Peace” is located outside of the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science. (Robert Browman/Albuquerque Journal)

Editor’s note: The fourth 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.”

Museums house pieces of history for the public to enjoy.

Yet, outside many, there are still surprises to be found.

bright spot logoTake the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science, for instance. Though it had been closed for the majority of the pandemic, there were always works of wonder to be seen around its campus.

Adrian Gomez

Jayne C. Aubele, Museum Adult Programs Educator/Geologist, says many visitors are surprised to discover fine art scattered throughout the museum and its campus.

“From the beginning of the museum, fine art has been considered an essential part of its exhibits,” Aubele says. “Murals, paintings and sculptures, and even a piece of explosion art called detonography, are displayed in our exhibits, and help visitors immerse themselves in the experience of natural science.”

Aubele says outside the museum, the architecture, landscaping, and some carefully selected pieces of art located around the building connect science with the arts and the beauty of the natural world.

“Most people are so eager to enter the museum that they may give only passing attention to the pieces placed around the building,” she says. “On your next visit, take the time to explore outside the museum and enjoy a few of these unexpected art pieces.”

1. “Arc of Peace”: In the museum’s parking lot, there is a glassed in section along the north side of the building which is the education wing. In front of the school group entry is “Arc of Peace.”

It is a life-sized (about 5 feet tall) cast aluminum sculpture of a girl standing with multicolored birds.

“She reaches out her arms and releases an arc of bronze origami-folded cranes, representing peace and the fulfillment of hope, out into the world,” Aubele says. “She reminds us that peace is not necessarily the absence of war or something we need to fight for. Instead it is something that can be created with our intentions and sent out into the world though our actions and interactions with each other and ourselves.”

The piece is by Lorri Acott, of Dream Big Sculpture, an American artist whose sculptures are represented in galleries and private and public collections in the U.S. and internationally.

2. Spike and Alberta: “As you approach the museum entry on 18th Street, you will pass between two life-sized dinosaurs,” Aubele says. “Our front door guardians are big and beautifully detailed, and they have personality too.”

Spike is one of two dinosaur sculptures on the campus of the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science. (Robert Browman/Albuquerque Journal)

The pieces are the work of sculptor David Thomas, and he based the work on scientific data and fossil specimens.

“Affectionately called by nicknames selected by New Mexico students, Spike is a plant eating Pentaceratops (5-horns), and Alberta is a meat-eating Albertosaurus, and both lived in New Mexico during the Late-Cretaceous Period when our state was ocean-front property,” Aubele says.

Alberta is a meat-eating Albertosaurus that lived in New Mexico during the Late-Cretaceous Period when the state was ocean-front property. (Robert Browman/Albuquerque Journal)

“Both sculptures are extremely detailed and even have appropriate scales and skin texture. Spike’s head is based on a skull in the museum’s paleontological collection. The horns are derived partly from a fossil Thomas himself found in northwest New Mexico.”

Aubele says the figures were sculpted in a warehouse in Albuquerque, originally with a rebar framework covered by chicken wire, and then burlap and plaster, with the finish work done in clay. Multi-piece molds were then taken to Shidoni Foundry in Tesuque, where they were reproduced in bronze sections. Spike and Alberta have been at the museum since its beginning and they are among the most photographed objects in Albuquerque.

3. “Cosmic Connection”: Walking past the museum entry toward Mountain Road, look up at the roofline on the east side of the museum building to see an art piece called “Cosmic Connection.” The art was designed to change colors in green and blue at night using fiber optic lights.

The Cosmic Connection art piece was created by Taos artists Juan and Patricia Navarrete. (Robert Browman/Albuquerque Journal)

Created by Taos artists Juan and Patricia Navarrete, the sculpture is made of carbon steel with luminous paint. The Navarretes describe their sculpture as inspired by the Rio Grande, noting that water is an essential part of life and an important factor in the natural and cultural history of New Mexico. The sculpture also depicts concentric circles that are symbolic of planetary movement.

“The artwork, installed in May 2002, was the first in the state to incorporate fiber optics as an aesthetic element. It was commissioned by 1% for the Arts Public Art in association with the museum’s 1998-2000 Capital Campaign construction of the DynaTheater, Space Science wing, and 18th Street entry to the museum,” she says.

4. Blue Heron: “At this point in your walk around the exterior of the museum, you might want to look or walk across to the east side of 18th Street opposite the museum entry, to see the Museum-Kiwanis Learning Garden,” Aubele says.

The Blue Heron sculpture outside of the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science. It is one of the newest sculptures and was installed in November 2020. (Robert Browman/Albuquerque Journal)

“This garden of native New Mexico plants is owned and maintained by the museum with funding from Kiwanis, and is used for family and student learning. A working well and windmill in the corner is the site of one of the Aquifer Mapping Program monitoring sites managed by the New Mexico Bureau of Geology. This garden not only teaches students, but serves an important function in understanding the water table level in Albuquerque’s north valley.”

Aubele says the garden is currently closed due to COVID-19 restrictions but you can get a good look at its big blue resident.

“In front of the entry to the garden is the museum’s newest piece of public art, entitled ‘Yves Klein Blue Heron’ by sculptor Jeffie Brewer,” she says. “The giant blue bird, a delight to children visiting the garden, is made of steel and it is 14 feet tall.”

It was installed at the museum in November 2020.

5. “Del Pasado al Futuro (From the Past to the Future)”: “Continue your walk to the corner of 18th Street and Mountain Road to see the oldest piece of art on display outside,” Aubele says. “This abstract sculpture was created by Federico Armijo and completed in 1986. The rock is beautiful and unusual New Mexico travertine from Belen, and the stone represents the past. The polished stainless steel columns represent progressive scientific knowledge. A stainless steel sphere represents accumulation of all knowledge to the present, and the triangular form represents the unknown and the future. It is a beautiful depiction of the science topics and goals presented by the museum.”

The “Del Pasado al Futuro” sculpture outside of the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science. It is one of the oldest pieces of public art on the museum campus. (Robert Browman/Albuquerque Journal)

Aubele says the piece was originally located at a north entrance to the museum and relocated, with permission of the artist, to the Mountain Road and 18th Street corner after the main entrance was moved to 18th Street.

“‘Del Pasado al Futuro’ is the perfect gateway to your continued walk along the south side of the museum building along Mountain Road and the final piece of outside art,” she says. “This outdoor exhibit, free to museum visitors and all who walk by, represents modern New Mexico and is a counterpoint to the ‘walk through geologic time’ exhibits within the museum.”

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